Healthy Living in the North

The 1970s world of Dietetics: reflections of then and now

They say a picture says a thousand words but they can also offer a peek into another world. In this case: the 1970s world of Dietetics.

When I first saw the picture, a handful of questions came to mind. What were the uniforms for? Why did the women in the photo look so triumphant? I spoke with the owner of the photo, Linda McMynn, a Registered Dietitian with Northern Health, to find out.

Dietetic graduating class photo.

The 1970 Vancouver General Hospital Graduating class of Dietetic Interns. Linda McMynn stands in the back row, second from the right.

Tell me a little bit about this photo.

This is the 1970 Vancouver General Hospital graduating class of Dietetic Interns. Our undergrad caps had a pink stripe (all white when we graduated) and were folded a specific way that was supposed to identify us as dietitians and not nurses.

We were the first class allowed to wear poly/cotton uniforms but they HAD to be at least 3/4 length “to indicate dietitians are not cooks or dishwashers.” The instructors (in the middle) wore the standard cotton starched uniforms at all times.

We, as a class, were tired of being mistaken for nurses so we rebelled and submitted a written request at a meeting to wear lab coats over street clothes (unheard of and the instructors were shocked, I think, and didn’t know what to do with us). Anyhow, within the next few years, the interns were allowed to wear the lab coats or the uniforms and the caps were gone.

What was required to be a dietitian back then?

You had to have your Bachelor of Science in Nutrition (you still need this today). There were two streams back then: the dietetic program and the teaching program. Quite a few of the interns went on to become Home Economic teachers. You had to do three years of chemistry and an internship. Dietetic internships are still done today. Back then, they used to be done through the hospitals. I was always planning on becoming a nurse. After the first year I decided to transfer into the Dietetic program.

What was interning like?

We got paid a small amount for doing the internship but most of our time was spent doing full shifts in the various areas working under the direction of a Registered Dietitian (RD), except every other weekend when we had to work on our own, taking responsibility for the unit.

Wednesdays were classroom days when we had lectures, homework to do, and regular exams. We graduated pretty knowledgeable about therapeutic diets, including diets for most of the metabolic diseases that were known at the time.

Tell me about your career as a dietitian

My first job was at St. Paul’s Hospital. Eventually I moved up to Terrace where I was the first dietitian. My closest dietitian colleague was in Prince George. In those days, we couldn’t use long distance phone calls. It was isolating at times but the benefit of being in a small community, and having to do everything, is that you become a generalist. I learned a lot and discovered I liked administrative and operational work. Being in Terrace worked out well for me. In 2014, I officially retired. Now I report on and work on various projects. In 2015 and 2016, I went to Fort St. John to spend time there to help. There were a lot of interesting projects and I worked on from home.

Lady sitting in chair.

In 2014, Linda (pictured here) officially “retired”. She now reports on and works on various projects.

How has the profession changed?

Back then there was a hierarchy, whereas now, it’s interdisciplinary and you work as part of a team. It was a very different world, very rigid. We would take orders from nurses or doctors and didn’t really ever get to prescribe a diet. Now doctors and nurses will leave it up to dietitians to prescribe diets which is pretty exciting. It’s taken a lot of years to get here. Working together now, we’ve made huge strides.

Haylee Seiter

About Haylee Seiter

Haylee is a communications advisor for Public and Population Health. She grew up in Prince George and is proud to call Northern BC home. During university she found her passion for health promotions by volunteering with the Canadian Cancer Society and became interested in marketing through the UNBC JDC West team. When she's not dreaming up communications strategies, she can be found cycling with the Wheelin Warriors or spending time with family and friends. (NH Blog Admin)

Share