In the spirit of national dietitian exam season this fall, I wrote this blog for dietetic masters students and interns who are in the process of completing the final step to becoming fully licensed registered dietitians: Writing and passing the Canadian Dietetic Registration Exam (CDRE).
Shooting a commercial for Rogers TV with Frank Ferragine.
I’m going to tell you a story about how I got to where I am today…
How to Become a Registered Dietitian: Grit and Perseverance
Soo many days and nights I spent in the library. But most importantly… who let me do that to my eye brows?! lol
If you graduated before 2000, you were grandfathered in and probably did not write the CDRE.
If you graduated after 2000, wrote and passed the CDRE on your first attempt, you’re probably wondering, “how did she fail that un-fail-able exam?”
As long as there are licensing exams for professional designations, there will be those who will be successful, and those who will not be. I am not the first to fail, and definitely will not be the last.
Failing the exam was the start of a snowball of events that led me to a very dark place in December 2015.
In summer 2015, I graduated from my dietetic internship. Up until this point, I had a few hiccups along the way, including failing chemistry 101 the first time I took it, as well as one of my clinical rotations. As a mature student who had gone back to school after completing a 4-year BFA Honours degree in Visual Arts, I knew this wouldn’t be easy. I remained optimistic and worked hard.
During dietetic internship: Business and industry rotation promoting healthy eating on campus.
How does a creative person decide they want to join a science-based, regulated health profession? That story is here.
Because of my art background, my struggle was not being great at multiple choice exams. During my nutrition studies, I had to train my brain to learn and study science.
Knowing that exams weren’t my strength, I studied extra hard. I went through all my clinical notes, shared notes with other interns and spent countless hours going over material. All I knew was the exam was a comprehension-based exam over knowledge.
Finding My Dream Job: Or What I Thought Was My Dream Job
During this time, like all new grads I was also job searching. Despite the high level of post-secondary education millennials have, currently only 44% of jobs are full time permanent, with the rest contract, part time or casual positions. After hundreds of job applications and countless job interviews, I finally landed my dream job: A manager of nutrition and wellness at a large food service corporation. Having an offer of a full-time, salaried job with benefits right after graduation made me feel like the luckiest new dietitian in the world.
All new graduates are eligible for a temporary license with their provincial regulatory body – I just had to pass the CDRE.
I wrote the six-hour multiple choice board exam in November.
I was to start my dream job on December 28th.
That was until three days before Christmas, I was notified that exam results were ready.
Logging in to receive my results, in one line stating,
You were unsuccessful in your exam attempt. Please contact the Coordinator for more details.
My heart sank. That was strange. I felt like I had studied and worked so hard. Why didn’t I pass the exam?
I felt the tears burning.
I was a crappy dietitian.
Little had I’d known … this was only the beginning.
I still remember that heart wrenching phone conversation. I stayed professional on the phone, while she yelled at me, stating that she was going on mat leave in one month, and I was supposed to take on the role as a corporate dietitian during her absence. Having full authority, she cancelled my contract on the spot.
I was fired.
As I hung up the phone, the tears I was holding back streamed down my face and couldn’t stop.
I contacted my regulatory college for next steps.
Only problem: The College was closed for two weeks for the holidays, re-opening in January.
I was stuck in a rut. I had already invested so much time and energy into this. It had been 7 years since I first enrolled at Ryerson University wanting to become a dietitian. Despite some issues during my studies, overall, I was doing well. I was the first choice for an award from 2 dietitian networks to attend the Dietitians of Canada conference. I thought I had demonstrated leadership and initiative during my internship and worked to improve in areas to get better.
Over the course of holidays, during those two weeks while the College was closed:
I cancelled Christmas. I avoided going to any parties. I couldn’t face my family and talk about exam results without falling apart. On Christmas Day, I stayed home and watched movies.
I hid from everyone. All of my colleagues had passed the exam except me. I felt humiliated and incompetent.
Also, because I failed my exam, I was no longer allowed to volunteer as a national spokesperson for my professional association.
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So how did I grow from this and end up to where I am now?
After the holidays were over, I managed to pick myself up and devote extra energy towards learning from past mistakes to prepare for the exam again in May. To prepare:
I volunteered on the side. I contacted past preceptors. Many allowed me to volunteer with them to work on any skills I might have missed during internship.
I reached out to people. Most people were kind and compassionate. Some colleagues sent me their notes.
I studied smarter. I did all practice questions I could find. I made up my own too.
I reviewed the exam preparation book with extreme detail. I made sure I knew the exact exam process.
Because I was fired from my job, I was reluctant to look for dietitian job again. What if they asked about the CDRE, and I would have to tell them I failed? Would they use it as a weapon against me like my previous employer did?
How this changed my career route – and eventually led to success today:
I’ve always dreamed of having my own nutrition communication business. But I was afraid to try right after graduation. But after being fired from both my paying job and volunteer role and failing my exam… what choices did I have? My career could not have gotten worse. In my mind (after much time ruminating, and being depressed), the only option was to go upwards after hitting rock bottom.
Employers are technically allowed to hire or turn down a candidate based on their temporary or general member dietitian status – but let’s admit it: it’s a dick move to hire or dismiss based on this.
However, there’s no rule against starting a business. I already completed a 4-year BASc degree in nutrition. So why not?
During that time, the life-long learner in me also devoted time to learning about business. I started my blog. I visited my local small business centre to learn from other entrepreneurs.
Exam Attempt #2
In May 2016, I went back to write the CDRE again.
In July, I logged in to receive my exam results:
Congratulations! You were successful in your exam attempt.
YAYYY! I HAD PASSED!!!
I had been working on this tough goal since 2008. And finally… it had come true!
I don’t have any regrets. To dietetic students working towards the Canadian Dietetic Registration Exam/have failed their internship or masters program/who have failed to land an internship or masters program: I have important lessons to share with you:
- Failure is the best teacher. It will push you to do things and often outside of your comfort zone. Failure is also humbling, teaching you life lessons you would not have otherwise. It makes you stronger. In this case, failure also led to my success. To reiterate: Failure leads to growth!
2. There are good people in the world who will show up in a time of need. But there are also assholes. Do better. Be better and rise above.
- If you fail the exam on your first attempt, remember you can write it again. Learn from it. Learn from my mistakes!
This experience made me better, stronger and smarter. If you are going through something similar, you will get through this! And it can make you appreciate things so much more, like it did for me.
Are you in the process of completing the final step to becoming a registered dietitian and writing the CDRE?
Have you failed before, and are not sure what to do?
Let me know with a comment below!
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You’re a brilliant role model. Uour honesty just makes me admire you even more. Who else is speaking realistically about how difficult it is to become a dietitian for some? Your story is definitely already helping others.
Hi Sandra. You made me smile. Thank you for your very kind words. The process of becoming a dietitian IS difficult for everyone, but I think few will actually admit it ;). My goal in being truly authentic is to reach and connect with others, and you have told me that I did that – so thank you for commenting xo – Michelle
Thank you so much for sharing such a personal story! It’s so easy to only see the success. It’s the failures that we face that lead to success which is the whole story. You’re an inspiration! I needed this reminder!
Hi Jessie! Pleasure was mine, and I am glad you found this helpful. We only grow from failure. Don’t ever see failure as defeat! Stay strong. You can do it! – Michelle