The student in the spotlight this month is Jeff Velez. He was a student at Keiser University and recently finished his dietetic internship. Being a student and intern during COVID brought about unique opportunities for him to help improve food service and delivery as a dietetic intern. Read on to find out more about his experience in dietetics!
Tell me a little bit about yourself.
My name is Jeff Velez. I am 27 years old. I was born in Medellin, Colombia then moved to the States when I was about six years old. I have lived in Florida for most of my life. I have graduated from Kaiser University, finished my dietetic internships, and am preparing for the RD exam. I enjoy being active by cycling and weightlifting. I especially enjoy the adventure of long-distance cycling trips. My friend and I spent a whole week doing a round trip around Long Island, it was almost 300 miles! I am a full-time doggy dad to two Shiba Inus, Akira, and Axel. I love cooking and experimenting in the kitchen. I make sure to play an active role in my school community, and I enjoyed being part of different programs and taking on leadership positions. I served as President of the Student Dietetic Association for two terms and spearheaded the creation of a live virtual cooking and nutrition education program during COVID for our members and the local community to take part in. I thrive on being able to build those up around me and being part of a good team.
How did you become interested in nutrition?
I originally went to school for accounting and computer information systems and once I got to the end of the program and saw what that career was really like, I realized I couldn’t see myself doing that kind of work ten years in the future. So, I took a step back and went back to working in the food service industry in the meantime. I managed a juice bar for a few years, which sparked my interest in nutrition. Through that job, I learned the impact of food in maintaining your health. I also like staying active and working out in my free time, so I thought about turning that hobby into a career and becoming a personal trainer. I figured I could combine the two and become a health coach by learning more about nutrition. Then, I applied to the university and started learning about nutrition and I realized how broad the field was and that it was more than just weight loss and building muscle mass. The clinical application of nutrition was not something I expected but as I learned more about it deepened my interest.
What interests you the most about the profession of dietetics?
Since I do have a food service background, I have worked in almost every position possible in the food service industry. I’m interested in the organizational aspect and administration of the kitchen. But more than anything, I think it’s the connection with people! I love being able to counsel people. I think that the biggest part is educating, connecting with people, and helping them meet their health goals is amazing.
Where did you intern? Tell me a little bit about what your experience was like.
My supervised practice was separated into three categories, clinical, community, and foodservice. Each one took place at a different facility. I started off with my clinical supervised practice, I completed my rotation at a long-term acute care facility. This took place during the height of COVID so I was thrown into the deep end with enteral and parenteral nutrition since a majority of patients were on ventilators at the time and in critical condition. I learned quite a bit about a wide variety of medical conditions and how to properly make a nutrition recommendation for each. For my community rotation, I shadowed dietitians at a local WIC clinic. I was lucky to be an asset to them by helping to translate and give nutrition education to Spanish-speaking clients. Being able to assist those in need in my community was a privilege. For my food service rotation, I completed it at the skilled nursing facility in one of the premier retirement communities in the United States. I worked closely with the director of dining and the dietitian on staff on a quality improvement initiative and I was able to learn quite a bit about budgeting, inventory management, menu planning, and procurement. It was amazing to be able to work at a location of that caliber and with the resources they have available.
What is a challenge you experienced as a nutrition student or intern and how did you overcome it?
For most of my foodservice internship, I worked on a quality improvement program. At the skilled nursing facility, they have three dining rooms where the residents would typically eat, but because of COVID restrictions, the residents were no longer able to dine together and were required to eat individually in their own rooms. This meant that the kitchen had to switch to a full delivery room service. Their system was not built for that kind of service, so they were getting complaints about the temperature of the food. My preceptor brought me on to identify the cause of the complaints and eventually draft a plan to correct the issue. I evaluated every step of the dining procedure and conducted many tray tests and time studies to compile data and build a report for him. The tray delivery is an interdepartmental task. The dining staff drops off the tray carts at each unit and then the nursing staff distributes them to each room. When I pinpointed the sticking points in the procedure, I worked with the director of dining to create a solution. The challenge however was coordinating between the nursing and dining departments and ensuring adherence to the new procedure. I worked as an intermediary between the two disciplines. We implemented a system that met the needs of both departments while establishing time constraints, accountability, and an audit procedure to ensure that patients were receiving their meals at safe and palatable temperatures. This was my biggest endeavor throughout my internship experience but during this time I learned how to apply a proper problem-solving process and I learned the importance of communication and organization in an interdisciplinary setting.
What advice do you have for future interns?
Just say yes. Don’t shy away from new experiences. Even though it may be intimidating the only way to grow is by being uncomfortable. If your preceptor offers you to go to a meeting, go to that meeting! If they want you to take on a patient by yourself, go for it! This is the time to make mistakes while your preceptor is there as a safety net. Take in as much as you can during that time and meet as many people as possible.
What are your career aspirations at this time?
I am looking to either find a position in Community nutrition, providing nutrition education to those in need, or as a food service manager position. In the long term, I’ll be working on getting my sports dietetics specialist certification and then start my own business. My end goal is to be a nutrition professional and health coach so I can provide nutrition and sports training plans, cooking tips, and recipes. I’d also like to create a meal-delivery service for my clients! This combines my passion for nutrition and food management.
We are excited to see Jeff obtain his RDN credential and begin his career as a dietetic professional!