The Process of Becoming a Dietitian

On March 15, 2015, after nearly 16 years of combined experience as a public and private tax accountant, and internal auditor, I turned in my notice at a prominent farm supply company and did not tell anyone about my future plans.  Little did I know how rewarding and challenging the next three years would be for me.

I initially became a tax accountant back in 1998 because of my love of numbers and metrics.  Because I relocated to Knoxville, TN with Sea Ray Boats Company in 1991, I was all in on becoming a VOL at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville.

 After earning my Associate Degree from Pellissippi State Technical Community College, I transferred to UTK to attain a Bachelor of Administration in Business and a Master of Accountancy in Taxation. 

In 1998, prior to graduation, I was offered a position at the prestigious Arthur Andersen, LLP (infamous along with Enron?) to become the first ever “straight out of college” State and Local Tax Accountant Staff member.  From a little city in Michigan (Lake Orion class of 1986!) to a job transfer with Sea Ray Boats, Inc. leading me to Knoxville in 1991 this girl was all set up in a high rise building in a sleeper city called Nashville. 

Somewhere between 1992 and 1994 the running bug bit me.  Two coworkers at Kimberly-Clark Corporation, where I worked while completing my degrees, challenged me by saying “aerobics, suuuuure. I bet you cannot run!”  Well, if you ever tell me I CANNOT do something, I’m the first one doing it!  So, thanks to Penny Brewer, Penny Dailey and a great runner friend Ray.  I was off training for my first 10k, the Knoxville Expo where I ran 6.2 miles in just under one hour!! WOW!!!  And that is how this whole running thing and derailment of my accounting career began.

After that first 10k, I continued training and entering races.  Logging miles, buying shoes, carb loading and talking smack about future plans of running a marathon.  When I moved to Nashville in August 1998 to start my tax accounting career, wouldn’t you know it that Elite Racing and Foot Locker announced Nashville’s Inaugural Country Music Marathon in 2000!  YES!  The bug was alive and well and growing like a monster.

I immediately signed up with Leukemia Society’s Team In Training to run and fund raise for the Country Music Marathon.  I raised thousands of dollars for a little five year old boy, Logan, who was in remission. I trained under the former Nike sponsored runner, Bob Lunsford, and lived, ate and breathed everything running. 

Training was not enough though.  Working as a tax accountant was also not enough.  Through the course of my first marathon finish, I found my passion in people and endurance running.  I determined Nashville’s little metropolitan needed a running store too!   Therefore, I set out to either open my own running store or purchase a franchise.

Franchise it was!  I found in life that when an idea comes to me, the path begins to be laid.  Coach Bob Lunsford, was college roomies with Tom Raynor and guess who was the President of Fleet Feet Sports? Yup, Tom Raynor!  Having barely any money to my name, I chased Tom Raynor and Fleet Feet Sports around the United States until I convinced them I NEEDED to open a running store in Brentwood, TN! 

And as luck may have it, I also convinced SunTrust bank to loan me $100,000.  Whoa!!  I am so blessed by my wonderful parents and their generosity to let me lien against their land in order to reach my goals…otherwise SunTrust never would’ve loaned me the money.  Dad and Kathy, I will never forget this generosity, you were instrumental in making my dreams come true!!

And there it was on February 16, 2002, I was the proud owner of a 3000 square foot specialty retail running store smack dab in the middle of Brentwood, TN.  From day one, the doors were busting out the seams.  The city and runners embraced me and my business and staff with wide open arms. 

We were named “Best New Specialty Business in the Running” category by the Nashville Scene that year.  I also was nominated as Woman of the Year from Leukemia and Lymphoma Society several years later.  I was approached to coach Nashville’s Women Owned Business first ever half marathon group at Tom King Half Marathon in 2002 and 2003.  And, in future years many large groups including Diamond Rio’s “Team Rio” asked me to coach their charity group and Susan G. Komen’s Race for The Cure asked me to race direct for them in 2009.  I have been SO blessed by running!!

So why am I not still the owner of Fleet Feet you ask?  Well, double digit business ownership is hard.  It is even harder when you’re a one woman show and your family lives out of state.  Therefore, like many other single “mothers” (I’ve always felt the store was my child), I gave my “baby” up for adoption.  Through a sale back to the corporate Fleet Feet office and Tom Raynor, President, I entered an agreement on July 28, 2006 to give my up love.  And the love goes on. The new owner has carried on my legacy and I’ve never looked back.  Why does this matter?

Well, after selling my store, there were some dark days.  I didn’t know what else to do. I contemplated going back to college to become a dietitian, as I was so inspired by two dietitian customers, Mari-Etta Parrish, RD, CSSD, and Eileen Myers,MPH, RDN, LDN, CEDRD.  However, I knew it took 3 years to become a dietitian.  THREE YEARS?  Who has time for that?

Well, my stepmother, Kathy always says “And how old will you be if you DO NOT do this?”  She’s so smart!!!  Of course, I took the easy way out. Bought a house in East Nashville and went back to my tax accounting career at Deloitte that I left in 2001.

