Retail Dietitian Close Up: Marcia Wallen, MS, RD, LMNT Hy-Vee
Interviewed by RDBA Contributing Editor Amanda Rubizhevsky, MPH, NC
What is the story behind your experience in retail and your position with your store?
My retail experience goes back to the time when I was a little tot and my father owned a “mom and pop” grocery. I can remember standing on a milk crate, at the cash register, to “ring up” customers. I have always enjoyed employment in retail, having worked in a department store in high school and college and, after my children were grown, working weekends at a Hallmark store.
I stepped into to my current position by way of 20+ years as the Women, Infants and Children Nutrition Program (WIC) local coordinator and liaison with the grocery stores. When the Williamsburg Hy-Vee was looking to create the dietitian position, they called me.
How is your job different today than when you started 8 years ago? How has it changed over time?
Many segments of my job are much the same as when I started in February, 2008, and portions have changed. First and foremost, then and now, is the sharing of nutrition and wellness information. I frequently sum up my job in one word – education.
As Hy-Vee has added more and more dietitians, we have seen increased guidance from our corporate dietitians. Consequently, I can now rely on company-wide materials available from the corporate office to supplement my locally-produced materials.
What are your perspectives on the retail dietetics industry?
The retail dietetics industry is expanding because the grocery store is the perfect location for people to receive, practice and benefit from nutrition and wellness information. Where else can one put what they learn into their grocery cart and take it home?
What has been the biggest challenge for you as a dietitian working in retail?
Initially, the biggest challenge for me as a retail dietitian was acceptance. It took time for customers and coworkers to discover what I could do for them. I now feel accepted and looked to as a resource for answers.
What is one thing you would share with RDs that are just starting their career as a retail dietitian?
To listen with concerned ears and genuine compassionate.
Has there been anything specific that has held you back? If yes, tell us about this and how you dealt with it.
Technology. This old dog has had difficulty learning the new tricks. I go to our younger employees for assistance!
In a similar vein, has there been anything specific that has helped you move forward?
My lifetime experiences, both professionally and personally.
What have you done to equip yourself with the skills and knowledge necessary to succeed in the retail industry?
- Maintaining a sincere and caring attitude.
- Improving my motivational interviewing skills.
- Continuing education to stay current with trends and clinical recommendations.
Tell us about one of your programs or initiatives that you are most proud of and why.
I am most proud of my cooking class series for elementary-aged children that I have been conducting monthly for 7½ years. During class, we make and sample three simple recipes, play a nutrition game, sing our theme song and taste an uncommon food. This tasting has exposed the children to new foods, encouraged them to try something they may have never eaten and expanded their palates. I am most proud of Toby who came to class not willing to try anything different and now, according to his family, will eat anything. Many others have also acquired Toby’s willingness. The series was expanded to preschoolers accompanied by a parent or special adult. Teaching nutrition while having fun has been very special to me!
Marcia Wallen, MS, RD, LMNT, is a Lincoln native and a graduate of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and Iowa State University. Marcia completed her dietetic internship at the J. Hillis Miller Health Center, University of Florida, Gainesville. Her background includes experience in a variety of healthcare settings including work as a hospital clinical dietitian and department head, consultant to nursing homes and as a nutritionist and program coordinator for the Women, Infants and Children Nutrition Program (WIC).
Marcia has a wide range of expertise, including weight management, diabetes, celiac disease, heart disease and pediatric nutrition. Marcia is a member of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and the Nebraska Dietetic Association and had been with Hy-Vee since 2008, retiring April 1, 2016.