Lessons from My First Year in Private Practice

Lessons from My First Year in Private Practice

As promised, in this post I will be sharing the epic lessons I learned during my first year of business.

My successes, my failures, my costly mistakes, and the things I wouldn’t change for the world.

You’ll also learn exactly what I spent during my first year, and exactly how much money I made. The hours I put in, and how the heck I survived it all.

No secrets here, I’m laying it all on the table.

This is going to be a long-ass post, so I hope you stick around and pull out at least one helpful/relatable tidbit as you start your practice.

Full disclosure: I jumped RIGHT into business after passing my RD exam.

I could have gone the usual route & taken a full time job somewhere first. I even poked around on Indeed, Craigslist, etc. for opportunities, but none of them spoke to my soul.

Why fight it? I always knew I was meant to work for myself, so I just went for it right out the gate.

HOWEVER, I would caution AGAINST doing this unless….

  1. You have enough savings to cover your living expenses for 1 full year.
  2. You have a partner who can support you.
  3. You can move back in with your parents.
  4. You have a side-job or jobs to pay the bills without taking up all of your time.

Let’s be real. I had zero savings whatsoever (in fact, I went into debt to start my business), and moving back in with my parents (boyfriend in tow), was a last resort sort of scenario (it would require a move back to the bay area, 6 hours away).

So, thankfully, I lived with my boyfriend who could help split the bills (& still do), and had a few side gigs going to help cover my business expenses & rent.

So, let’s travel back in time to August 2014…

This was my first month in business. I had just passed the RD exam and rented a cute little office inside of a holistic wellness center (with other practitioners offering Chinese medicine, massage, acupuncture, reiki, etc.).

Here’s a peek at my office space:


Photo Jul 07, 2 22 21 PM

It was pretty tiny, but it fit the bill. At the time, I thought I wanted to work with people on emotional eating, so setting up the chairs next to each other gave the room an inviting counseling-like feel.

And here’s what the building looked like 🙂 Right on Venice Blvd!

Photo Jul 07, 2 23 14 PM

So there I was… fully credentialed, with an office, and ready to go.

Now what??

I’ll admit, my first year was all about trial and error.

You can THINK you know exactly what you want to do, but until you get into the real world and try it, you’ll never know for sure.

I learned so freaking much during my first year as a dietitian, that the easiest way to share it all is probably as a list of “lessons”.

So here we go, a list of lessons I learned (the hard way) during my first year of business:

Lesson #1: Niche matters.

The NUMBER ONE thing I learned during my first year, was that having a niche absolutely matters.

When I first started out, and people asked what I did, I would reply with “I’m a dietitian.” End of sentence. End of explanation.

Since I didn’t have much experience counseling people or running a practice, I really didn’t know how to explain what I did. And I was deathly afraid of pigeon-holing myself. I worried that if I told people I worked with mindful eating, for example, I might miss out on an opportunity to help someone with diabetes or picky eating.

I FELT like I was qualified to work with MANY types of people, but I had no idea what my favorite type of clients would be.

I later learned that successful marketing begins with identifying your ideal customer, and figuring out how to speak to their needs. Since I had no idea who my ideal client was, my marketing efforts were falling on deaf ears.

By speaking to everyone, I was speaking to no one.

Lesson #2: It’s okay to find your niche by DOING.

Yes, I know I just said having a niche is super important, BUT, for me, it was impossible to know what my niche should be without getting my feet wet & experimenting.

I was initially convinced that I would love working with people on intuitive/mindful eating.

After all, my background before becoming a dietitian was in mindfulness research. It was right up my alley.

I bought tons of books on the topic and read read read. I took notes, I created exercises and handouts to do with my clients, power point slides for my virtual clients, and everything.

But when it came down to it, something was off. Although I THOUGHT I would love that type of counseling, and I was told I was good at it by my clients, I had this gut feeling that it wasn’t true to my life’s purpose.

Some of the sessions were hugely emotional, and I had trouble separating from my client’s problems and not bringing them home to ruminate on them. Instead of looking forward to my work days with joy, I found myself feeling drained and uncertain of myself. I had placed this huge burden on myself to solve everyone’s problems. And if that didn’t happen at the end of a 1 hour session, I felt a sense of failure or disappointment in myself. (And yes, this was totally self-imposed).

Plus, I missed my passion for science & cooking. I hadn’t done a great job thinking about how to incorporate my unique skills and passions into my career.

I jumped into a cookie-cutter “private practice” career path without taking a sec to think about whether it was a good match for ME.

So, what did I do? I kept experimenting.

I tried other niches. I gave a talk at a library on childhood nutrition, a class at a yoga studio on division of responsibility of feeding, a session on healthy eating in college, and even a couple’s session with husband and wife!

I basically took anything that came my way, while simultaneously creating opportunities for myself to try counseling on new topics.

I’ll admit, by the end of the year, I was burnt out and overworked, and not very successful.

BUT, I had confidence that this was all part of the growing experience, and that I would eventually find my way.

Lesson #3: Feel the fear and do it anyway.

This was a BIG one.

Especially since I technically had a security blanket with my boyfriend & side jobs. It was EASY to shy away from taking risks or putting myself out there. (I’ll admit, I’m a natural introvert.)

But nothing gets better without some good old fashioned action. You can think, and plan, and plot away, but each day that passes by is one more day you could have spent actually achieving your goals. (Trust me, I’m STILL working on this one).

Stop waiting for the perfect time. Stop waiting until you finish that one last credential. Stop waiting until your parents approve. Stop waiting until someone gives you permission. Stop waiting. Just do it.

Lesson #4: I’m worth it.

Each time a new potential client called me, I would get a flurry of nerves. My palms would sweat, my heart would race, my stomach would drop to my butt, and my mind would move a mile a minute, trying to answer questions correctly and not “mess up”!

Starting a private practice can bring up all sorts of self-worth issues.

Enter the negative self talk:

“Who am I to give people advice?”

“Who am I to charge full price for my services?”

“Who am I to broadcast my stuff all over social media?”

“Who am I to act like an expert in my field?”

Yep, that all comes up. And probably more.

This is where connecting with other entrepreneurs can really help. Talking to other people who are in the same situation as you can help you feel more “normal”, and bring your (sometimes unrealistic) expectations back down to reality. The fact is, MOST entrepreneurs take about 3 years to really become successful. Those “$10k in 30 days” stories are mostly just marketing ploys, and not a great reflection of the realities of entrepreneurship.

If you can’t find any other entrepreneurs to connect with in your area, you can totally find a tribe of them online. I personally love Denise Duffield-Thomas’s Lucky Bitch Blog, especially this post about her 1st year in business. (It was the inspiration for my post, in fact!)

I also enjoy reading Pinch of Yum’s Income Reports. It’s so reassuring to know that in their first month of monetizing their website, they earned just $21. Flash forward 5 years later, and they’re making over $30k/month. Amazing. And a true testament to the value of persistence!

If you’re a dietitian and a part of the AND (Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics), I HIGHLY HIGHLY recommend joining the Nutrition Entrepreneurs DPG (dietetic practice group) and the Dietitians in Integrative & Functional Medicine DPG, and signing up for the Electronic Mailing Lists (EMLs).

The mailing lists connect you with thousands of other nutrition entrepreneurs who are doing the exact same thing, and are at various stages in their businesses. You can email a question out to the group or search archived messages for answers to almost any question. I found it most helpful for tips on taking insurance (even though I ultimately chose not to), treatment considerations for various health conditions, and motivation.

