Why did you decide to become a CDM?
After jumping from degree to degree out of high school, trying to find the right fit for me, I realized what I’m mostly passionate about was what I was doing every day: food service. I had never considered it a career, because it was just something I did to pay the bills while I was in school. Once I realized I could get a degree in food service, safety, and nutrition, I knew what I would be doing for the rest of my life.
What are your main responsibilities in your current position?
Unlike most CDMs, I do mostly clinical work, although I am the liaison between clinical and nursing and the food services department. I complete assessments under the guidance of our Registered Dietitian. I’ll do rounds during meals, talking to staff and residents about what we do that works well, what we do that needs some work, and just to stop by and be seen. I attend care plan meetings 3 days a week with the interdisciplinary team, addressing concerns with families. My main job, though, is to make sure our residents are happy and well nourished.
How do you organize your time at work to make sure you accomplish all your responsibilities?
I’m definitely a planner. I have my Outlook calendar, but I always keep track of my time and responsibilities in a large planner. I’m also a distance student at the University of Alabama, so I need to make sure I juggle my school time with my work time appropriately. I also keep a steadily rolling to-do list. I always get stopped in the hall with a “hey Patty, I just wanted to tell you…” about a resident or meal service, and those little notes add up. I’m an hourly employee, too, so I have to be able to squeeze all I do in a 40 hour week. Organizing my time is extremely important.
What is an example of an innovative way you have made change at your facility and how did you implement it?
The most recent innovation was creating a finger food menu for our facility. We recognized a problem with residents needing finger foods, but the temporary solution was just to stuff the main meal into a pita or between two slices of bread. We threw around the idea of creating a better menu for finger foods, but it never came to fruition. One day when I (miraculously) had some time to review the menus, I started scribbling down some ideas for creative finger foods. It went from a week to a full 4-week rotation, with the help of our executive chef finding some things we could order from our distributor that would work to match our menus. The little side project quickly moved from some scribbles on a menu to rolling out to 20 residents in less than a month. It has hit some bumps, and we are working on it together with the cooks and servers for what works on our end, as well as taking feedback from CNAs and activity staff who help the residents with feeding. I hope to perfect the menu by the time our new facility opens, early summer 2017.
What was your first job in the foodservice industry?
When I was 15, I worked at the local Boy Scout camp, Camp Bud Schiele. Everyone there had a food service (“cafeteria”) rotation. My first involved job in food service was working at the Barnes and Noble Café, which I did for nearly 10 years while I finished high school, and jumped around trying to decide what I wanted to do in college. I loved working in food protection so much, I didn’t see it was right in front of me while I switched from degree to degree.
Who has been your biggest mentor in foodservice and how have they helped shape your career?
I had gone so quickly from “student” to “DTR, CDM, CFPP” that I relied so much on any information anyone would give me. I have had so many wonderful mentors in my short career, starting off with my manager Tommy DeYoung at the Barnes and Noble Café (who coached me into being a total nick-pick about sanitation and overall tidiness). Definitely my biggest mentor, though, is my current manager and our facility Registered Dietitian, Candence Lowman. She has not only given me the confidence to not be afraid to try new things and speak up about the care of our residents, but she has also coached me into being a brave, confident, professional woman in a world that sometimes doesn’t want that from women. I’ve gone from a meek, fresh food service professional who would sit quietly in meetings to someone not afraid to speak my mind and stand up for myself.
What are the biggest challenges you face in your position and how do you handle them?
Communication is definitely the biggest challenge I face right now. Our facility is in a transition period while we wait for a new facility to be built, so the nutrition office has moved to a blind spot. It can be hard to find me, between jumping in and out of the office, walking around talking to residents and families, and in meetings. Not everyone has access to email or even phones, and even then the tone of an email can be skewed. I make sure to have face time with everyone first thing in the morning. I typically have an hour before morning meeting to make a round with EVS and nursing staff, and then pop into the kitchen after morning meeting, before care plan. That gives me a chance to see and talk to as many people who need to see me. The routine also lets people know I am available—they’ll always see me in the morning, so they can give me a heads-up about something then.
What is your favorite part of your job?
The residents! While I was in college, I never dreamed of working in long term care. I did my dietetic internship at Abernethy Laurels, and fell in love with the facility and residents. It’s a beautiful place, filled with beautiful faces. They all have wonderful stories to tell me, and I’ve even gotten some great recipes from some of the residents.
How do you stay up to date with current innovations and trends?
I’m an avid reader and information sponge. I’m when I’m not at work or working on homework, I’m reading about nutrition and food service trends. My favorite author is Marion Nestle, who has written a lot about public policy. I also read all of my trade magazines cover to cover. I’ve hunted down our food service director when a magazine I’m expecting has not appeared in my mailbox, just in case he accidentally received it. I stay involved in the NCDA regional chapter. Every morning, I read my email recapping the latest on the ANFPConnect message board.
How do you envision the foodservice industry in the next few years and foodservice?
First and foremost, I see our staff being paid their worth. It’s a thankless job a lot of the time. Food and nutrition, as well as anything related to the care of human beings, is so fluid and ever changing. I hope to see less resistance to change as we have to change our methodology for service with each age group that comes in to long term care. Right now, we hear a lot of talk about baby boomers, but we haven’t seen a lot of them coming in for long term care. We have to be ready to make that transition when they stop coming in for rehabilitation and start staying with us long term. I embrace change, and I want to help others see change as a positive thing.
What is your advice to those just getting started in the foodservice industry?
Don’t get discouraged. There are a lot of road blocks, but they are just opportunities for advancement. I’ve spent a lot of days frustrated to the point of tears, but I’d never leave this industry.