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Getting a taste of the dietetics industry

by Matt Jardin  |   

Dietetics alumna Oksana Deyneka
After coming to the U.S. from Ukraine to perform with the Russian Circus on Ice, Oksana Deyneka, B.S. Dietetics ’19, moved to Alaska to pursue dietetics at UAA. Now nearing the end of her internship rotations, she is looking ahead to seeing how her new career can benefit the community. (Photo by James Evans / University of Alaska Anchorage)

In ice skating, the twizzle is a move describing the complete turn of the body on one foot — a sort of rotation. It’s a maneuver that dietetics alumna Oksana Deyneka knows well. 

Born and raised in Kharkiv, Ukraine, Deyneka picked up ice skating when she was 5 years old. While attending university, she parlayed her ice skating into performances. And after graduating with her bachelor’s in English as a second language and her master’s in translation studies, Deyneka joined the Russian Circus on Ice and moved to Las Vegas to perform for two years.

When her residency in Las Vegas ended, Deyneka chose to stay in the U.S. to travel the country, joining various ice ballet companies along the way. In 2010, she decided to check out Alaska, where she ultimately put down roots, despite admitting to not having any initial interest in outdoor winter activities — a disinterest she has since remedied with the help of the friends she made here in the Last Frontier.

As a lifelong athlete, Deyneka always ate healthily, but out of routine through the ice ballet companies she was a part of. Once in Alaska, she developed a more active interest in nutrition after noticing the differences in food culture here in the U.S. compared to Ukraine.

“Switching countries and cultures, I was amazed and confused by some of the food preferences. When I was growing up in Ukraine, I don’t think we had organic signs. In my family, we always had a garden and we ate lots of vegetables and fruit from homegrown sources,” said Deyneka. “Also, when I stopped skating and moved to Alaska, I gained some weight. I was like, ‘I don’t understand what’s happening.’ Obviously, I wasn’t working out as much, but I wasn’t changing my habits. Then I found that food had something to do with that.”

Deyneka dove right into learning about nutrition through the internet. However, with the wealth of information available online, she decided to seek a more structured approach. As fate would have it, around the same time Deyneka reconnected with a skater from her time performing in Mexico who was herself majoring in nutrition. Inspired, Deyneka checked to see if UAA offered a similar course of study and came across the dietetics major, which she describes as “mostly nutrition, but you’ll know even more after.”

Since graduating last year, Deyneka has been working on a new type of rotation, consisting of 1,200 hours of supervised internships spread across two semesters. Each rotation provides insight into the various fields of the dietetics industry, including inpatient and outpatient care, pediatrics, critical care nutritional support, food service, community nutrition, renal care nutrition and rural health, which is a rotation unique to Alaska due to the continued importance of subsistence living in the state.

“I used to be nervous about the internships,” said Deyneka. “You’re afraid you don’t know anything because you’re just a student, but you actually know more than you think. Just show up and see what’s happening and assess and take in as much as possible. You go through all the different jobs to see what different people do and it’s awesome. You will not be able to do all of those later in your life because once you have a job, you have a job. But here you see all those jobs and see what you like and what you don’t like.”

In addition to providing practical experience in each dietetics field, rotations can also help dispel any preconceptions, which is what happened for Deyneka after her most recent community nutrition and public health rotation at the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services.

“I like to see results right away. With community nutrition, that doesn’t happen,” said Deyneka. “You research, you take surveys, you assess the situation, you come up with an intervention and then you implement the intervention, and it takes such a long time. Maybe you see the results, maybe you don’t. But if you see them, it’s not soon. So I was wondering what this rotation would bring to me and I went there with an open heart and open eyes. I asked one of my preceptors how they deal with doing all of this work and not seeing a result anytime soon. She said that when you do see the result, it affects a lot more people than just one client. I love that.”

Following rotations at the end of this semester, Deyneka and her fellow dietetics graduates will take a national exam before becoming registered dietitian nutritionists. After that, the search for a job begins, which is made more difficult now that Deyneka can see herself working in multiple areas of the dietetics industry thanks to the insight she gained during rotations. No matter which field she lands in, Deyneka is just happy to be in a position to benefit her community.

“I’m excited that after going through this I will be able to have a profession that helps people,” said Deyneka. “Food is something that we eat every day, and if you eat something every day, it influences your health every second. You are what you eat, and that’s what the whole degree is about.”

 

Written by Matt Jardin, UAA Office of University Advancement

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