Janice Blythe

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Clinical Nutrition

Do you remember what it was that you connected with, that let you know right away that CHS was the right place for you? 

In 1972 I completed an undergraduate degree in Administrative Dietetics from Eastern Kentucky University (EKU). My career plan was to become a registered dietitian (RD). Professionally, it was necessary that I gain admission to a post-baccalaureate dietetic internship for 1 year in order to qualify to take the national test administered by the professional organization for RDs, the American Dietetic Association. In order to satisfy all requirements for this national RD exam, it was necessary to apply to post-baccalaureate degree internship programs around the country. There were approximately 80 of these post-baccalaureate programs available across the USA. These programs were located primarily in teaching medical centers/hospitals at large research universities. As applicants, we could select only two programs to submit our applications. The selection process was highly competitive; strong academic performance throughout one’s undergraduate degree was highly essential.  I applied to two programs and was accepted into both. One of these two programs was out-of-state, and the second internship program was at the University of Kentucky Chandler Medical Center. During this one-year program, three months of experiences would be provided at the Veterans Administration Hospital (then at the Leestown division and the VA Medical Center at Cooper Drive, near the Chandler Medical Center). Because admission to the internship also required enrollment in a selected number of credits in graduate courses (part-time enrollment into these approved courses along with full-time 40+ work-week hours for 50 weeks for the entire internship), I gave priority consideration to accepting the program in Kentucky as opposed to going out of state.  At this time the College of Allied Health offered the graduate courses needed to complete requirements for the post-baccalaureate internship.  The selected graduate courses (part-time status) were associated with the Master of Science degree in clinical nutrition in the Department of Clinical Nutrition in the College of Allied Health. Dr. Paul Thornton was the Chair of this department. For many years this department also offered an alternate opportunity, a master’s degree in clinical nutrition, for graduate students who may not be enrolled in the post-baccalaureate internship program at the Chandler Medical Center. In my explorations, I learned that it was also possible to enroll as a part-time student (six graduate hours) during the dietetic internship for one year, and then continue for one summer and an additional academic year (two semesters) and actually complete this master’s program in clinical nutrition. The possibility of obtaining my master’s degree in this professional tract appealed greatly to me. For this reason I chose also to apply for the master’s degree program and complete it in slightly less than 2 years. My thinking during this time interval was to consider this dual opportunity as a channel to achieve longer term career alternatives.  If I was accepted into the Dietetic Internship Program at the Chandler Medical Center, there would be the possibility to complete this one year internship, take the national exam, become a RD if I passed the exam, and then remain at UKY to complete the master’s degree in clinical nutrition. Because I considered this as a better opportunity not only to satisfy my original plan to become a RD, but also to obtain a graduate degree in another year or so, I made the decision to remain in Kentucky and pursue this route through the university. Subsequently, I accepted the appointment for the one year Dietetic Internship Program at Chandler Medical Center and also enrolled as a part-time student for one year in selected graduate courses required for the internship appointment. At the end of the first year, 1973, I graduated from the internship program in August and studied for the national exam to be taken in October of that year. In late October of 1973 I received my exam results and became a Registered Dietitian (RD). In the meantime, I also enrolled fall term 1973 as a full-time graduate student in clinical nutrition in the College of Allied Health. The M.S. degree in Clinical Nutrition was awarded to me in May 1974. This completed the first phase of my career plan and I began my first full-time position as a RD at Saint Joseph Hospital (now the main facility on Harrodsburg Road).  I later advanced to a position with an endocrinologist at the Lexington Clinic on south Broadway. It was during this time as a practitioner that I also served as a preceptor for undergraduate students enrolled in dietetic programs at public and private institutions of higher education in Kentucky.

Did you come to UK knowing you wanted to pursue a career in health sciences? How did you choose your profession? 

