What I’ve Learned In Two Years Of Private Practice

This whole ” Andy The RD” thing kicked off two whole years ago.

On December 8th 2015 I published  ” How To Helped Loved Ones Eat Better” and the rest is history.

I wonder if anyone has actually ever even read that post though?

I started out with a pretty crappy self-made website on Wix, an Instagram account with under 100 followers, no clients and a blog that pretty much no one was reading.

730 odd days and a number of proud moments later, I sit here ( virtually) with you today and proudly celebrate my second anniversary. 

Needless to say, things have changed.

An awesome new website, a great body of clients and social media followers, features in both print and online…

I could not be happier with how the last two years have gone.

I’ve also grown a great deal both professionally and personally in that period of time and, in acknowledgement of that reality, I thought it would be fitting to take a moment to reflect on some of the insights I’ve acquired working in the very unique private practice setting.

I know that private practice is an area of fascination for many young dietitians and nutrition students out there, so I am confident that the next thousand words will be quite an intriguing read.

The 10 Things I’ve Learned In The Last Two Years In Private Practice Dietetics

1.  People want to work with private practice dietitians:  Otherwise I’d be out of business!  Each of the hundreds of people I’ve seen over the past two years came through my doors on their own free will. Dietitians truly value food as preventative medicine, but perhaps some of us aren’t sure that the public feels the same. In my opinion, the influx of clients I’ve had since I started is proof that people do value  food, and want to access dietitians to help them understand how to use it to their advantage.  This should be encouraging to all of you young dietitian and nutrition students out there. I have experienced it first hand, there is a demand and market for guidance from dietitians outside of the hospital system and in a setting where we are sought out through free will and not necessarily absolute medical necessity. Will it ever be a jam packed 5-day a week business? Probably not, but I am more than satisfied with my current 3-day a week practice schedule that allows me to work elsewhere and dabble in a variety of other projects and opportunities.

2.  Plenty of people have insurance coverage for  private practice dietitians:  This is a Canadian specific topic, as I understand in America there is little to no insurance coverage that allows individuals to seek out 1-on-1 counselling from a privately operating dietitian.  In Canada, we have free public healthcare that will cover your visit to a dietitian if you are referred by a doctor. Our healthcare will not cover you to see a dietitian on your own free will for preventative purposes. However, many individuals also have what are known as “extended benefits”, which are most often provided by their employers. As you might expect, people will be far more likely to seek out a dietitian’s services if they are covered for it. Before I started my practice, I was not 100% confident that the market of individuals with dietitian coverage was enough to make my business sustainable. I am happy to report now that, as far I can tell, the number of Torontonians who have private coverage to see a dietitian is plentiful. It’s up to myself, and the other private practice dietitians out there to convince the public of our value and to put urge them to put their insurance benefits to good use. The sky really is the limit in private practice dietetics, I firmly believe that.

3. People are exhausted by all of the misinformation out there:  As nutrition professional, If you think you’re annoyed with all of the nutrition myths you hear, believe me when I say that the average person is just as fed up as you are. One of the common threads that ties all of my clients together is how tired they are  of dealing with all of the confusing nutrition information out there. What this tells me, above all else, is that the work I (and all the other great dietitians out there) are doing online via social media and blogging, is time very well spent. We are up against some pretty wild forces who are willing to say whatever they want, whenever they want about nutrition  and believe me I have seen firsthand how damaging it can be to people’s dietary habits and relationships with food.  Clients come into my office avoiding carbohydrates, cutting out fruit due to the sugar content and avoiding soy like the plague. These are real issues affecting real people. Where do you think I get my blog topic inspiration from?! Those of you who aren’t sold on the value of dietitians blogging and having a strong social media presence should really keep this in mind.

4. Social media & blogging has been invaluable to the growth of my practice:  I won’t get too much into it here because I’ve exhausted this topic in numerous previous articles ( which were hyperlinked in the previous paragraph) but I cannot say enough about how valuable social media has been to growing and sustaining my practice.  I can’t tell you how many wonderful long-term clients have found me through social media, or who have said that my the usefulness of my blog led them to opt to work with me.  Not to mention all of the other incredible opportunities I’ve gained as a result of this exposure.  There are great rewards for putting time and effort into your own brand, and that is a lesson that I’ve learned that I hope all of you young dietitians will take with you as well.