I haven’t done this, but you can also sign up for a free mentor & have conference calls with them and their other mentees. Pretty awesome! Basically like a free mastermind group.

Well anyways, I CAN say that the self-doubt has gotten better with experience, but speaking to new clients can still give me nerves. But hey, you’ve just got to get out there and do it, knowing that with familiarity and repetition, the nerves will calm down, and success will come.

Lesson #5: Opportunities don’t just fall into your lap.

Expanding your circle and putting yourself out there (both online and in real life) are KEY to building trust in your brand.

The truth is, people have to trust you to buy from you, and the best way to build trust is to consistently show up and put yourself out there.

As tempting as it is to sit back and wait for the clients to rush to you, that’s not how it happens when you’re first starting out. It’s YOUR responsibility to get out there and create connections and opportunities.

In my first year, I did this in a few ways:

Approaching farmers markets.

I approached the director of my local farmers market and asked if there was any way I could get involved by running a booth or doing cooking/nutrition demonstrations.

Luckily, this market was rather new & on the smaller side, so they were very open to collaboration. While other more established markets might require a payment to run a booth, this one was able to add me in for free. I ended up running a booth during the months that the county-sponsored “Ask a Dietitian” Program was not there. Win-win!

Here’s a shot of me at the market 🙂

Photo Nov 09, 9 47 00 AM

I basically sat at the table with some activities and handouts & answered people’s questions. I also made sure to capitalize on the marketing opportunity, and had my business rack cards available & and an email sign up sheet.

My rack cards basically included more information about me as a dietitian, how I could help people, and my contact information. They went over well, and I think they were a great idea to have, even from day one!

Here’s another pic of a farmer’s market day, when I did a booth on the health benefits of cooking with spices. My absolute favorite booth topic, by far!

Photo Jan 18, 12 16 22 PM

Photo Jan 18, 9 34 38 AM

I did the farmers market events three times, and ended up getting one client out of it…. three months later. HAHA. Sad face. I definitely had my expectations set WAY too high.

I’d estimate that during those 3 events I talked to about 150 people total. 1 client out of 150 contacts = a 0.6% conversion rate. From what I’ve read, a 1% conversion rate is about average, so that’s not too bad for my first attempt!

I also contacted local yoga studios.

When I originally contacted them, I was proposing a talk (or series of talks) on prenatal nutrition. I don’t have the exact numbers anymore, since I switched email addresses, but I believe I contacted about 10 studios and heard back from 1. Yay, 10% response rate!

I ended up meeting with the owner of the studio to come up with a class topic that would most interest her clientelle (dealing with picky eating), and picked a date. Then I made flyers and hung them in the studio, and at the suggestion of the owner, did some marketing in person.

Screen Shot 2014-12-07 at 3.20.54 PM

Slow clap to the owner of the studio, because I’m 100% sure that’s the only reason people signed up. I ended up going by the studio the week before the class was scheduled to talk to moms at the end of the toddler yoga classes. By doing this, I had 4 people sign up for the class. Woohoo! I probably talked to about 30 people, so that’s a 13% conversion rate! Awesome!

We charged $30 for the class, and I got $15 and the yoga studio owner got $15 per sign up. So, I made $60 for that 1.25 hour class, which actually wasn’t too bad and I probably would have made a profit for my time on the next one if I had done it again. (But I didn’t, because it still didn’t feel right).

So, long story short, you’ve got to bring the opportunities to yourself, and not just wait for them to fall out of the sky.

The worst thing you’ll get is a “No”, and that’s really not that bad!

One thing I DIDN’T do in my first year was approach doctors (probably because I lacked confidence in my message). More on that in my Year 2 post!

Lesson #6: I probably didn’t need an office space.

In case you couldn’t tell, I was doing A LOT of stuff outside of my office. Working side jobs, hustling around town to meet people & make connections. Guess what I WASN’T spending a lot of time doing? Actually seeing clients in my office!

Looking back, I think I would have saved A LOT of money (like $750/month x 12 = $9,000 *sob*), if I had started without an office. The smarter move probably would have been to see people at coffee shops, virtually, in their homes, or in rent by the hour office space. (All of these would have worked for me, since I wasn’t taking insurance). Once I built up a large enough clientele, I think I would have known when the time was right to jump into full time office space.

As much as I originally thought having an office space would make me legit, I don’t actually think it mattered that much to my clients, and I ended up seeing many of my clients virtually via Skype anyways. Oops! You live and you learn.

Lesson #7: The hustle is REAL, but self care is still important.

Year one was all about work. I’d say I was probably putting in at least 60 hour weeks (across all my jobs) during my first year in business. But, it was all stuff that would help me grow in the future (creating systems and paperwork, marketing, etc.), so it didn’t feel like a waste.

I will say, however, that I really dropped the ball on self-care during this time. I was go-go-go, work-work-work all the time, and never took time for ME (or my relationship, or my friends).

THANKFULLY, I have BEYOND AWESOME friends and family, and they all understood, even when I had to flake out on things because of business or financial reasons.

Looking back though, I didn’t need to push it that hard. Everything comes in time, and 30 minutes each day for a nice workout or lunch break with Aaron would have gone a long way in managing my stress levels and filling up my love tank (yep, thats a RHOC reference. Shout out to Vicki!).

I know it’s easier said than done, but I highly recommend coming up with a self-care routine and sticking to it. The benefits will come back to you, both in business and your personal life.

Lesson #8: Celebrate every win, even the small ones.

Alright, here’s where it gets real. It’s freaking hard to get clients! Especially when you don’t have a clear branding message, like me, circa year 1.

Here’s the true breakdown of how many clients I saw my 1st year.

Keep in mind, my time was split between multiple jobs, so you might have more success if you go full-time right off the bat. These are the results I got from putting in probably 20 hours of work per week on my business.

Aug ’14: 8 sessions
Sept ’14: 6 sessions
Oct ’14: 10 sessions
Nov ’14: 8 sessions
Dec ’14: 2 sessions
Jan ’15: 7 sessions
Feb ’15: 9 sessions
Mar ’15: 5 sessions
Apr ’15: 6 sessions
May ’15: 6 sessions
June ’15: 4 sessions
July ’15: 1 session

So, I averaged about 6 sessions with clients per month (1 or 2 per week). Keep in mind though, that I was just starting out, and didn’t charge my full rate for many of these clients (Although I totally could have. That was my own money block in full force). Most of these were long term “package” clients that I saw for at least 3 months.

Most of these clients were family, friends, or co-workers, and only 3 of the sessions were with complete strangers that booked with me after finding me on Google or meeting me at one of my events. And you know what? That’s totally okay. I’m so blessed that I could test the waters with people I know, love, and respect and that they could help me find my niche.

In sum, I made about $5,400 from nutrition-related ventures in my first year. That’s roughly $450/month. Which… if you do the math… didn’t even pay for my office rent. Plus, I’d say I held about 50% of those session virtually, via Skype or Facetime. Sigh. LESSON LEARNED on that one!

Lesson #9: Be prepared to be in the red financially.

So, as you can see, I was not profitable in my first year of business. In fact, I was pretty deep in the red. All I really did was recoup the money I spent on STARTING my business & furnishing my office.

But you know what, that’s cool. I seriously learned a lot, and most importantly, I survived!

