Karen Wetherall, MS, RDN, LDN
Director, Dietetic Internship, The University of Tennessee, Knoxville
Owner & President, Tranquil Eating Associates
How did you get started in your career?
In high school I was interested in human biology and cooking. I was also interested in teaching. I went off to college to study nutrition, then I completed a coordinated Masters-Dietetic Internship program in Boston to become an RD. I was most interested in outpatient counseling, and I obtained a WIC job at Mass General Hospital’s (MGH) Chelsea Clinic. This expanded into counseling adults for diabetes and cardiovascular issues. I noticed that most of my clients needed to lose weight, and they had behavioral issues surrounding their eating. A few years later I obtained a job at Children’s Hospital of Boston at the Judge Baker Center which was an inpatient unit for eating disorders (ED). This was where I began to be educated about working with EDs. Although I enjoyed this experience, it was a part-time job, so when the opportunity arose for a full-time job, I went to the main campus of MGH to work in the cardiac rehab clinic. My focus with these clients was on weight management through a heart-healthy diet. However, I also joined the ED team at MGH. Every Friday the ED team would do a full day intake with a client, and the following Friday the team of MDs, therapists and RDs would discuss treatment recommendations. I also saw clients for outpatient counseling including clients with EDs. The inpatient setting at Judge Baker, and the comprehensive team approach at MGH were incredibly valuable experiences which expanded my confidence and training in working effectively with clients with eating EDs.
Fourteen years into my career my husband moved his business to east Tennessee, and I scoped the area for my next position. Having had the experience of teaching nutrition at the Preventive Medicine course at Harvard Medical School, my husband encouraged me to check out teaching possibilities at the University of Tennessee (UT) in Knoxville. I felt fortunate to land a job as the Dietetic Internship Director. This job allowed me to join my two loves of nutrition and teaching. It has been such a pleasure to work with bright and energetic students/future RDNs. This was a part-time position, so I began a private consulting practice, Tranquil Eating Associates. There was a need in Knoxville for RDNs experienced with EDs, so my business has been steady with minimal marketing; primarily fed through relationships with therapists, MDs and other RDNs.
What advice would you give to someone new to the field?
Read books, attend seminars and workshops, join BHN (Behavioral Health Nutrition), participate on their listserv, and get at least one mentor which includes an RDN for professional supervision.