Because I had received my bachelor’s degree in Dietetics and wished to become a registered dietitian (RD), I recall that in the 1970s the University of Kentucky was the only institution of higher learning in the state that offered this dual opportunity for me to become a RD and obtain a master’s degree within one academic track. When I learned of the opportunity to accomplish two levels of professional development in the profession of dietetics, I chose this opportunity. It was my first choice to remain in the state to achieve my education and then hopefully obtain gainful employment. Hence, my entrance into this academic pathway, was accomplished through clinical nutrition. It also worked out well that this academic program was offered in an appropriate department with other health professions. It was in this setting as a part-time and full-time graduate student that I learned more about interacting with other health team members, both through the internship experiences (in the hospitals and in out-patient clinics), in the community (schools and health department), and in field work in Eastern Kentucky counties with school-age children. Understanding more details about the exposure that I received with all members of the health team has greatly influenced my approach to teaching not only undergraduate dietetic students, but those planning to pursue careers in medicine, dentistry, nursing, physical therapy, respiratory therapy, clinical lab sciences, athletic training, and physician’s assistants.  My early exposure to diverse health professions associated with quality medical care has greatly enhanced my perspectives and performance as a practitioner and as an educator in both public and private institutions of higher education. 

What is the best advice you received from a CHS faculty member? 

As a graduate student, both at part-time and full-time status, I was blessed to have two wonderful professors, Dr. Paul Thornton and Dr. Willena Beagle.  Collectively, their style of instruction modeled a high degree of professionalism, ethical behavior, the value of conducting and utilizing research as a practitioner, and to continue to learn all that was available to me throughout my career—life-long learning. Their individual advice in particular classes, lab, and field work greatly supported the quality of graduate education that I have valued so much over the past several decades.  Both of my professors introduced me to the concept of the team approach to health care. Although the academic environment within the College of Health Science has advanced tremendously since I was a student with regards to physical facilities, physical space, and expansion of curricula and specific program development with enhanced clinical experiences for students, Drs. Thornton and Beagle utilized all available resources to encourage deeper thinking about a team of professionals, each providing an important area of specialization and collectively providing a combined level of service for quality patient/client care. Their collective advice to become and maintain my status as a credible, continued learner, and hard worker has supported my professional and personal life in multiple ways. I have attempted to follow their advice over the years.

What do you love about your job? 

My current position highlights more than 30 years at Berea College and more than 40 years in higher education. When I was a practitioner and worked daily with my patients and clients, I had such respect and appreciation for them, especially those who struggled with certain chronic illnesses with such dignity and courage. Having spent more than 40 years as an educator in a public and private institution of higher learning and learning more about the richness as well as challenges within the Appalachian Region (multiple states within the region), my love remains deeply grounded in students—their excitement, their questions, their ability to succeed even in the mist of challenges, their desire to continue to work hard and learn, and so much more.  I really enjoyed being a student myself and it has been an excellent opportunity for me to become a better person as a result of the students that I have known, taught, and learned from all around the globe for more than four decades. Learning is exciting and challenging; we should never forget to reflect and identify lessons learned, then, we can always do better as we move forward.  The students for whom I have served all these decades have taught me such firm values to hold on to in my own life. In 1974 I did not plan on teaching when I graduated from the College of Allied Health, now the College of Health Sciences. I had no idea that such a pursuit was in my future. However, obtaining this master’s degree in clinical nutrition, opened the door for me to enter public higher education at the rank of instructor. In three years, I obtained additional professional development and was promoted to assistant professor. In seven years, I was in the final path of completing my PhD. Consequently, I obtained tenure during this interval and was promoted to the rank of associate professor within the public higher education system. Following a few years as a practitioner, and a decade in providing formal education to rising dietetic professionals, I was later able to enter the private system of higher education within a liberal arts learning community. For more than three decades, I have not only been able to teach and promote effective learning outcomes in dietetic and other undergraduates, but I have also been able to contribute to lower (department chair) and mid-level administrative learning opportunities (associate provost and academic division chair) which continues to benefit not only students, but also faculty and staff in our current learning community. The current status of my learning and advancement has afforded me the opportunity to elevate to the rank of full professor and an endowed chair within my profession. For the past three years, I have returned to full-time teaching undergraduates within a broad spectrum of knowledge about our food system, healthy lifestyles, preventive health practices, and I continue to expand my background in multiple aspects of nutrition and food science. I am truly grateful for these diverse opportunities to demonstrate my continued learning and teaching. My life’s journey was strongly supported by obtaining my master’s degree in clinical nutrition; it formulated a firm foundation that has been extremely promising to my personal and professional life.

How do you stay inspired professionally? 

