by Amy Luhn, RD, LD

The war in Iraq may seem like worlds away to most of us, however, to Katherine Dennison, MPH, RD, LD, the Chief Clinical Dietitian at Thomason Hospital, Iraq will soon be where she calls home. LT Dennison, a Dietitian in the US Army Reserves will be deployed to Mosul, Iraq in June 2007 and is not expected to return to US soil for 13 months. This will be Katherine’s first tour of duty.

Katherine applied for the Army Reserves five years ago and shortly following September 11, 2002, she was commissioned. At the time of Katherine’s activation into the Army Reserves, she was living in New York City and working as a Clinical Dietitian at Bellevue Hospital.

Learn about Katherine’s decision to become a Dietitian in the US Army Reserves and what her job will entail when going over seas:

Q. Why did you decide to become a dietitian in the US Army Reserve?

A. Well, I wanted international humanitarian experience to eventually work abroad. It was between the Reserves and the Peace Corps, but the Reserves allowed me to be at home in the US and still obtain overseas experience in small doses. At the same time, I decided it would be an honor to serve in the US Armed Forces, as my family did in the past, even though I knew the risk of being deployed to war. The fortunate part is that I provide a support service to those in combat. The Army Medical Corps is comprised primarily of reservists, so it is the same people I work day to day with in civilian life, only difference is I am in uniform and there to fulfill a commitment. Whether I believe in the cause or not, I know I am serving my country well by supporting in what little capacity I could. Now is my real opportunity.

Q. What do you think your experiences in Iraq will contribute to your professional career in dietetics?

A. I think it will prepare me for the international work I so desire or it may change my mind entirely on pursuing that route. It will be a valuable experience unlike any other I will have life….a once in a lifetime chance. Not that I am ecstatic to be going, but the experience will be life changing, I am sure. I know I will learn so much and grow from the opportunity. Depending on what I experience, I may be compelled to do more for the Army, dietetics, and/or patient care. The Army typically is very progressive with food and nutrition. They understand a strong, efficient Army needs optimal intake.

I also did my MPH in International Health, so it will reinforce some of my educational training and put other skills to use. Some examples may be identifying efficient food resources for refugee camps, utilizing environmental resources to improve nutrient intake, or teaching individuals how to make oral re-hydration solution. These are not skills typically used in a hospital setting but if any off-site missions needed assistance, this could be utilized. The experience will lay the foundation for a dietetic career abroad with NGOs or even with the government.

Q. What is the day to day life for a Dietitian deployed to Iraq or other areas of the world?

A. We work in a hospital setting, and provide patient care the same way but with limited resources. Some hospitals are actual buildings and others could be tents. Charting is typically the same, providing nutrition education, formula recommendations or nutrition support. Dietitians supervise the kitchen, production, meal preparation, and distribution. What will be different for me is that I will be responsible more for foodservice aspects, and also practice in a burn/trauma unit. Our resources are less or not as easily obtained. The days are long, and packed with multiple tasks that can be outside of our AOC (area of concentration) as a dietitian. There are other events possible too, such as health fairs or weight loss counseling, to name a few.

For deployment to other areas of the world, well it is typically the same duties, same type of hospital setting, No matter where a dietitian goes, we just need adaptation to the people, the environment, and the process.

Katherine Dennison is a perfect example of how dietitians can make a difference and serve our country with pride and honor.