When it comes to professional, we couldn’t think of a more fitting individual. Joanna Wirkus is a poised, hard-working young lady, on the road to doing great things in the nutrition world. When Wirkus isn’t volunteering or working, you can find her hiking, camping, biking and fire dancing.
College Lifestyles™: What sparked your interest in nutrition?
Joanna Wirkus, R.D.: There are so many things. I knew I wanted to work in a field where I could use the progress and technology of science to help people. I figured nursing or medical school was not the best fit for me, but dietetics was perfect. Registered dietitians work in a huge variety of job settings, can specialize and can also change their specialty within the same career field.
CL: Where did you attend school for your undergraduate work and your internship?
JW: I graduated with a degree in clinical dietetics from University of California, Davis. I did my dietetic internship at Bastyr University in Washington State, near Seattle.
CL: What sort of organizations were you involved with?
JW: I was a member of the Golden Key Honor Society, although I wasn’t very active with that organization since I was focused on getting nutrition-related experience. I was part of an undergraduate research mentorship program through the Foods For Health Institute, where I had the opportunity to participate in all aspects of human nutrition feeding studies.
I was an active member of my Student Nutrition Association and eventually started a new student club called Environmentally Conscious Nutritionally Alive Population. I volunteered and taught nutrition and gardening to individuals with disabilities through the Team Davis Good Foods Garden Project. I also did nutrition counseling for underserved populations at the Willow Clinic, a free, student-run medical clinic. Whew!
CL: How do you feel about your internship experience?
JW: I had an excellent internship experience with many different rotations, about two to three weeks each, with a 10 week emphasis on clinical. This allowed me to see many different settings where registered dietitians work from corporate wellness to renal dialysis. I loved that my internship experience included several cooking demos, because this is a vital, marketable skill to have.
CL: What was your least and favorite part of your dietetic internship?
JW: It wasn’t really a part of my internship, but I chose to attend the Food Nutrition Conference and Expo in Atlanta, Georgia in October. I came back and video taped a presentation that was available for all students, to learn a little bit of what I experienced at the conference. I also enjoyed organizing an educational event for preceptors and collecting donations to provide gifts for our attendees.
My least favorite part of the internship was working in the WIC clinic. I really enjoyed working with the mothers and infants, but I’m not good at handling small children, especially when they are crying and demanding things. I learned a valuable lesson!
CL: How did you study for the RD exam?
JW: We had a bit of studying and testing built into our program. I installed a couple RD test apps on my phone and did questions during any free time. A preceptor gave me flash cards. I also practiced with Visual Veggies – a RD exam testing software we had in our library. I had a practice test from the Academy and a few other practice tests from Mometrix. I was well supported with many resources from my university and dietetic internship program.
CL: Who is the most influential person in your life right now?
JW: My boyfriend.
CL: What are your future career plans?
JW: To work a few years in clinical dietetics and sustainability-focused cooking demos at 21 Acres. I plan to attend graduate school and do research focused on nutrtri-genomics/nutri-genetics. I also have a dream of starting a holistic health center or even just being a dietitian for an integrative wellness practice.
CL: What advice would you give to current and prospective nutrition majors?
JW: Pick something that will prove to be a foundation for a career that you can create for yourself. Networking in a way that is actually building relationships is vital for success. While you have the time, it is good to volunteer, meet people and figure out the right people to surround yourself with. Also, social media is a great way to get established online.
People study nutrition because it is their passion. They think it should always feel fun, and once things get hard they get discouraged. Don’t ever get discouraged! Grit is one of the most important qualities for success.
CL hopes you’ve gained some gracious insight from Wirkus’ well-rounded experiences. Her inspiring journey is definitely some positive motivation.
Images courtesy of Joanna Wirkus.
Graphic by College Lifestyles™.