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Walden Magazine // Jan 27, 2016

How It Paid Off: Practitioner to Professor

Ana Abad Jorge

NAME: Dr. Ana Abad-Jorge ’13

DEGREE: Doctor of Education

TITLE BEFORE MY DEGREE: Clinical Nutritionist and Nutrition Internship Program Director, University of Virginia Health System

TITLE AFTER MY DEGREE: Program Director and Assistant Professor, Health Sciences Management Programs, School of Continuing and Professional Studies, University of Virginia

IMPETUS FOR CHANGE: In 2008, you did not need a graduate degree to become a registered nutritionist and dietitian. But I sensed that would be changing—we were one of only a few healthcare professions (nursing being another) that didn’t require advanced degrees for entry-level practice at the time. I had an idea to take our internship program—a stand-alone, 10-month, hospital-based program—and expand it to a master’s degree program. I spoke with some people at the University of Virginia’s School of Continuing and Professional Studies, and they said the program would be possible—but if I wanted to create and lead it, I’d need a terminal degree. That became my dream: not just to get my doctorate but to make that new master’s degree program happen.

RIGHT PLACE, RIGHT TIME: The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, which governs our field, announced in June 2013 that by Jan. 1, 2024, anyone sitting for our exam would require a master’s degree and supervised practice. Right now, there are a lot of freestanding internships—the kind that I used to manage—and they’ll need to be integrated into master’s programs. It’ll probably take about 10 or 15 years for those changes to happen, but it’s gratifying to know that, only 9 years later, I’m in the exact right place to implement my original plan here at the University of Virginia.

BEEN THERE, DONE THAT: The experience I had as an adult learner helps me connect with my students. I’ve lived what they’re living—working hard all day, coming home and doing what needs to be done for my family, then sitting down to start my homework at 9 p.m. In the case of my research, Job Satisfaction and Professional Characteristics of Registered Dietitians: A Survey of the Impact of Educational Level on Entry Level Practice, it supported a major educational policy change within my profession. That experience informs the coaching and mentoring I give to my students.