AND…after 9 years of struggling through corporate tax deadlines and feeling no love for one deadline after the next I continued to ponder the “what if” I became a registered dietitian. I think that last corporate tax filing deadline did a number (pun intended) on me when my boss went into labor on 9/11 and I had to file over 100 municipality returns on my own.  The following year, I thought would be better. 

Unfortunately, the boss was never present at work having “sick kids” “buying a house” you get the drill.  On the evening of 9/15, I had to drive to the Nashville post office and drop off a Pennsylvania return because SHE waited till the last minute to review my work and then blamed ME for the lateness. As if that was not enough…when I left for a much vacation to Italy, I returned to the boss telling me I was NOT getting a raise and was getting reprimanded for doing a POOR JOB. WTF???

Under this bosses care (she was also a UT MAcc Alum), it seemed I always came back from vacation with a “you just didn’t do this good enough” speech.  Tax accountants are perfectionists. We sorta eat our coworkers for lunch.  Nothing is ever good enough.  I wanted to be good enough!!!  I longed to talk to people, to listen to people, to be AROUND people.

My heart wanted to be able to make changes in people and processes and be recognized for my hard work.  Even though I had a strong love for forms and numbers and problem solving, I knew it was time for a change.

One more thing provided the path to dietitian. My husband was diagnosed in 2015 with celiac disease.  We went to see Mari-Etta Parrish, RD, CSSD, where she said “I don’t know why you are coming to see me, you can do this!”  And there it was, sweet Mari-Etta gave me the push I needed!! I can DO this!!!  Like I said, I marched in and quit my job!

I quickly enrolled myself in Middle Tennessee State University’s summer “Maymester,” as the professors call it, where I took the maximum amount of hours all summer long busting out strong grades and completing two full years of college, 86 credit hours later, earning a Bachelor of Science in Food Science and Nutrition in May 2017.  I would be crazy to think I did this all on my own though.

Dr. Lisa Sheehan-Smith, was instrumental in leading me through the course of becoming a RD at MTSU. She ensured I took the right classes, that I loaded my resume with strong volunteer opportunities and that I shined everywhere I went.  As fun as it was at MTSU, I will never forget that last summer where I completed 17 hours between the first week in May and last week in August.  Whew!  Follows my motto “If it’s meant to be, it’s up to me!”

During all this class work, I also prepared for the DICAS matching process for Dietetic Internship, where I successfully matched!  I earned Nashville’s Outstanding Dietetic Student Award for 2017 provided by Nashville’s Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and worked part time as an Unarmed Security Guard for some of the coolest acts visiting Music City.  I also continued to run, more like chase, my marathon goals logging 17 marathons (two sub 4 hours) and one Ironman, Louisville, KY 2010.

Fast forward my move 7 hours away to North Carolina and the start of my internship where I worked with collegiate athletes and counseled children for weight management for 12 weeks…SO rewarding!  And next, where I met up with a fellow alum from MTSU, Sarah Visocky, and who guided me in food service and clinical rotations.  Not only did I get to work under a fellow MTSU classmate, I also was guided by the four most kind, caring and compassionate registered dietitians in Morganton, NC!

To be completely honest THE INTERNSHIP IS NO JOKE.  It was the hardest months of my life.  Don’t get me wrong though, I enjoyed ever single minute of it and the people I met left a lifelong impression on me.  In fact, I still talk to my classmates, professors and preceptors weekly.  They are some of my best colleagues and friends.

And then…there’s the RD exam.  I truly become speechless on this topic.  My RD exam experience was something straight out of hell.  I don’t want to scare anyone reading this – just know your internship and college education SHOULD prepare you well for the exam.  And YOU should prepare each and every day for that exam leading up to the day you schedule it.

For me, it was a brutal summer.  I studied hard with Jean Inman and Breeding and Associates and Visual Veggies. I took 1300 questions, I watched all the math videos and I made around 400 note cards.  Where I failed was in practicing self-care.  My friend went to Hospice the week of my exam and then she passed the morning of my exam. Yet, me, being the task master that I am, chose to take the exam.  You can imagine the outcome.

SOoooo I took the exam for the 2nd time in September. Retook the Breeding and Associates class, made even more note cards and hired a tutor.  This time around, though, I went away from all my friends and family. Turned off the computer, cell phone and TV and solely focused on studying for 5 weeks.  I memorized concepts, watched videos and read my undergraduate Krause MNT book when I needed to “relearn” a concept.  All that hard work and sacrifice finally paid off on 9/24/18 when I saw the PearsonVue report “Congratulations!”

For those of you out there contemplating becoming a RD.  Do your research, shadow RD’s in all types of industries. Spend time with professors, ask questions.  Go visit INTERNSHIP directors! Know it ALL. Have a plan. Work your plan. And if you come to a road block…determine how you will conquer it.  Never take a NO as a NO, take it as a “Not now.” And continue making that climb. 

I am sure glad I continued on. As hard as May 2015 to September 2018 has been for me, it is entirely worth it to now sign my name, Jill Mongene, MAcc, RD, LDN

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