6. A good website is a GREAT investment: In a competitive market place for any good or service,  having a website that accurately and intimately reflects you as a practitioner is an invaluable resource. I’ve had many clients tell me frankly that they chose me because my website allowed them to feel like they knew me and resonated with my values. This is a very important thing to keep in mind for all of you young nutrition students or dietitians out there who may one day aspire to having your own operation.

7. You need to go above and beyond with your clients ( & everything else): Many people arrive at my door because they desire the extra time and attention they may not be able to receive when they see a dietitian in the hospital system. This is absolutely no slight on clinical dietitians, it is simply the nature of the job and how busy days are. For certain clients, depending on their needs, I may spend hours outside of the paid appointment time working on meal plans ( if requested) or things of a similar nature. I honestly pride myself on being able to deliver exactly what my clients expect to receive from their appointment, even if it requires work beyond the allotted time slot. This same principle applies to any other opportunities you may encounter. This also includes sometimes spending your time contributing free quotes as an expert contributor to news outlets, or writing articles for websites just for the exposure and not necessarily for pay ( although, believe me, paid opportunities will find you!).

8. Weight loss is an incredibly popular topic, but there is so much more: Weight loss is easily one of the hottest nutrition topics. Everywhere you turn there is a weight loss service that promising to be better than the next and there is no question that my most common client concern inevitably ends up relating to weight loss. But you may be surprised to hear that I also work a lot with people who are trying to gain weight. As someone who struggled being underweight in his younger years, this is something I truly enjoy. What’s refreshing though, is that I rarely encounter individuals who want to lose weight at all costs.  Most of my clients are concerned, first and foremost, with improving their diet for the goal of feeling healthier, and not always because they have a number on the scale they have to hit.

9. The demographic of people who want to work with dietitians is extraordinarily broad:  People always ask me about the different types of clients that come into my office. I usually answer this question by listing off all the different types of clients I’ve worked with. By the time I’ve gone through the list I realize that I don’t have a primary demographic and that I’ve actually worked extensively with both genders in age groups ranging from teenagers to older adults. Personally, I love the fact that I have been fortunate enough to work with such a unique, diverse client base who put faith in me as the dietitian they want to work with. I take this as an encouraging sign that men and women, regardless of their age, are open to working with a dietitian in a private setting if they feel the fit is right.

10. It can be challenging to get clients to come back for follow-ups:  In my two years in practice one of the most significant challenges I’ve faced is maintaining a consistently high rate of follow-up appointments. Obviously, in most cases, it is in the best interests of both the practitioner and the client to have a medium-long term working relationship to ensure that goals are met in an appropriate manner. There are certainly a significant number of clients that value the long-term monitoring and accountability that is associated with consistent follow-up appointments, but there is also a reality that, if you do a really great and comprehensive job with a client during your initial appointment, there is a reasonable chance they may not feel the need to come back to see you again. This could be especially true if they have to pay out of pocket. I’ve come to accept that this is part of the private practice life but I do always let my clients that I am here for monitoring and support if they need me.

Well, there you have it folks.

I figure I better cut this bad boy short before it reaches 2000  words and gets completely out of control.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this sincere reflection on the insights I’ve gained during my first two years as a private practice dietitian.

To all you would-be or current dietitians out there who are interested in pursuing private practice, know that the market is there, the demand is there and that the public is truly calling out for charismatic and driven individuals to compel them to come chat about their diet.

There’s no reason why that individual can’t be you!

Finally, to all of my clients, friends, family and supporters… I could not have done without you. Thank you, truly.

Until next time,

Andy De Santis RD MPH

PS: If you want to learn more about what it’s like being in private practice, check out my other article on the topic ->  “Day In The Life Of a Private Practice Dietitian”