Here are some extra things I spent money on in my first year:

  • Dropbox subscription for cloud storage ($10/month)
  • Acuity Scheduling subscription ($10/month) for online scheduling
  • Hiscox General Liability Insurance ($28/month)
  • Business Banking Fee ($10/month)
  • Nutrition Books- (~$150)
  • Stock photos (~$25)
  • My own health insurance through Covered CA (~$100/month)
  • Printing fees (~$100)
  • B-School by Marie Forleo & Lucky Bitch Money Bootcamp by Denise Duffield-Thomas ($2200) (the bootcamp is an affiliate link)
  • Plus all the other startup fees listed in my last article.

Lesson #12: Investing in yourself is always worth it.

I’m guessing you’re looking at that last list of expenses and saying “What the heck are B-School & Lucky Bitch, and why did you drop 2 grand on them??”

A valid question!

B-School (and the Lucky Bitch Money Bootcamp (that’s an affiliate link) I got as a sign-up bonus) were HUGE contributing factors to my re-branding and refocusing of my business in year two. And I have to say, I am a jillion times happier because of it.

B-School & Lucky Bitch are both online programs for entrepreneurs (mostly women).

B-school “helps you build a business and life that you love”, and Lucky Bitch helps you overcome money blocks (beliefs about money and your own self-worth that are holding you back).

Both courses have modules with videos and training that you work through on your own to help you accomplish your business and life goals. And guess what, they work!

In addition to the business, media, and marketing training they give you, the community of women (and some men) that you meet is absolutely priceless. In fact, I even ended up launching a side venture with a fellow B-Schooler at the end of Year 1 (more details to come in my Year 2 post).

Lesson #10: Start collecting emails NOW.

Even though I had no active email list in my first year, I’m SO GLAD I had the foresight to still collect people’s email addresses. Every time I did an in-person event, like a talk or a farmers market, or any time I had a new client, I passed around an email sign up sheet or asked them if they would like to receive my e-newsletter.

I really didn’t start to work on my e-newsletter until year two, but you don’t know how great it felt to START my list with 100 people on it, instead of 0.

Many new entrepreneurs put all of their energy into gathering “social proof” by gaining followers on social media. Yes, having a lot of followers can get people’s attention, and MAYBE turn followers into clients for you (or get you exposure with the right people), but the unfortunate part is that you don’t own that list of people.

If Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram decide to change their feed algorithms (which they all have done), you could be left with little control over how much of your audience actually sees your content.

In contrast, if you have your fans/clients email addresses, you have a DIRECT connection to them, and can send them messages/content/offers whenever you want and know that it will at least hit their inbox (whether they open it is another story). That’s a win in my book.

Lesson #11: Always listen to your gut.

Throughout all the confusion and trial and error of my first year, I always let my gut guide the way.

What is your “gut”?

Well, as my mom explained to me when I was about 6 years old… Everyone has a little voice inside of them that tells them when things are right or wrong, and that voice is always correct. Trust that voice, and you won’t be steered wrong.

Thanks to that HUGELY important lesson, I’ve always had a pretty good read on my gut/conscious. While I don’t always get a huge hit when things are right, I know right away when something is wrong. I almost always listen to that voice (or at least eventually), and it never steers me wrong. I can say my biggest regrets in life are when I ignored that voice.

So it is with business.

In my opinion, everyone is born here on earth to live out a certain purpose, and for many, their line of work is intricately linked to that purpose. Your gut / inner voice / conscious is there to guide you to your ultimate life purpose, and can be one of your biggest resources if you learn to tap into it.

Start by just paying attention to your emotions and bodily sensations when you are making decisions. Your physical and emotional reactions to your thoughts can reveal a lot, even if consciously you still feel confused.

Lesson #13: Follow the 1% infinity principle.

And finally, the best thing you can remember in the midst of your first year in business, is to follow the 1% infinity rule. Yep, I got this idea from Bjork Ostrom’s Food Blogger Pro Podcast. (My fave podcast EVER!)

The basic principle is that if you just try to get 1% better at something, every day, for the rest of infinity, you’ll eventually be great at it.

My favorite thing about this idea is that it really brings the BIG PICTURE into play. It’s so easy to get overwhelmed in your first year of business with an endless to-do list and a constant feeling of “never-enough”.

But if you can just calm down & focus on just improving one small thing each day (maybe signing up for a domain name, adding a pop-up to your site, creating a new form, reaching out to 5 contacts, etc.), when you look back 1 year from now, you’ll be amazed at what you’ve accomplished.

This all ties back into the idea that small actions, taken every day, are what accomplishes your dreams. Not dreaming, not talking, not planning, not learning, but DOING. (Yes, all those other things are important too, but nothing will ever happen without action).

I sincerely hope this super long blog post has given you some insight into what the first year of (part-time) private practice can look like.

Of course, everyone’s stories are different, and some may reach success sooner, or some may take longer, but that’s okay. Each journey is valid, and each journey is there for a reason. Embrace yours, and follow your dreams!

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How to Start a Nutrition Private Practice- Checklist and Cost Breakdown

How to Start A Nutrition Private Practice

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I’m thrilled to talk about this with you guys.

It’s a hugely important topic, and there aren’t a lot of (free) resources out there to help guide you through the process!

Here’s how it usually goes…

You’ve finally completed all the coursework & internship hours, sat for & passed the RD exam, & all of a sudden…

You’re actually a dietitian!!

(If you’re still not sure exactly what a dietitian is, find out here, and if you want to know how to become a dietitian, read this article).

Now what??

That’s pretty much how I felt after I passed the RD exam on July 29th, 2014.

The process of becoming a dietitian (especially if you are also working) is an all-consuming one.

At times, it feels like you’re just trying to make it through the hour, the day, the week, the month. Project after project, deadline after deadline, it’s easy to lose sight of the big picture.

What exactly are you going to DO once you’re a dietitian?

You basically have 2 options:

  1. Become an employee
  2. Start your own business

I knew from a very young age that I was meant to be self-employed. I just have that entrepreneurial spirit! From selling “polished rocks” (rocks that I painted with nailpolish
. HAHA) and lemonade from a stand in front of my house, to selling stenciled t-shirts in high school, to hawking my services as a tutor in college, I’ve always been a hustler.

So on July 29th, 2014, the day that I passed the RD exam, I was ready to jump head first into the world of entrepreneurship & learn as I went.

As scary as that decision was, and as many times as I fell flat on my face during my first year in business, it was hands-down the best decision I made.

You can plan, and plot, and learn, and prepare for AGES, but it won’t get you anywhere without action to go with it. The sooner you start, the sooner you’ll get to where you want to be!

If you have even an ounce of desire to go into business for yourself, you should probably give it a go.

So here’s what I did in my 1st month as an RD entrepreneur:

First, I had to figure out when I could legally start practicing as a dietitian.

The results of the RD exam are instantaneous. You know whether you passed the minute you step out of the testing room. However, it was a little unclear whether I could legally start practicing as an RD right that second, or whether I had to wait for my ID card & for my status to officially change from “student” to “dietitian” within the AND database.

So, I called up CDR and they let me know I could legally practice right away. Yahoo!

On August 1st, I received an email from CDR with instructions for paying the $60 registration fee. You have to pay this fee annually to maintain your status as a registered dietitian (if you don’t pay the fee within 240 days of the annual deadline, you lose your registration & have to take the exam all over again! Eek!).