Continuous learning is absolutely necessary for all professionals. In addition to attending professional conferences and meetings that are specifically linked to the profession of dietetics, I utilize our technology and participate in online webinars, skyped and phone conference conversations, and continue to construct a professional development plan to maintain my national status as a registered dietitian nutritionist (RDN) for five-year intervals, and annual licensure status within the state of Kentucky. Moreover, I volunteer to serve on community boards with individuals from diverse professional backgrounds, including healthcare, but others as well. For more than two decades, I have engaged my students in service-learning as a way to introduce civic engagement and community involvement in order to enhance the quality of life for individuals and families. I have enhanced my scholarly pursuits beyond nutrition, dietetics, and agriculture, to include particular pedagogical approaches to effective teaching. I continue to engage students in service-learning and other experiential learning opportunities to expand my learning along with engaging my students in these varied and beneficial learning experiences.

What do you hope now to accomplish in health care? 

In October of this year 2018, I received a letter of appreciation and was congratulated by our national office, now the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (formerly the American Dietetic Association) for continuing in this profession as a practitioner and educator for the past 45 years. At first I was shocked by the number of years cited in the acknowledgement. After taking a few minutes to reflect on my career, I smiled and said to myself “that’s right, I did become a RD in October of 1973. During this 45 year professional pathway, I have had the opportunity to be employed in acute care facilities and serve my patients/clients in a number of different ways—in nutritional counseling for a diversity of health conditions, engage patients and their families in educational sessions to gain greater knowledge about their health condition, to foster effective preventive medical care, to encourage positive decision making in their care for chronic conditions, to work with those who were terminally ill, to work with families welcoming a new baby, to serve those veterans who have given the best of their contributions to protect us in this country and in other international areas I have been able to travel. Moreover, I have been able to make multiple transitions within the profession through a movement into higher education. By obtaining the master’s degree, I was able to gain an entry-level full-time teaching position in the Dietetics Program at Eastern Kentucky University (EKU). While in this position, I engaged students in an Associate Degree Program for Dietetic Technicians, a BS degree program in Dietetics, and a MS degree program in Community Nutrition. During my decade at EKU, I completed my PhD degree in Animal Science, with an emphasis on Nutrition, earned tenure, and was promoted to the rank of associate professor. I am now on a pathway toward retirement from teaching. Future plans may include more reflective writing as well as providing scholarly written contributions to the profession of Nutrition and Dietetics through avenues of public policy.

What advice do you have for students in CHS now? 

Challenge your own thinking, logic, and reasoning,  and demonstrate a higher level of thinking both in your professional positions and how you interact with others; 

Work hard to become an effective communicator (developing your skills, knowledge, and habits of mind in active listening, developing strong creative and technical writing skills, improving your articulation in speaking; appreciate, conduct, and utilize research data from credible sources; and contribute your learning and research to the larger pool of knowledge); 

Be unafraid to demonstrate an appreciation for the experiences of others, especially those with more seasoned experiences in their professional and personal life;  

Smile, be positive and enthusiastic as much as possible;  

Reduce your tendency to allow frustration and challenges to discourage taking positive steps to continue to move forward; 

Always respect the dignity of others even you do not agree with them;  

Keep it simple whenever possible;  

Be humble and thankful for what you receive from your families, friends, and those who contribute to all of your learning; and  

Work hard, but establish a healthful balance in your life.  

Walk around without looking at the smartphone a few minutes each day;  notice the flowers, smell the air, and understand that weeds and dandelions offer some support to our ecosystem 

Reflect on some pleasurable moments throughout your time as a student and beyond 

Offer your hand or give a hug to support someone whenever you can do so 

What do you wish you would have paid more attention to as a student in regards to your work in healthcare? 

I believe that I remained focused, respectful of the dignity of all that I encountered, and I utilized many different opportunities to expand my learning and understanding for my personal and professional life.  I feel pretty comfortable with my progress as an undergraduate, graduate student (masters and PhD), and a continuing learner over all these years.  I sometimes wish I could revisit so many of the advancements in higher education, especially what is now offered through the College of Health Sciences and other healthcare professionals in the learning environment now available on the campus at UK. It’s really an exciting place to return to whenever I am able to do so.