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VA Dietitian Appeals to Employees' Stomachs to Improve Their Health Status
- Categorized in: June 2012
Rewards and challenges
Wichlinski primarily works with employees, most of them also veterans, and says that working in a VA medical center has distinct advantages — as well as challenges — when compared with the civilian healthcare environment.
“We have a lot of dietitians in the VA system,” she notes, observing that her facility has the equivalent of 15 full-time employees,, whereas in the private sector there might be only two or three. “We get to spend a lot of time and energy with the veterans and can devote a good deal more time to education.
“I want to provide them the education they need now so they won’t end up in the hospital.”
A large part of that education, she adds, involves preventive nutrition. Having the opportunity to do that one-on-one, as well as through big events, is a distinct advantage.
Changing behavior can be difficult, however. “It is a challenge to help them recognize how important it is to take care of themselves,” Wichlinski says. “We try to educate them not only to eat well, but also, for example, to park their cars far away from buildings so they take extra steps.”
The feedback she gets is rewarding. Employees “know I’m here to help them with questions; it can be as simple as seeing them in the canteen and being asked about some new diet or nutrition advice they recently read about and helping them separate fact from fiction.”
Her ‘second love’
In addition to meal planning and nutrition counseling, Wichlinksi says she loves to write and uses that skill to promote healthy eating.
“We have a newsletter called ‘5000 West,’ and, when I first moved here, the gentleman who puts it together approached our dietitians and asked who would take on the role of writing about our activities, and I was happy to do it,” she recalls. This gave her the opportunity, for example, to write an article about the “Shape Up Your Plate” event in the newsletter.
“I write a regular column about nutrition; the newsletter is bimonthly, and I try to get an article into every issue,” says Wichlinski. The topics can be anything from what to eat for lunch or healthy snack options to special events.
Wichlinski says she likes to focus on issues that raise morale, “but it’s always based around food in some shape or form.”
Employee wellness is beginning to be a big focus at the VA, she notes.
“A lot of [VA] facilities already are targeting that, and we’re just starting,” Wichlinski explains. “We’re trying to be proactive and let them know our facility really does care about them and that we want them to be healthy.”
That new initiative will give her more opportunities to use her talents. “It’s easy to come into work every day, because I enjoy what I do,” says Wichlinski, who has been in Milwaukee for two years.
The mission to work with veterans was realized early in her career. After majoring in dietetics as an undergraduate, she did her dietetic internship through VA. “I really wanted to be in the VA system,” Wichlinski says.