Once you pay the fee, CDR sends you an ID card in the mail that proves you’re legally a dietitian, and sends you information on how to set up your Professional Development Portfolio to keep track of your 5-year cycle of continuing education credits.

(There’s no rush to set up the PDP, but you have to set up your online learning plan before you can start logging your continuing education hours).

CDR also sends you a free wall certificate to hang in your office for your 1st year as an RD. But you have to pay to receive a new one for the following years.

Now that I had my certification, I decided to jump right into what I thought would be my best chance of entrepreneurial success: private practice.

Turns out this might not have been the best choice, but more on that later.

I had 5 main options for running my private practice:

  • Rent my own private office space
  • Rent a private office within a wellness center
  • Sublet an office from another practitioner to use when they weren’t using it (usually a few days a week, nights, or weekends)
  • Use a rent-by-the-hour office to book clients whenever they came up
  • Not rent an office & meet clients at coffee shops, their houses, via Skype, or on the phone

I decided to rent a small office within an established wellness center in west Los Angeles.  

I found the space on Craigslist & signed the lease before I even passed the RD exam! I started decorating in late July so that I would be ready to open as soon as I was an RD.

I chose this space because even though it was very small (like 8 ft x 10 ft) & windowless 😉 it was very affordable (only $750/mo for your own private office, whereas other places were charging $250/mo for just ONE DAY a week in an office space!).

I also liked that it was located inside a wellness center so I could connect with other wellness professionals & perhaps share clients with them.

Plus, I loved that I could decorate to my personal tastes & book clients at any time without having to work around other practitioner’s schedules.

However, if I had to do it again, I probably would have gone with the rent-by-the-hour offices. Yes, they’re slightly less convenient, & you can’t decorate them, have an official business address, or store paperwork there, but they save you SO MUCH MONEY.

Joyce Guenther is a popular option in West LA, and she charges just $15/hour for use of her offices! This is a great deal if you only have a few clients per week.

Next up, revamping my website.

I had already been sporadically blogging over the past few years on my website, eathealthyfeelgood.com, so I decided to run with that name & launch my counseling services under the same name & website.

I was only getting ~2,000 visitors per month on eathealthyfeelgood.com, but I figured that was better than starting from 0! (I later chose to scrap this business name and website, but, my goal of this post is to be honest about where I started!)

I updated my site to include new information on my counseling services (including prices!), and added Acuity Scheduling for clients to book & pay for appointments directly on my website.

Acuity costs $10/mo, but makes scheduling SO easy. It displays a calendar of your availability, and allows clients to book sessions (individual or packages) directly from your website. It also sends confirmations & reminders if you set it up that way. I love how it syncs to your google & ical too. Fabulous & well worth the money.

If you don’t have a website yet, I highly recommend purchasing a domain & getting started. I recommend Google Domains for registering your domain name and SiteGround for hosting.

Domain names (the name of your website url, like www.ericajulson.com) are pretty cheap, only a few bucks per year. Hosting (having actual space on the web to run your website) is a little more expensive, roughly $60 – $200/year, paid upfront or monthly.

Once you have a domain name & hosting, I highly recommend installing WordPress to manage your website. It gives you full control & ownership of your site, no matter what happens. There are a bazillion wordpress themes that you can download & install to make your website beautiful.

I recommend anything that uses the Genesis Framework if you want to incorporate a blog into your brand. Otherwise, a drag-and-drop visual builder, like Divi, is a great option!

Let’s talk about prices for a sec.

There are two camps in this world- those who post their prices on their website, and those who don’t.

Those who don’t post their prices argue that truly interested & motivated customers will take the extra step to contact you for a consultation. These owners like having the chance to “sell” their services before revealing prices to their customers.

The other camp of people like to just be upfront & honest about how much they charge. I find this helpful because it saves both the business owner & customers so much time. There’s no sense in selling someone on a product or service they can’t afford. I prefer to post my prices upfront, so my customers can save or budget to include my services in their lives.

How much to charge??

 I googled a whole bunch of dietitians in my area to see how much others were charging. I found a wide range of charges, from $60/hour on the low-end, to $250+/hr on the high end. I decided to settle in the mid-range ($150/hr) because I have a masters degree & I know that I go above & beyond for my clients & personalize all of their sessions. $150/hr felt like a comfortable price point for me, and pretty average for my area. Plus, I think it’s better to start where you’d like to be than start low & keep having to raise prices on people.

There’s also something to be said for the perception of value. People tend to value what they pay for, and if they’re paying decent $$$ for your services, they may be more likely to respect your time.

Here’s a biggie: Should you take insurance??

This was a tough decision for me. On the one hand, being a registered dietitian allows me to take insurance, whereas other unregulated nutrition professionals (health coaches, nutrition coaches, nutritionists) cannot.

Taking insurance opens you up to a HUGE pool of potential clients whose visits would be covered by their insurance.

However, taking insurance is a lot of work! You have to contract with each insurance company, and deal with co-pays, deductibles, etc. Sometimes claims can get denied, and then it is a huge headache and hassle.

Also, anyone who takes insurance has to follow HIPAA privacy guidelines (that means no Skype appointments!), which I didn’t really want to worry about when I was just getting established & had so much on my plate. This is up to interpretation, but some believe that the strict HIPAA guidelines don’t apply to private-pay dietitians since you are not a “covered entity”, according to the HHS definition.

I decided to start out with private-pay only, so I wouldn’t have to deal with the hassle of insurance & HIPAA requirements. This way, I could receive payment immediately when I saw my clients, do Skype appointments if I pleased, and not have to worry about HIPAA requirements like putting a privacy disclaimer in the footer of all my emails. (*Please note I am not a lawyer, and not everyone agrees with this! Some believe that HIPAA applies to all dietitians, whether private pay or not. I recommend consulting with a lawyer in your state for more clarification).

For the legal stuff

I had to decide whether I wanted to run my business as a sole proprietor, LLC, or corporation.

Ideally, I would have loved to be an LLC (limited liability corporation), because it protects your personal assets if you go bankrupt or are sued. However, it actually costs money to establish an LLC (In California, it’s a $20 reporting fee + $149 for Legal Zoom to file for you + $800 annual LLC tax due 75 days after filing).

I decided to save $1,000 and take my chances as a sole proprietor since I wasn’t sure how much business I would actually do during my first year, and didn’t really have any assets to protect (I definitely had a negative net worth at this point).

*Side note* Legal requirements vary by state. Everything mentioned in this article is specific to the requirements for California. Check with your state for more specific information. 🙂

Once I decided my business structure, I did the following:

1. Registered my business with the City of Los Angeles Office of Finance.

You have to register your business no matter what, but if you make less than $100,000 in Los Angeles, you get a small business exemption & don’t have to pay business taxes.

2. Filed my DBA paperwork at the local courthouse.

This allowed me to legally do business as “Eat Healthy Feel Good” instead of just Erica Julson. This way, clients can make checks out to Eat Healthy Feel Good or Erica Julson, and both will go through at my bank.

*Note * you have to renew your DBA every 5 years, or else you lose your business name.

3. Published a DBA announcement in the newspaper.

This was the strangest requirement to me! You have to legally publish a statement saying “[Your Name] is doing business as [Your Business Name]”. That way the public can find out the name of the person behind any business.

I published mine in the British Weekly for $30 (via 30dollarDBA.com). The whole process was pretty easy. It just required payment & faxing some paperwork. The company mails you a copy of the paper your notice is published in :).

