FNCE® 2016 Opening Session Remarks

10/15/2016 - Below are the prepared comments from Academy President Lucille Beseler, MS, RDN, LDN, CDE, FAND, for the opening session of 2016 Food & Nutrition Conference & Expo™ in Boston, Mass.

The following videos were also featured at the FNCE® 2016 Opening Session:

***

The Strength to Try

Hello Academy! Welcome to Boston! Thank you to all Academy members, guests and visitors for coming to the 2016 Food & Nutrition Conference & Expo. It is really great to see you all. 

The last time I was in Boston, I spoke to you about political action as your ANDPAC chair. Who would have thought six years later I would be standing here as your President? Not I! 

It is such an honor for me to serve as the 2016-2017 President of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. I am especially proud to be serving as the Academy prepares for our centennial and the beginning of our Second Century in 2017. We’re looking ahead, as our founders did nearly 100 years ago and setting a bold vision for our organization and our profession. 

Our fifty-year members will recall that our 1966 annual meeting was also held right here in Boston, in October of that year. President Katherine Hart presided over the Opening Session at the Sheraton-Boston Hotel. Think of all that changed in our association and profession from our founding meeting in 1917 until that 1966 gathering. Our first half-century. And here we are, on the verge of our 100th anniversary as an organization and a profession. 

As we approach the Academy’s 100th anniversary, we have an opportunity to help solve the greatest food and nutrition challenges of the day through the transformational power of nutrition. And because we can’t think about where we are going unless we understand where we have been, I start by thinking about the past. We all have a story that tells what brought us to this point, at this time. This is the short version of my story. 

In thinking about where we are, where we have been and where I hope we will take our profession in our Second Century, I reflect on the women in my life – brave women with great inner strength. My grandmother came to this country from Italy in 1912 with her three sisters and two brothers. Straight off the boat, they settled in lower Manhattan in New York City. After limited schooling, my grandmother worked for fifty years in the garment industry with thousands of other women – none of whom received much if any time off for family or herself. 

Then, I think of my mother with such great pride. A young divorced mother of two who worked six days a week to care for us. She worked in a male-dominated field – no easy task at that time. To get ahead, she attended night school to receive an accounting degree. My mother has instilled in me the importance of hard work and independence. As a matter of fact, she is the one who convinced me to run for this position. Thanks, mom! 

In 1991, I moved from New York to Boca Raton, Florida, starting and building a business that focuses on providing nutrition services through many venues, but with the single purpose of improving the nutritional health of the community. 

So, that’s my story. Just one small part of our story – the story of our profession. 

We can never underestimate how crazy it was back in 1917, for women to first go to college and then create their own professional organization. Their work has grown and prospered for a century and today represents more than 100,000 practitioners and is the foremost group in the entire field of nutrition and health.  

Let’s go back 100 years. In virtually every society, many health decisions historically were controlled by women who are caring, sincere and focused on working together to better their communities. In the early days of organized health care, it was an easy transition for women. They were already tending to the needs of their families and now would tend to the needs of others. The Academy’s founders were influenced by World War I and the health of soldiers. They also focused on the nutritional health of communities during times of rationing. 

They saw a need. They joined forces. And, as always, women rose to the occasion. 

We follow in their footsteps. This is our heritage. This is who we are. 

Since the beginning, the roots of our Academy and our profession, are primarily female-driven. Let me quickly say that dietetics encourages, seeks and welcomes men into its ranks. Today, we are 5 percent male and that number – I am glad to say – is growing. A health profession must look like the public it serves to remain strong, trusted and aware of the challenges and needs of a diverse population. 

At the same time, I hope the Academy and our entire profession can continue to be proud of our profession and empower women – as we have since our beginning. And something else I hope you noticed – all three of the main session keynote speakers at this year’s FNCE are women. Barbara Corcoran today, Juliet Funt at the Member Showcase on Monday and Porter Gale at the Closing Session on Tuesday. And, the President’s Lecture will be given on Sunday by Nancy Emerson Lombardo. Also, the Cooper Memorial Lecture will be given tomorrow by Kathleen Zelman. 

