Protein powder adds lots of good stuff to recipes with little or no sugar or fat. It can be added to soups, meals, desserts and yes, JELL-O®. High Protein JELL-O Cubes are the brainstorm of DaVita renal dietitian, Melanie from West Virginia, where they know a thing or two about kidney-friendly and tasty fare.
Melanie shares that she always enjoyed eating and trying new foods, and continues to have an interest in health care. Originally from Ohio, Melanie attended college at Ohio University.
During her second year of college, Melanie changed her major and began researching various careers. She admits to not being familiar with the field of dietetics, but it sounded like a good opportunity to learn more about good food choices and how nutrition impacted health and various diseases. “The first experience I had in dialysis was during my internship,” Melanie says. “I liked the dialysis setting because I got to see patients over a much longer time period than in the hospital.”
At times, Melanie wondered what kind of an impact she was having on hospital patients sent to her for outpatient dietary education. “In the dialysis setting, I was able to work with patients on a more regular basis and see their progress. I could also see the effects of the dietary education I provided. Soon after finishing my internship, I was hired by a dialysis company that later became DaVita.”
Melanie shares that there are many rewarding and challenging aspects to being a renal dietitian. “It is difficult to see people experience a sudden change in their lives when dialysis is initiated. It has such a great impact, not only on the individual starting dialysis, but also on their families and/or caregivers. Trying to help patients learn more about how eating affects overall health, and then helping them develop a plan that fits them individually, is probably the most challenging aspect for me.”
Although there are many challenging aspects to being a renal dietitian, there are many rewarding parts, too. Melanie says, “It’s very rewarding for me to see patients and teammates reach goals and experience a sense of accomplishment. It’s also very rewarding to work on a team with high-level expertise, including the DaVita Dietitian Team.”
Making a difference in patients’ lives is a high aspiration for any dietitian. Melanie listens to her patients and tries to accept each individual for who they are and what they are capable of. “I offer compassion and respect while guiding them in their daily eating habits,” she says. “Most of us do not truly understand what our patients are going through on a daily basis. I try to empower patients to make good choices for themselves. I appreciate the various personalities I meet and work with, and have learned so much from them.”
Melanie makes the interesting observation that people don’t respond well to fear. She says, “I believe that most patients understand how not following dietary recommendations may affect them; however, I do not feel this is what motivates a person to change a behavior. I encourage patients to focus on what is important to them personally and often ask what motivates them to make changes or what has helped them accomplish goals in the past.” Melanie is flexible in changing her approach when working with people to help them achieve goals. “Sometimes it’s obvious when someone doesn’t want to discuss labs or diet. Maybe he or she just wants to vent, and that’s what I let them do.”
Patients can and do improve their own health, even while on dialysis. Melanie says she thinks the most important thing is for patients to set and reset short- and long-term personal health goals while considering what they want in life. “I believe patients should celebrate successes, even small ones,” she emphasizes. “At one unit, we celebrate birthdays twice in each month by making a renal recipe and letting patients try it. The patients who have birthdays that month are recognized and everyone gets to try a new food, too. People really seem to enjoy it.”
Ten years of work experience with DaVita gives Melanie a perspective on the company. “I really like the emphasis on team within the dialysis units. I also appreciate the dietitian meetings/networking and the resources available. I am surprised by all the different things DaVita is involved in as a company, including medical missions, the patient advocate group and award programs that honor teammates, just to name a few.”
Bonding with patients and sharing funny moments keeps Melanie on her toes. One patient of Melanie’s would always comment about wanting to eat chocolate every time he saw her. She had previously encouraged him to avoid chocolate because of the phosphorus content. “Some of his comments would be in a joking tone and sometimes he’d bring in a candy bar and wait for me to come around before eating it,” she explains. “Anything to try to get a rise out of me! He would bring different articles and ads related to chocolate and even wore a t-shirt related to eating chocolate. One day when I was reviewing labs, he proudly presented me with a signed prescription from the doctor that stated, “Patient should eat chocolate everyday.” He could not wait to show this to me and thought it was hilarious!”
Melanie reveals that her home unit has many “colorful personalities” that she enjoys. “I can’t imagine working with such a wonderful, fun, caring group of people anywhere else. This applies to all the dialysis units I work in.” Melanie has created a colorful recipe for all the people she loves to work with: High Protein JELL-O Cubes.