4. Applied for a Tax EIN (Employer Identification Number).

You don’t HAVE to do this, but it’s a wise choice. Having an EIN allows you to avoid putting your personal social security number on forms, so it helps protect your identity.

5. If you also want to sell stuff, you need a seller’s permit.

If you want to sell goods at your office (vitamins, supplements, t-shirts, etc.), you’ll need a seller’s permit to legally do this. I decided not to jump into this right away, but it’s something to be aware of!

Next, I set up my financials.

1. Opened a business banking account.

 I walked into my current bank with my DBA documentation & tax EIN in hand & set up my business banking/checking account!

Having a separate business account makes it easy to keep your financials straight. You can take payments directly into your business account & make business purchases on a separate business debit/credit card. They also provide you with business checks so you can look super official when paying for stuff!

2. Signed up for Square.

This is my preferred method for taking payments. I love how you can swipe people’s credit cards wherever you are for just a 2.75% processing fee, or have your clients submit credit card processing forms and hand-enter their card information for recurring payments (helpful if they are on a monthly payment plan).

Funds are deposited into your bank account the next business day, in comparison to PayPal which takes like 5 days to go through. This is HUGE when you’re just starting out and need quick cash.

3. Created an accounting spreadsheet

I know a lot of people like to use Quickbooks for their accounting, but I like keeping it old school!

I created an excel spreadsheet with 1 tab for each month. In each tab, I tracked my income, expenses, and gross/net profits for the month & the year to date.

As a small business owner, it is ESSENTIAL that you know where your finances are. It’s a great idea to track your income & expenses weekly, so you always know where you’re at, & how far you have to go to reach your goals. Being organized also helps a ton come tax time.

There were also a lot of professional-related things I needed to do…

1. Renew my professional liability insurance

I chose to renew through Proliability to protect myself from malpractice lawsuits. I already had malpractice insurance through them while I was an intern, so I decided to just use them again. They offered a slight discount for new RDs, so that was helpful. The cost was only $60 for the whole year.

2. Purchase general liability insurance.

This is a separate insurance that covers slip & fall accidents in my office space. I was required to add the owners of the wellness center as co-insured on my policy as well (a common requirement), which increased the cost a little bit. I ended up purchasing a policy through Hiscox because they were able to find me the best deal. It cost $60 for the 1st month, and then roughly $40/month for the rest of the year.

3. Obtain an NPI number from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services.

You need an NPI number if you want to take insurance or if you DON’T want to take insurance, but want to be able to create superbills for your clients to submit to their own insurance for reimbursement.

I also had to decorate & furnish my office!

This was the fun part 🙂 I went on a World Market shopping spree & decked out the space at a very reasonable price.

I opted to set up my office with 2 comfy plush chairs rather than a formal desk option. I felt that sitting side by side with my clients would make them feel more comfortable & able to open up to me, compared to sitting behind a desk, with my client sitting before me as if I am the ultimate authority on nutrition. I got really good feedback from my clients on the vibe of my office, so I think it was a good choice!

Once I had my office ready to go, it was time to create my business paperwork!

For many people, this is a tough task to tackle. But luckily, creating forms & procedures & structure is a strength of mine, so I enjoyed the process!

Here’s a handy checklist of the templates I created:

  • Welcome email that people received after booking their 1st appointment.
  • A 9-page “Initial Appointment Welcome Letter & Health Information Form” for clients to fill out & return to me before our 1st session. This helped me prepare & be on the same page as my client when we first met.
  • A “New Client Agreement Form” to help protect myself against litigation.
  • A “What to Expect at Your 1st Appointment” letter to help clients understand exactly what our first session would be like.
  • Recurring Payment Authorization form so that I could store people’s credit cards on file & charge monthly for packages.
  • Superbill template for clients to submit to their insurance companies for reimbursement.
  • Client session templates for me to take notes on during our sessions.
  • Newsletter sign-up sheets to use at events.
  • Gift certificate templates.

To organize my client forms, I did the following:

  • Created 1 manila folder for each client.
  • Stored client folders alphabetically in a locked filing cabinet.
  • I stored the health information form, health agreement form, session notes, & any handouts I gave them in their folder.
  • I took this folder to each session for easy reference, in case there was any confusion about what we talked about in the past or what handouts were provided when.
  • If I was seeing a client for a long period of time, I split their materials into several folders, but kept it organized chronologically.

I chose to take notes by hand during our sessions because it’s just the way my brain works best. I like to jot down notes, draw arrows to connect things, cross things out as I cover them. Plus it felt a little impersonal to have my computer or tablet in front of me during our sessions. I wanted my full attention on my client.

Since I didn’t have a lot of clients, and wasn’t coordinating or sending notes to physicians, the old-school pen & paper method worked well for me. I know other people who absolutely love their electronic charting methods though, especially Practice Better!

Next up, creating marketing materials!

I was basically starting from square one in terms of marketing, & I was on a super low budget! I’ll outline my marketing methods in more detail in my next post, but I’ll give you a quick preview of what materials I created when I first started out.

  • Rack cards (with my picture, logo, story/philosophy, business info, & coupon). My uncle owns a printing company (Fineline Printing), so I was able to get these done for free! (Thanks, Uncle Richard!!)
  • Business cards from moo.com (my fave!)
  • A business facebook page (I technically already had this, but it’s a marketing essential if you don’t already have one)
  • A business Twitter handle (technically already had)
  • A business Instagram account
  • An updated LinkedIn page
  • A Yelp page
  • A Google+ business page
  • If you don’t already have a logo, you can design your own on canva.com, pay someone to design for you on fiver.com, or have people compete to create your logo at 99designs.com.

Don’t skimp on any of these! I got new clients from both Yelp & Google+, so make sure you’re highly visible & easy to find on the internet.

And finally, creating handouts!

Even though I didn’t have any clients yet, I wanted to have at least a few handouts to provide as a standard part of my 1st session.

I created a handout with my general nutrition/wellness philosophy, and some questionnaires I thought I might want to use, centered around emotional eating, self-care, & general wellness.

I figured I would make the rest as I went on, based on client need.

A few resources that really saved my butt during this time:

 To help guide me through this process, I purchased Making Nutrition Your Business by the amazing dietitians Faye Berger Mitchell & Ann M. Silver. This book was a godsend for helping me figure out the steps I needed to take to set up my office & business. Without this book, I would have struggled to understand the pros & cons of taking insurance vs private pay, the paperwork I needed to file, and how to go about marketing myself.

I also joined the Nutrition Entrepreneur dietetic practice group (NEDPG) & the Dietitians in Integrative & Functional Medicine practice group (DIFM), which were HUGE invaluable resources. I was able to search their listserv archives to answer almost any question I might have about starting a private practice & treating clients.

I also read a bunch of nutrition books!

There is A LOT of self-education that goes on when you first start your practice. Here are some books that I relied on heavily while crafting my counseling style:

And NOW, if I had to do it over again, I would strongly consider investing in more 1:1 guidance. 

Working with a coach or taking a course that was specific to starting a private practice would have gone a LONG way in speeding up my success.

There is a lot of trial and error involved in business, so working with someone who has been-there-done-that can save you from these missteps.

My favorite course is Jennifer McGurk’s Pursuing Private Practice (this is my affiliate link for her course). 

