Each and every one of us has a different reason as to why we are pursuing an education in nutrition and dietetics. Some of are interested in community, clinical, research, corporate, management, or sports nutrition. In all these different categories, we know that nutrition plays an important role in optimal health. We want to aid our community/future patients by providing good nutritional information, ideal food choices and design proper nutrition programs for our future clients. In clinical nutrition, dietitians are able to develop tailored nutritional programs to provide proper medical nutrition therapy to patients in hospital and nursing facilitates. This fascinates many future clinical dietitians to be able to work closely with doctors to assess and coordinate the best medical nutritional program for their given patient. It’s also very important to be in touch with current research to provide optimal care for our future patients. Jennifer Wihlborg, a current junior in the nutrition and dietetics program first became interested in nutrition when her mother was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. It wasn’t until her high school years where she yearned to learn more nutrition and its role with disease prevention and treatment. After doing her research and finding out what dietitians do, she knew that this was the path she was destined to take. With the desire of always wanting to help people, she knew she could help future clients through nutrition. In 2014, she began her freshman year at the University of North Florida. As she started the program, she instantly felt at home. In just her freshman year she received a great opportunity to work at the Mayo Clinic with mostly UNF seniors in the nutrition and dietitians program. These seniors became great mentors for her and offered her a position as a research assistant. During this time, she helped out in the research process and developed a great passion for it! The research studies she has been a part of have been with our MNT professor, Dr. Alireza Jahan-Mihan. In the most recent study, they examined the effect of amount and source of protein fed during pregnancy on the development of characteristics of metabolic syndrome in offspring obese Wistar rats. The main objective focused on the effect of the source of protein in a maternal diet. Body weight, long-term food intake, systolic and diastolic blood pressure, plasma glucose, insulin, and intake regulatory hormones such as CCK, PYY and ghrelin, along with receptors in both the hypothalamus and gastrointestinal tract were thoroughly examined throughout and after the study. During her experience in the laboratory and witnessing first hand how diet can directly impact our health truly fascinated her and gave her the opportunity to see a whole different side of dietetics that many undergraduates don’t get to experience. Now in her junior year, she is currently a manager/laboratory supervisor and has recently written her own research protocol that will be carried out this summer.
Jennifer loves research and she is a firm believer that it lays the foundation for nutrition and dietetics. She believes, as a student, research allows her to directly apply what she is learning in the classroom and it gives her the ability to further explore how nutrition can affect the body. She states that it’s important to continue with research in the field of nutrition and dietetics because it allows us to have valid and valuable knowledge that can truly make a difference in the population’s health. Her advice for students wanting to pursue research is to not be intimated by it. Even if students start off by doing simple things such as cleaning up the lab or inputting data, there is always room to learn more complex responsibilities such as performing and analyzing blood work. She believes that research offers the perfect opportunity to learn at one’s own pace. Students can look forward to expanding their knowledge by having first hand experience and by gaining valuable information they can take onto their careers whether it be in clinical, sports, holistic or any other constituent of nutrition and dietetics.
Jennifer has many future goals she wishes to accomplish in her lifetime. She hopes to first become a clinical pediatric dietitian and then move on to be a nutrition support specialist. After a few years of clinical experience, she would like the opportunity to work with UNICEF to help treat and prevent severe acute malnutrition and combat micronutrient deficiencies in other countries. Lastly, one of her goals includes doing research specialty, focusing on nutrition and multiple sclerosis. Research has directly impacted her life in the sense that is what consistently drives her passion for nutrition. It has truly given her a clear idea of what she wants to do with her future career in dietetics.