Denisonians in Health Professions: Nutritionist

Denisonians in health professions: nutritionist - kathy-mcneely-300x300.png image #0Kathy McNeely ’82

Role: Nutritionist

Graduate Schools attended:
Harvard Divinity School and Maryland University of Integrative Health      

Fun Fact: While in Divinity School at Harvard, I worked at the Wine and Cheese Cask in Somerville, MA. I was one of the first taste testers for Sam Adams Lager when Jim Koch was introducing his product by going to individual stores and getting owners and employees to sit down and have a beer with him. In the following year, fellow Denisonian, Peter Brooke (1983), worked at an advertising firm in Boston and helped develop one of Sam Adams’ first ad campaigns with the slogan “I’m a revolting beer drinker.” I like to think that we played a small part in the local brewing industry – which has really taken off since then.    

Describe the process you went through to select your career path: what impacted your decision?
I found my way to the nutrition field after years of work in the area of adult education and counseling. I initially trained at Harvard Divinity School with some emphasis on education and counseling. I went on to work overseas accompanying people in war torn regions of Nicaragua and Guatemala. My work in these two countries was focused on adult education and being a healing presence offering support and counsel for people as they grieved the loss of loved ones. I also served as a chaplain at Williams College, and as an advocate for international peace and social justice issues focused mainly on access to medicines, health services and to healthy, culturally appropriate foods. It was my work on food security that peaked my interest in nutrition. I began taking core classes in nutrition and eventually completed my MS in nutrition in 2013. I have been practicing nutrition in a public health setting since 2014, and now specialize in helping people implement lifestyle changes to better manage chronic health conditions, especially diabetes, hypertension and obesity.

What are your favorite aspects of your profession?
I love helping people identify simple steps they can take to improve their health. Much of my work involves helping people develop problem solving skills.  

What is the most challenging aspect of your work?
Lack of resources. I find that many people are not food secure. Their incomes do not stretch to meet their needs mainly because they have no transportation and are limited to shopping at corner stores that do not carry fresh vegetables and fruits. These stores feature lots of very expensive junk foods and snack foods. I see people struggle with doing the best with what they have, but still finding it hard to make good choices.

Describe what a typical day looks like for you.       
I see 6-8 patients per day – spending 30-45 minutes with each one. We discuss the patient’s health goals (to lose weight, better manage blood sugar, or lower blood pressure); we review foods eaten in the past 24 hours, what kind of exercise the person got, what medications they are taking and when, we discuss aspects of the diet that can be improved and we come up with an action plan – usually 2-3 simple steps the person can take in the coming weeks to improve health outcomes.

What advice would you give a student interested in pursuing your field?
The science of nutrition is very new. Every day new studies come out saying “eat this,” or “avoid eating that.” It’s confusing for the average person and challenging to keep up with the latest studies. My advice would be to find what works for you, and not simply believe that what you found is true for you will work for everyone. Nutrition counseling is much more a process of accompanying someone on their health journey – and food is a big part of that journey. It’s about helping a person see that food, diet and lifestyle habits all contribute to the bigger picture of what makes that person who he or she is.