Jennifer is a powerhouse RD with years of experience coaching other dietitians on launching and growing private practices. She also does 1:1 mentorship and clinical supervision for eating disorder RDs and is an all-around excellent resource.

Total costs to open:

  • $750 security deposit
  • $750 first month’s rent
  • $25 business cards from moo.com
  • $10 for acuity scheduling software for my website
  • $200 for office supplies (clipboards, pens, folders, filing system, tissues, candles, notebooks, thank you cards, etc.)
  • $26 to file my “Doing Business As” paperwork
  • $30 to publish my DBA announcement in the newspaper
  • $58 for general liability insurance
  • $59 for professional liability insurance
  • $125 for a scale & blood pressure monitor (which I never used lol)
  • $2000 for office furnishings (chairs, rug, tables, dĂ©cor)
  • $100 if you don’t already have a website (this covers the cost of your domain name, hosting fees, and wordpress theme)
  • $100 on miscellaneous books to help me learn counseling styles/theories

= $4,233

And yep, that all went on a credit card. Eek!

Check out the next post for the lessons I learned during my 1st year in business. I share the details on exactly what my expenses were, & how much I earned over the course of my first year. You’ll learn a ton, promise!

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How I Became a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist

how i became an rd

This post is for all of the aspiring dietitians out there.

Yes, you!

I’ve been exactly where you are right now.

Interested in nutrition, contemplating changing careers, but not entirely sure what that would entail, or what your job prospects would look like afterwards.

This post will clarify everything.

I will show you, step by step, how I changed careers at age 24 and was officially a registered dietitian by age 27.

I’ll break down my exact timeline. The courses I took. The struggles I went through. The victories I shared.

My goal is to show you that it is never too late to chase your passion & live a life that fills you up and brings you joy each and every day.

If you’ve ever contemplated become a dietitian, please read on.

And if you aren’t entirely sure what a registered dietitian is, check out my previous post, “What Is A Registered Dietitian Nutritionist?”

My path, in a nutshell:

After graduating from college with a degree in Psychobiology from UCLA, I was entirely convinced that I was meant for a life of academia. Conducting research, teaching, and traveling around the country for various career opportunities sounded like a dream come true.

Then (as I highly recommend), I “tried out” living that lifestyle for 2 years.

I left sunny southern California & landed in hot & humid / rainy & cloudy Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, with a position managing a Health Psychology research lab at Carnegie Mellon University.

While I enjoyed the work, there was always a nagging feeling in the pit of my stomach that it wasn’t quite right. I felt a little bit trapped in the lab, and felt deep down that I was meant for a career that would place me more in the public eye, spreading a meaningful message & helping people improve their lives.

Oh yeah, and that dream about traveling around the country for various job opportunities? Eff that! Turns out, I missed California SO BADLY and realized I actually wanted full control over where I lived and worked & wouldn’t  be okay with landing in a random city for a new career opportunity.

So what did I do? I listened to my gut.

Yep, that little voice inside that tells you when things are right or wrong.

I meditated on my future, visualized the life I wanted, and thought about my deepest passions, dreams, and desires.

I realized that I was most passionate about food.

I wanted to teach and inspire other to cook and enjoy whole foods, & educate them on how awesome they would feel by doing so!

So I started to do some research.

I think I probably google searched something like “careers in nutrition,” and that’s when I discovered registered dietitians!

Until then, I honestly had never heard of the term “registered dietitian.”

But I landed on some interesting websites that helped me learn more:

These articles helped me understand what it would take to change careers & showed me that it WAS possible!

I also wanted to see what “a day in the life of a dietitian” was really like.

So I called up a few dietitians!

Literally every single person I asked to talk to was super accommodating & kind. I asked them how they became dietitians, what a typical day looked like for them, and if they had any advice for someone just starting out.

(Thanks Lindsay Stenovec at Nutrition Instincts, Heather Mangieri at Nutrition Check Up, and the wonderful assistant for Joy Bauer for talking to me about your careers, way back in 2010!)

After doing my research…

I realized that there were 2 types of educational programs for becoming an RD:

  1. Coordinated Programs (which include the required coursework to become a dietitian AND the required 1200h internship, conveniently run through the same school)
  2. Didactic Programs (which only include the nutrition coursework) +  A Separate DICAS Internship (which you have to apply & interview for separately, and currently only has a 50% match rate- eek!)

Since I had already decided that I didn’t want to move away from California again, my goal was to get accepted into a coordinated program so that I wouldn’t have to worry about applying to internships all over the country and possibly having to move again.

I decided that I wanted to start a Masters Degree in Nutritional Science in the Fall of 2011.

But I had to do a few things first!

  1. Figure out which schools I wanted to apply to.
  2. Take the freaking GRE.
  3. Show that I was serious about the field of nutrition & dietetics.
  4. Gather letters of recommendation, write my personal statements, and send those applications IN! 

Step 1: Where To Apply??

I used the accredited program search tool on the EatRightPRO website to find masters programs to apply to. (This is important, since ONLY accredited programs will qualify you to apply for an internship & take the RD exam).

My top 3 choices were:

  1. California State University, Los Angeles, M.S. in Nutritional Science
  2. San Diego State University, M.S. in Nutritional Science
  3. University of California, Davis, M.S. in Nutritional Biology

I chose these programs for a few reasons:

  • They were in California… duuh! I wanted to move back to my home state & reestablish my roots. My dream was to get into Cal Sate LA so that I could be in Los Angeles again.
  • Cal State LA was one of the only schools in California with a masters-level Coordinated Program that I would be eligible to apply for during the following year (once I completed a few more prerequisite classes at Cal State LA). The only other school in California with a masters coordinated program (at that time) was Loma Linda, but with a $35,000/year price tag, I didn’t think I could afford it. Now USC also has a program (through the school of gerontology, LOL). It’s probably pretty fabulous, & the quality of education is probably very high, but it costs even more than Loma Linda ($38k/year).
  • They were affordable. Since I graduated from high school in California, I was eligible for in-state tuition, even though I was applying from out of state. That meant the tuition at the state schools would only be around $7,000 per year, and the UC around $13,000. I briefly contemplated applying to private schools out of state, like NYU (and I am sure I would have LOVED IT), but I couldn’t justify dropping $30k per year, PLUS cost of living in NYC. It just didn’t seem like smart move when new RDs only make around $50,000 starting out, in many positions.
  • I wanted to make connections with people in the area I wanted to live. Ideally, I wanted to settle down in Los Angeles, so the goal was to make connections with other dietitians & students in that area who shared similar dreams and aspirations. This ended up being a great plan! Most of the people in my graduate program are still in the Los Angeles (or at least California) area, so it was a great way to start out on the right foot in my career. Plus, if you complete your internship in the area you want to work, you’ll already have a few connections in the field, and if you really impress your preceptors, it could turn into a job opportunity afterwards (It did for me!).

Step 2: Take the GRE.

Womp, Womp…

This was probably the least exciting part about preparing for grad school. I spent many many weekends memorizing vocabulary words & taking practice tests.

I did well on them, but I knew that my scores wouldn’t play that large of a role for the programs I was applying for.

Cal State LA only required a minimum score of 400 (out of 800…) on Verbal, a 500 (out of 800) on Quantitative, & a 3.5 (out of 6) on Analytical Writing. Safe to say I blew those numbers out of the water 😛

From what I heard, GRE scores are much more important for Ph.D. or research-based programs than for the types of masters programs I was applying to. UC Davis probably would have been the school that was most strict about it, out of the 3 I applied for. Basically, do your best, but don’t stress TOO much over the GRE.

