A Passion to Serve

Portion of an American flag that appears to be waving

Political office gives registered dietitian nutritionists and nutrition and dietetics technicians, registered unique opportunities to serve and support individuals, families and communities to improve health. RDNs and NDTRs can translate skills acquired in clinical nutrition, community and food and nutrition management to serve in government and shape health priorities.

Skills and knowledge that will help make a strong candidate for local positions include experience with large institutional budgets, deep understanding of the community and local civic engagement and leadership.

Municipal and county government typically have jurisdiction over local services and infrastructure, such as public transportation. At this level, RDNs and NDTRs can prioritize effective policies and budgeting to create a system that values health and nutrition. For example, developing effective and efficient public transportation to and from local farmers markets, grocery stores and medical care services.

Schools often are the busiest foodservice operations in town and feed the majority of school-age children at least once a day. The school board decides priorities for the school district, has influence on and oversight of the school nutrition program’s budget and may engage directly with schools’ wellness policies.

RDNs and NDTRs can contribute expertise to state-level decisions related to licensure of health professionals, access to services through Medicaid, and oversight and implementation of federal public health and food insecurity programs, such as chronic disease prevention and nutrition assistance programs.

At the national level, Congress and the Executive Branch direct billions of dollars in funding for programs and services that employ RDNs and NDTRs; create the framework that regulates the nutrition and dietetics profession; and develop the nutritional safety net that helps millions of Americans feed their families.

With experience, a deep understanding of your state’s needs, an ability to work outside of the dietetics field to build support for ideas, and with a proven track record of leadership, vision and an understanding of the dynamics influencing the country, you certainly can consider a run for national office.

Many resources are available to prospective candidates. The major political parties sponsor training and offer support for new candidates; state and local parties can help assess your readiness to run. Nationwide organizations that specialize in candidate training for a specific population include Emerge, Ready to Run, Camp Wellstone and Veterans Campaign. Additionally, networking with past candidates for the position you are interested in may provide a wealth of knowledge.

Another avenue to serve, separate from government, are leadership positions in organizations that you care about and support. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics provides leadership and advocate training at the Public Policy Workshop, plus opportunities to serve in dietetic practice groups, member interest groups, and elected positions at the local, state and national level.

No matter what level of involvement you choose, you’ll find government and organizations are looking for great leaders who are fueled by a passion to serve.

Jennifer Folliard
Jennifer Folliard, MPH, RDN, is a nutrition and health policy expert in Sioux Falls, S.D., specializing in chronic disease prevention policy and systems.