Hannah Barnes, MS, RD, LD/N, CLC

Hannah Barnes, MS, RD, LD/N, CLC is a Registered Dietitian, Licensed Nutritionist and Certified Lactation Counselor with more than nine years’ experience as a Nutritionist. Barnes has a background in public health, nutrition program management, lactation support, and preceptorship.  As the Public Health and Nutrition Program Director for the Leon County WIC Program, Barnes fills a multifaceted role that includes program administrator, nutrition counseling, lactation support, community nutrition advocate and dietetic preceptor.

 

She received her Bachelor of Science degree in Dietetics and Master of Science degree in Food Science and Nutrition at Florida State University and completed her dietetic internship through the Pasco County WIC Program Dietetic Internship.

 

Since childhood, Barnes has known the joy of cooking and sharing food with others. It wasn’t just sustenance; it was an expression of love and creativity. From this place, a path to becoming a dietitian has led her to experience a fulfilling career in public service, where her passion for people, nutritional science, and organizational leadership have come together. Today, she thrives in a role that allows her to make a real difference in her community.

  1. What inspired you to become a dietitian?

 

My path to becoming a dietitian wasn’t a straight line. While I always enjoyed cooking and appreciated the power of food to bring people together, it wasn’t until I discovered the realm of public health and nutrition that the true spark ignited. There, the world of food opened beyond delicious meals; food (or the lack thereof) was now recognized as a catalyst and a foundational pillar for individual and community well-being. It’s not just the technical aspects of nutrition science that drew me in; it’s the human connection.

Now, every day as a dietitian, I have the privilege of sharing the knowledge of that connection with my community. I feel especially grateful to be a part of a family’s journey to understanding and incorporating nutrition and its potential impact on a child’s relationship with food for a lifetime. And that, for me, is the most inspiring reward of all.

 

  1. Could you tell me about your educational background and the path you took to become a dietitian?

    From a young age, I knew I wanted to be a professional chef. The romanticized industry in which all the “feels” and imagination are celebrated. I was quickly faced with the reality of various aspects of the food service industry that I knew were not my cup of tea at the time. True to myself and unwilling to let go of some connection to food, I went on a career quest with reckless abandon, my research consisting of a short Google search and a murmured prayer. “Dietetics?” I applied to Florida State University’s program, bracing myself for the unknown but confident that I’d make it my own.

 

Then came the science tsunami. Biochemistry and microbiology, subjects I’d previously never considered being in my future, loomed large. I persisted (only to find out that Metabolism I and II were the true memorization goliath), fueled by the growing conviction that food wasn’t just fuel; it had an important role in healing, connection, and empowerment.

 

As graduation neared, I honed in on what motivated me most, and I decided that I had more to learn about the intersection of food, culture, and health education. At this time, I was working two jobs, one being a barista at Starbucks and the other as a nutrition educator for WIC, so to say the least, I was busy, and I opted to wait to apply to any internships while completing my education. With my master’s in food science and nutrition on its way, my career decisions weren’t based on a quick Internet search; I was now immersing myself in the heart of one of the most effective and well-researched programs supporting maternal and infant/child nutrition (WIC, also known as the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children). In addition, I spent many Saturday mornings at the Bond Community Health Center assisting my major professor with her lively D.A.S.H. cohorts battling chronic hypertension.

 

At this time, my personal journey with food, including its joys, challenges, and everything in between, allowed me to understand the depth and complexity of nutrition and the difficulty of relating to ideal nutrition principles. During my graduating degree, it became clear that the science of nutrition must also acknowledge the interwoven threads of scarcity, economics, traditions, celebrations, and the emotional power of food. Through this understanding, meaningful conversations about nutrition can lead to positive behavior changes that address diet-related diseases is key.

 

Since becoming a registered dietitian, I have become familiar with the unique challenges of public service: burnout, empathy fatigue, and resource limitations. Tackling these has become another driving force. Recognizing that empathy, compassion, and trust are essential not only for clients but also for team members has given me another avenue in which my career provides me a lot of satisfaction. I look forward to continuing my education in this area of public health administration and leadership training to continue to improve the balance between compassion, accountability, and leading with empathy while navigating the demands of public service.

  1. What does a typical day or week look like for you as a dietitian?

 

My daily activities and responsibilities will vary based on the agency’s needs. My time is spent between providing direct client services, program management, policy development, training staff, conducting quality assurance through reports, formalized strategic planning, collaborating with other health department programs and staff on mutually shared clients or initiatives, and team building.

  1. What are the most challenging and rewarding aspects of being a dietitian?

 

The most challenging aspect of being a dietitian is the realization that there is no universal approach to nutrition or healthcare of any form. There are exceptions and nuances in nutrition, and it is the responsibility of dietitians to guide clients toward what is most beneficial for their health.

 

The most rewarding aspect of being a dietitian is walking a client through what they perceive as a problem or obstacle surrounding food in a safe, nonjudgmental environment where they can have patience with themselves or loved ones.

  1. What advice would you give to someone considering a career in dietetics?

 

My advice to someone considering a career in dietetics would be to consider what fulfills you as a person, apart from nutrition, healthcare, or any specific industry, and then imagine (with no limit to your creativity and vision) what that would look like as a dietitian.

 

  1. What do you see as the future of the dietetics profession?

 

As public health concerns like food insecurity and diet-related diseases persist, the future of dietetics will need to assume a significant role in creating monumental impact. I would like to see food policy with an emphasis in public health administration become a distinct pillar of the field (joining clinic, food service, and community nutrition). This will be essential to prepare the next generation of dietitians with the foundation to jump directly into realm of policy to play a vital role in national policies and administration of nutrition-related government programs. It’s crucial that more dietitians become cornerstones of policy making, dedicating their careers to advocating for transformative food policies.

 

In addition, telehealth and virtual consultations are key tools for expanding our reach and adapting to the diverse population across the country. Our policies and workforce must adapt to alternative means for completing comprehensive nutrition care with the tools available.

 

  1. What characteristics/personality traits do you think are essential for your specific role?

 

For a public health nutritionist, the heart of everything lies in a deep-seated desire to serve and a genuine concern for the well-being of others. It’s the foundation upon which all other essential traits come from, including adaptability, creativity, and perseverance.