Step 3: Show Your Passion.

Since I was transitioning from a career in neuroimaging research to the seemingly unrelated field of nutrition, I thought it was important to show that I was serious & dedicated to my passion for food & wellness.

If you are applying to graduate school for nutrition, it is really important to set yourself apart.

You could be competing against other people who actually have their bachelors degree IN nutrition & have been working/volunteering in the field for years.

What makes you special? What’s your unique spin? Where have you worked or volunteered? How do you show your passion?

I decided to start a blog.

Seriously, my first blog was a mess. I coded it myself, so it was a gross blob of awkward squares of colors that didn’t really go together, and probably looked like it was straight from the 90’s. But hey. It was a start!

While it might not have looked aesthetically pleasing, I used my blog as an outlet for my passion for food. I developed (and attempted to photograph) recipes, I included fun nutrition/foodie facts with each post, & would occasionally post articles discussing & critiquing the latest research (this was a strength of mine, since I was working in research, so I thought it would be a great way to show my voice & critical thinking skills).

I get it. Putting yourself out there (especially before you have even gotten into a nutrition program) is totally frightening.

You will get tons of people emailing/facebook messaging you with nutrition questions, even though you haven’t even started school yet 😉

You will also get haters. It’s inevitable. But the fact is, you will literally NEVER please everyone. It is impossible. So focus on posting your truth. Other people who are on the same wavelength in life will find you, and support you, and become the most awesome tribe of people you could ever be around. Just wade through the bullshit & stay strong!

If this makes you feel better, this is the first photo I posted on said blog:




But the point is, start before you’re ready.

Learn along the way. You will naturally improve over time.

And the truth is, in the beginning, it will probably only be you, your best friend/significant other, and your mom reading your blog. So don’t sweat it.

You also don’t have to blog!

That was just the way I chose to show my passion. You could also volunteer in your community, shadow a dietitian, become a research assistant in a lab, TA for classes if you’re still in school, take classes or acquire other certifications related to the field, work in a hospital or school district foodservice department, etc. etc. etc.

Again, just listen to your gut. It will reveal the right path for YOU.

Whatever you choose, try to get as heavily involved as you can prior to applying to school. You want to be able to include these activities in your applications & talk about them in your personal statements!

Step 4: Officially Apply.

Check each school’s website to see what materials they require.

Start this process early on, since you’ll probably need to request transcripts from your previous school(s), get letters of recommendation, and write a few personal statements.

A tip for getting good letters of rec:

Create a letter-writing kit for each person you’re requesting a letter from.

I recommend using a 3-ring binder, and using tabs to separate the materials for each school you are applying to.

Include the following materials in your binder:

  • Tab #1: All About You. In this first tab, include:
    • A copy of your personal statement. This is so your letter writer knows why you are passionate about nutrition, and what your goals are in the field. There’s nothing worse than having a vague letter, or one that contradicts your own personal statement! Leave nothing to chance & make sure you are both on the same page.
    • A copy of your CV or resume. Include this for easy reference, so your letter writer can quickly review your past history & make sure they aren’t leaving out anything important in their letter.
    • A list of your best qualities & accomplishments. Hey, this is the time to humble-brag! Letter writers are often swamped with requests from students. They might be spending a late night writing your letter, so you want to make it as easy as possible for them! In this list, include what you perceive to be your best qualities. Also remind your letter writer of occasions when you did awesome work for them, stepped up to show your leadership, or were otherwise an amazing person. While these moments might seem obvious to you, your letter writer will appreciate the memory-jog & the letter they write for you will shine with specific examples of how wonderful you are.
  • Tab #’s 2 through infinity: Create 1 tab per school you are applying to.
    • In each tab, print out a description of the program you are applying to (what the degree you would receive is, how many people are admitted, requirements for admission, what that particular program specializes in.)
    • This way, your letter writer can tailor each letter to each program. If one is heavily clinical, they can focus on your skills and personal qualities that would make you a great clinical dietitian. If another program is highly community or foodservice oriented, they can change their letter slightly to highlight those qualities.
    • Make sure the letter deadline is CLEARLY HIGHLIGHTED on the front page within this tab.
    • Include a pre-addressed & stamped envelope for them to send the letter directly to the school’s application department. Your letter writer will LOVE THIS. It’s just a little thoughtful touch that saves them time & effort.

It’s also a good idea to send friendly reminders about 1 week prior to each deadline to make sure everything is on track (if you haven’t heard from them already).

Also, don’t forget to send a thank you note & small gift to your letter writers afterwards!

In the Spring of 2011, I was accepted into all 3 programs. 

I chose Cal State LA.

The catch- I was only “conditionally” accepted until I completed all of the pre-requisites for the masters program:

  • Human Anatomy (with lab)
  • Human Physiology (with lab)
  • Chemistry
  • Organic Chemistry
  • Nutritional Aspects of Biochemistry
  • Microbiology
  • Foundations of Food
  • Fundamentals of Human Nutrition

Of these, I had completed chem & ochem at UCLA, but none of my other science classes would transfer.

This means that I had to complete allll of the courses in red before I would be “officially” enrolled in the masters program. Until then, I would just be a graduate student at Cal State LA, but not officially on the masters in nutrition track.

In addition, I also had to complete the following “core nutrition” classes that were required to be eligible for the RD exam. These were all technically undergraduate level classes, but I would be taking them as a graduate student.

  • Experimental Foods
  • Medical Nutrition Therapy I
  • Medical Nutrition Therapy II
  • Advanced Nutrition I
  • Advanced Nutrition II
  • Nutritional Assessment Laboratory
  • Principles of Sociology
  • Econ
  • Intro to Psych (transferred from UCLA)
  • Cultural Cuisine
  • Maternal & Child Nutrition
  • Institutional Food Service I
  • Institutional Food Service II
  • Community Nutrition
  • Management Principles in Dietetics
  • Professional Interactions & Writing Skills

Once ALL of these classes were complete, I would be eligible to start my internship & take my masters level classes:

  • Research Concepts & Methodology in Nutritional Science
  • Advanced Problems and Topics in Nutritional Science
  • Advanced Topics in Dietetic Management
  • Advanced Topics in Food Science & Technology
  • Plus 8 units of electives, graduate research, or fieldwork

Quite complicated, huh?

Here’s how I did it:

In a nutshell…

  • Year 1: Took pre-requisite courses & a few core nutrition classes at Cal State LA. Applied to the Coordinated Program & got accepted.
  • Year 2: Started the Coordinated Program! Completed the rest of the core nutrition classes.
  • Year 3: Completed my internship & did my masters classes at night.
  • Became a dietitian!!

Before I started Year 1 – Summer 2011:

I moved back to the Bay Area & lived with my parents for the summer.

I took the following classes at community college in Oakland:

  • Human Anatomy
  • Human Physiology

I chose those 2 classes because they were pre-requisites for almost all of the other nutritional science track-classes at Cal State LA. If I didn’t have those completed prior to starting in the Fall, I would be set back by an entire school year.

At the end of the summer, after I was done with summer school, I moved down to LA & got ready to start at Cal State LA.

Year 1 – Fall 2011:

I officially began classes at Cal State LA!!!

I took the following classes:

  • Nutritional Aspects of Biochemistry
  • Foundations of Food
  • Fundamentals of Human Nutrition

I also took a writing exam on the weekend, which is required of ALL students at Cal State LA… yes… even grad students who have already passed the GRE Analytical Writing… sigh.