This, my friends, is unheard-of!  

Because never in our history have all our major speakers at one annual meeting been female. I think that calls for a round of applause, don’t you? 

And, furthermore – there are about 262 educational session speakers at this year’s FNCE. They are the experts, the authorities in their fields – the leaders. And 87 percent of this year’s speakers are women. In a historic American town, in a historic year – we are making history. 

As we advocate for change and welcome men, let’s still be proud of who we are. 

I spoke earlier about owning my own business. That was my dream and I worked hard to make it happen. My proudest accomplishment is having a viable business that employs others and has survived bad economies and dramatic insurance changes. I take being an employer very seriously. 

I am honored to be part of a group of RDNs who have been identified as trailblazers. I think of myself as more of an “accidental trailblazer” – an RDN who started a business to make a living. I am equally interested in doing all I can to help members look ahead and realize their own successful visions. 

Naturally, not everyone wants to own their own business or is in a position to do so. But let me tell you, it is the best feeling to work for yourself. Still, I believe the business approach offers every registered dietitian nutritionist and every dietetic technician, registered, ways to demonstrate our effectiveness, increase our value and make an impact that is recognized and compensated. 

There is no employer that would not welcome additional revenue from unique services we can provide. It’s great for job security as well as getting recognition for our profession. I would like you to think – where does your salary come from? If you are an outpatient dietitian, your compensation may be based on the number of patients you see and can bill for your services. If you are a WIC dietitian in a community health setting, you are likely funded by one or more governmental sources. And that’s only two examples. There are many ways to generate income everywhere we practice. A foodservice director in a hospital can open their cafeteria to the community and provide needed meals while producing revenue for their hospital.

I often hear colleagues say that there is no insurance reimbursement for nutrition services. That is not true and I have a business to prove it. 

Do your homework – look for reimbursement to secure your job. Gain a good understanding of where your salary comes from, how budgets are created, how you fit in the organization’s overall scheme, how you can create innovative projects that demonstrate your outcomes and prove your value. 

Owning a business is certainly a learning experience and I have acquired principles that I live by, and, which, I believe can be useful to any RDN or NDTR in any area of practice: 

  • Be flexible while maintaining your beliefs and vision.
  • I have watched individuals lose exciting opportunities because they were unable to compromise. 
  • Don’t be afraid to change your mind when new information is presented. 
  • And take the time to develop relationships that make the work easier and more rewarding. 
  • In the words of my practice coordinator: “Teamwork divides the task and multiplies the success.” 
  • Always say “yes” – and figure out the details later. 
  • Some of the most successful projects I have embarked on occurred when I had no game plan when I started. 
  • Jump in and learn to swim. 

Securing the future of the nutrition and dietetics profession in the current health care and how we can make our mark in the health care system of the coming years are some of my priorities as president. We must prove we can reduce health care costs by improving outcomes. We must increase consumers’ access to nutrition services, protect the public’s health, promote our expertise and create new opportunities. 

Our Second Century initiative is a three-year planning process. We are almost at the end of our first year and we need your input and support.  In September, the Academy and Foundation hosted the Nutrition Impact Summit with 170 attendees, approximately half members and half external stakeholders. External participants included representatives with expertise across the food, wellness, technology and health care systems. Additionally, member representation included all practice areas, career levels, age, gender, ethnicity and geography, as well as expertise in each of the opportunity areas that the Summit explored. 

The Academy is setting the table and inviting others to take a seat, as we lead the way. This is just thrilling! 

I’d like to wrap up by talking about whether we are ready for change. It doesn’t matter if you have been in the field fewer than five years or more than 50 – are you willing and ready to welcome and work toward change in our profession? 

