While there are a number of career paths in dietetics, most dietitians continue to start their careers in the clinical sector — the rationale for this, of course, is that working in hospitals and other clinical positions builds a strong & solid foundation by which dietitians can not only expand their knowledge of nutrition, but hone specific skills as clinicians.
Importantly, clinical experience affords dietitians confidence to explore other career paths, oftentimes in parallel with the day-to-day. Bryan Lian, MS RD CEDRD-S, did just this – he launched his career at Stanford’s Children Hospital, working with children, and then adolescents at the University.
It was this experience that shaped how he has since found his passion and footing in his career today, and craft his specialty in private practice. He began to truly appreciate the role of nutrition for those in times of transition: from student to worker, adolescent to adult, disordered eating to recovery. Bryan saw how essential nutritional therapy was to general self-care and wellbeing, which is crucial at all phases of life, particularly during transitional periods. Looking for a creative solution to help those in transition, Bryan launched his practice, Nutrition Support Clinic, in 2014. With an emphasis on cultural humility and a respect for diversity, Bryan has established a unique mission and vision for his business.
Follow Bryan’s transition from clinical dietitian to a private practice entrepreneur…
How did your upbringing as a Chinese-American lead you to a career path in dietetics?
I became a dietitian because food’s awesome! Seriously, when I think back to my parents coming from China to the US, one of the few things they could afford to bring was language, food, and culture. Seeing nutrition play out in our food systems, healthcare, and self-care, is not only inspiring, but a persistent source of curiosity for me.
I grew up in a Traditional Chinese Herb Shop in Chinatown. I’d grown up with this idea that the pill-for-every-ill way of taking care of people isn’t nearly as effective as treating the underlying causes. In my mind, being a dietitian was a way of legitimizing this stance to healthcare while involving my love of food. Ultimately, clinical dietetics seemed to be the most legitimate path forward.
You initially worked at Stanford’s Children Hospital. How was the transition to working at Stanford University influential for you?
Well, clinical dietetics ended up being vastly different from what I thought it would be. I realized, as I went through my dietetic internship, that it was the way nutrition could help people through life transitions, particularly adolescence, that felt at home. Then I was lucky enough to complete a nutrition fellowship at Boston Children’s Hospital in adolescent health.
After I spent about 5 years working at Stanford’s Children’s Hospital, I realized that hospital systems had a bit of a glass ceiling and biased incentives for recognizing illness and disease and what’s wrong with a situation. I found that I was getting further away from the human aspect of dietetics.
At Stanford University, I promote wellness to undergraduate and graduate students. Wellness helps me appreciate the whole person, their strengths, their skills, and their human experience. It’s not just about healing, it’s also about flourishing.
I’m fortunate enough to also contract with Stanford’s Graduate School of Business, which has helped me learn about how to help future executives and business leaders. Sometimes it’s a matter of helping them prioritize their wellness in a sea of other things drawing their attention. At other times, it’s about helping them realize that nutrition can give them the necessary self-care that can help them get to the next level.
When you launched your private practice, Nutrition Support Clinic, what motivated you and what growth opportunities were you looking for?
I started my private practice in 2014 because there was an older, more experienced dietitian who encouraged me to consider it. She believed in me even when I didn’t necessarily believe in myself.
In terms of growth, it plays to my strengths by drawing upon my creativity, resourcefulness, and outside-the-box thinking. All things that I’m not necessarily encouraged to do in a hospital setting. Working and living in Silicon Valley, I saw how agile startups can be compared to larger organizations, where it is much slower to effect change.
It was very helpful to partner with a therapist at first because we could refer clients to each other and collaborate, which can get lost during the transition to solo practice. I find that the classic trade-off is you gain flexibility and independence, but lose community and stability. I hope NSC as a group practice can support all that and more.
Related: Private Practice Essentials
In speaking on diversity, how do you see the field of dietetics evolving to be more inclusive?
I’m a Chinese-American male dietitian. Diversity is important to me because it helps aspiring dietitians see a future for themselves in this profession. A job can be validating in and of itself, but it can feel even more validating to see someone like you in the workforce.
The dietitian that encouraged me to do private practice is also Asian. There is something powerful to be able to engage with diverse role models and mentors in life and career. I hope that one day I can do the same to promote inclusion and equity in dietetics.
What has the pathway to becoming an approved CEDRD-Supervisor looked like?
I had always heard about the CEDRD, even when I was training in Boston. When I learned that the career ladder at Stanford’s Children’s Hospital recognized the CEDRD for promotion, I decided to pursue it. You need to have 2500 supervised clinical hours, take the core coursework, and pass an examination, as well as commit to continuing education in eating disorders.
I found my supervisor through the CEDRD website. By the time I did get my CEDRD, I already met criteria for applying to be a supervisor and then some (I had presented at an international conference, published a paper, and had already worked for 5 years).
Now that I’m a supervisor, I’ve realized that the learning in eating disorders never ends! Knowing what you know and that you don’t know everything is owning your expertise, while also accepting the learning is a lifelong process.
In other words, it’s worth it to get supervision in such a dynamic field.
What is the vision for Nutrition Support Clinic?
The bigger picture is to create a space for dietitians to build each other up in a diverse and inclusive way. That can mean different things: promoting cultural as well as professional identity; supporting innovation and creativity; or even incorporating size/body acceptance into our practice.
What grounds me is also knowing that I can help prevent burnout by supporting caregivers who help individual clients. Together, both caregivers and clients can join up and go from surviving to thriving.
How has using Healthie helped you support these goals?
I like that Healthie promotes dietitians: the content, marketing, and support are for dietitians, by dietitians. Healthie also embodies the entrepreneurial spirit. It reminds me of that dietitian who initially believed in me and gave me the confidence to launch my private practice.
What’s one lesson that you’ve learned through your transition from clinical dietitian to private practice entrepreneur?
I learned to reassess my relationship with productivity. I grew up with parents who worked 7 days a week, so that was my model. While clinical dietetics gave me many opportunities for productivity, it didn’t give me as many opportunities for self-care. One day, I took a breath and decided to bypass the clinical tug of war and you know what I got? Space.
Space is invaluable and terrifying if you’re a productivity junkie like me. It allowed me to not just reassess what clinical work meant to me, but even what private practice work meant to me. Space is essential to getting off the hamster wheel and asking yourself why you’re on it in the first place.
What goals are you focusing on in the upcoming year to grow your practice?
I want to practice what I preach. Instead of trying to have as many Instagram followers as the next dietitian, I’m going to practice more self-compassion and focus on what I’m good at or proud of. I’d like to dive deeper into the learning aspect of dietetics and take it one step at a time. I also hope to utilize Healthie’s Programs feature to train and on-board new dietitians into my practice and give clients more support in between sessions.
Working in a clinical setting, gave Bryan Lian the passion and direction he wanted to take his career. With the right support, mentorship and supervision, he was abe to take the leap into entrepreneurship. His private practice helps to heal and nourish his clients as they transition into the next phase of their lives. Visit the Nutrition Support Clinic website and Facebook page to learn more about Bryan’s vision.