Year 1 – Winter 2012:

  • Speech
  • Microbiology
  • Maternal & Child Nutrition

During this quarter I also started volunteering for a well know Los Angeles dietitian, Alyse Levine. At the time, she was working on creating her Eating Reset online nutrition counseling program. I started out helping her find / evaluate research articles on topics she wanted to cover in the program (yay, research background!!), and this eventually led to a paid opportunity to create & photograph the recipes for her program!!

So, even though I wasn’t done with the pre-requisite courses yet, I knew I would have them done by the end of the school year. That meant I would be eligible to start the 2-year Coordinated Program in Fall 2012!!!

During this quarter I applied to the Coordinated Program at Cal State LA (it required another round of personal statements & letters of rec), which, if I got accepted, would start in Fall 2012.

Year 1 – Spring 2012:

I took the following:

  • Economics
  • Experimental Foods
  • Principles of Sociology

I also found out that I was accepted into the Cal State LA Coordinated Program!!!!

The Cal State LA Coordinated Program takes 2 years:

Year 1: Taking your regular nutrition classes on campus (which I would have been taking anyways) + a weekly seminar with the other students who were accepted in your CDP class.

Year 2: Completing your internship Tues-Thurs @ locations across the LA area + attending class on Mondays.


I took Summer 2012 off & just worked/ saved up money.

2012-05-17 13.56.53

Oh yeah, check me out in my lab coat & hair net, measuring the weight of some gluten-free chickpea flour cookies.

Year 2 – Fall 2012:

Back to school at Cal State LA again! But now I was finally done with the pre-requisite courses & was officially a masters student in the Coordinated Program!

I took the following courses:

  • Cultural Cuisine
  • Communication Skills in Dietetics (a course that only people in the coordinated program take)
  • Institutional Food Service I
  • Advanced Nutrition I

2013-05-11 10.46.39

A few textbooks that never left my side…

Year 2 – Winter 2012:

  • Institutional Food Service II
  • Medical Nutrition Therapy I
  • Advanced Nutrition II
  • Nutritional Assessment Lab

Year 2 – Spring 2012:

  • Medical Nutrition Therapy II
  • Community Nutrition
  • Management Principles in Dietetics

Year 2 – Summer 2013:

This time I couldn’t take the summer off because I had one more required class to finish before I could start my internship:

  • Professional Interactions & Writing Skills

During this time the members of the coordinated program also met on campus every other week to go over clinical case studies to prepare us for our internships in the Fall.

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Me & my fellow RDs-to-be preparing for a professional presentation.

Year 3 – Fall 2013:

Time to start the internship!!!!

At Cal State LA we had a new internship site every quarter.

  • 1 quarter clinical (at a hospital)
  • 1 quarter food service (at a school district or hospital)
  • 1 quarter elective

My first rotation was at Little Company of Mary San Pedro. I went to the hospital every Tuesday, Wednesday, & Thursday and shadowed/worked alongside the clinical dietitians.

I was exposed to LOTS of clinical experiences & learned the ins & outs of hospital work. I worked in the critical care unit (mostly with enteral and parenteral nutrition- where patients receive nutrients through a feeding tube or intravenously). We were responsible for calculating the patient’s needs based on their condition & providing a recommendation to the doctor.

I also worked in the psych ward, rehabilitation unit, regular floors, & long term care. This hospital also had a drug & alcohol recovery center across the street, so I was able to give a nutrition education presentation there. I also worked a little bit in the kitchen, signing off on special-diet menus & learning how the systems work. I gave a presentation to the kitchen staff on dietary fats & why certain patients need modified diets, and I also did 2 clinical case studies on actual patients.

During this year we also had class every Monday where we would debrief & discuss our experiences & have a guest-speaker come & speak about their career in dietetics.

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It’s me! The dietetic intern!

Year 3 – Winter 2014:

I was placed in my elective rotation with Melissa Halas Liang @ SuperKids Nutrition!

During this rotation I was largely able to work from home: writing, editing, preparing presentations, & doing research on topics revolving around children’s nutrition. I got to do some fun, out of the box things, like review a couple cookbooks & nutrition books & interview the authors. I loved it!

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A few of the books I got to review / authors I got to interview.

It was very fateful that I got the work from home rotation that quarter, because I was also dealt a crazy blow.

Cal State LA was getting audited by ACEND that quarter, and they decided that we would not be allowed to sit for the RD exam until we had completed NOT just the RD coursework & internship hours (like we thought & had been told the entire time), but ALSO our entire masters degree!!


I originally had planned to spend a whole ‘nother YEAR at Cal State LA, completing my masters degree & (hopefully) working somewhere as an RD!

But now, with these new requirements, I had to complete my masters degree & write my comprehensive exam (a 30-page dissertation-type research paper on a topic of your choice) in the next 6 months!!!

So, I took my masters classes in the evenings AFTER having already worked an (unpaid) 8-hour day, and then did my homework on the weekends.

Needless to say… life was rough…

I chose to complete my 30-page comprehensive exam on the topic “Diet & Depression,” and researched & wrote the entire thing over my Spring Break. (so much for a break!)

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My life as an intern / masters student.

Year 3 – Spring 2014:

My final quarter at Cal State LA!!!!

I completed my foodservice rotation with a combination of hours at South Pasadena Unified School District & with Melissa Halas-Liang again.

This was a really fun rotation. I spent about half my time at South Pasadena High where I learned how to run a foodservice operation. They also happened to be getting audited by the state to make sure they were complying with the National School Lunch Program “Healthy, Hunger Free Kids Act” Standards, so I got to prepare and organize a ton of documentation for the reviewers (such a good learning experience!).

With Melissa, I got to help create posters that highlight the new school lunch standards, created a nutrition-related lesson plan that I taught for a few days to a class of 3rd graders, and I even got to interview the USDA Under Secretary about the summer foodservice program & write an article about it.

During this time I completed my evening masters classes & got all my paperwork submitted to apply for graduation (phew!).


The last day of our masters class!!!!

Year 3 – Summer 2014:

I graduated with my masters in nutritional science & was eligible to sit for the RD exam as soon as all of my paperwork was processed!!!!!!!



A few weeks after graduation we came back to campus to attend the Inman Review (a very expensive prep course, which was required as a part of the Coordinated Program). I am a very independent studier, so I didn’t find this course very helpful… She literally just read the notes aloud to us… I would have preferred to read & study them on my own. The practice questions were a good starting point… but I also downloaded a few apps that were just (if not more) helpful.

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We got the approval to sit for the RD exams in mid-July (I got mine July 17th), roughly 1 month after graduation.

The exam appointment times were booked up a few weeks in advance, so I scheduled mine for July 29th, 2014.

I spent 5, 6-hour days reviewing & taking notes on the Inman Review content (30h total), and then I went through and answered every single multiple choice question (there are hundreds!).

After that, I downloaded the Upward Mobility Registered Dietitian Exam Prep ($4.99 for 350 questions + explanations) & the Med Preps LLC Registered Dietitian Exam Prep ($19.99 for 1900 questions + explanations) and went through all of those.

Then I took the exam and I PASSED!!

By August 2014 I was officially Erica Julson, MS, RDN!!!



Stay tuned for my next post, revealing what I learned during my first year as a private practice dietitian. 

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