Within the Academy, our membership often has been seen as averse to risk, uneasy about the possibility of failure, avoiding the possibility of criticism for trying something new or different. I’ve spoken to many individuals in the business industry who feel RDNs are not taking responsibility to make decisions in their workplace. Instead, we delegate tough decisions to others. 

They also feel that there are some that regard any area of industry as the enemy. The Nutrition Impact Summit proved that many leaders in industry want to be engaged in solutions to our nutritional problems. These comments just strengthen my resolve – we must be the decision makers in our field and in our workplaces. 

We must learn that we can be the influencers and develop positive relationships with all areas of industry: food, technology and health care. Otherwise, we are simply handing over the power to others to control our profession and our future. We cannot not let that happen. 

We can be diligent in fulfilling our responsibilities, while still having the strength to try and to make decisions and sometimes to fail. I have reinvented myself and my business a number of times to stay competitive in a changing health care environment. But, I’ve learned failure is just another lesson learned; a new test will come along soon enough to let us try again. 

If we don’t take educated risks, how can we honestly expect change to occur? I believe we are ready for change. We are ready to bring our profession to a new level and take a prominent place in food and health care. RDNs and NDTRs who are taking risks, seeking and accepting roles in leadership positions in companies and health care, are instrumental in increasing salaries. These professionals are advancing their skills by stepping out of traditional roles and positions. 

Take a chance: Apply for a position that you may not completely believe you are qualified for. To paraphrase poet Robert Browning, One’s reach should exceed one’s grasp. Because, really – what is the worst that can happen? Is it someone tells you, “No”? 

So what? I hear “no” all the time and I still keep trying. 

And what is the best that could happen? Take risks to improve your skills and command a better salary. Seek advice, counsel and mentorship from your fellow members and practitioners. 

I love the spirit of closeness, camaraderie and nurturing that permeates all that we do for – and with – each other. I would like the Board of Directors to stand and be acknowledged. These individuals work hard to represent the Academy. It is not an easy job to represent all of you, with all of your different views and opinions. The Board of Directors always keep their eyes on the future and the strategic plan. 

Next, I would like to acknowledge our CEO Pat Babjak and the exceptional Academy staff who work hard every day and especially at FNCE. 

I would not be here today without that spirit and without the love and support of my dear friends and family. I would like to thank my dear friends that have worked alongside me over the last 20 years to promote our profession. It is through their encouragement, support and friendship that I am here today. It’s truly humbling.  

Chris Stapell started me on my path to volunteering for my profession. I always say it was all her fault. 

My dear friends Dr. Gail Kauwell and Darlene Moppert, who worked for years with me on the licensing board. Dr. Cathy Christie and Brenda Marty Jimenez, who believed that I could lead our profession and gave me the confidence to run for this position. When my friends stand with me I am strong and inspired. 

I would also like to thank my wonderful staff, Jennifer Henderson and Shelly Wilburn, who work very hard on every crazy idea I come up with and hold down the fort while I am doing Academy work. They both understand the business of nutrition better than many of us – and they are not RDNs. Thank you for your dedication. 

To my family: my sister Robin – thank you for all you do to support me. She is not only my beloved sister, but my accountant. I am so lucky to have such a wonderful sister and friend. Thank you to my nephews Scott, Eric and my brother-in-law Matthew. They are wonderfully supportive and have all worked for my business. 

Lastly to my mother. You are my hero, my inspiration. Thank you for your love, guidance, support. I am grateful to your business savvy and I owe the financial success of the business to your guidance. As I mentioned before, she convinced me to run for president. When asking for her advice, I gave her all the pros and lots of cons and her priceless reply was: “You still have not told me what the downside would be if you run for president. You need to do this and you can.” 

Thank you, mom!

If you had the view I have right now, you would see a room full of brave, hardworking people whose skills and experience have great value. By empowering ourselves to take educated risks, we change – and improve – ourselves and our culture and we elevate our profession. 

Thank you very much!