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2012

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Making a healthy difference

Pediatric dietitian Dana Casendino ('06) combines nutrition and education to help parents improve kids' health
By Hali Chiet ('07)

Dana Casendino working with children in hospital
Dana Casendino ('06) combines her love of working with kids with her passion for nutrition and education.

For Dana Casendino ('06), being a pediatric dietitian isn't just about caring for patients — it's also about educating patients and their families. "I often see patients who just aren't aware of proper nutrition and that can lead to various health problems," she says. "By simply educating people, many of these problems can be avoided."

After graduating from JMU with a B.S. in dietetics, Casendino completed a clinical internship at Geisinger Medical Center in Danville, Pa. The internship consisted of inpatient and outpatient work as well as a variety of assignments and presentations. "This experience gave me exposure to all the different areas of the hospital, which helped me decide what I wanted to specialize in," she says. "I knew right away that I wanted to work in pediatrics."

Casendino completed the internship in June 2007 and then took a job at Westchester Medical Center in New York. During the year she spent at Westchester, Casendino worked in various areas of the hospital including the maternity floor, a high-risk infectious disease clinic and the internal medicine floor, where she put together meal plans and educated patients on proper nutrition. When she saw an opening for a pediatric dietitian at Hackensack University Medical Center in New Jersey, she was eager to apply. "I have always wanted to work with kids, so I applied immediately."

The staff noticed Casendino's knowledge, skills and enthusiasm and offered her the position in June 2008. As a pediatric dietitian, Casendino works with a team of doctors, nurses and specialists to incorporate a proper diet plan for each patient's diagnosis. She covers the general pediatrics floor, epilepsy monitoring unit and pediatric intensive care unit, and also does a weight management clinic for obese children and a clinic for children with renal disease. "The best part of my job is seeing that something I did for a patient actually made a difference," she says. "The fact that I am able to have a positive impact on the health of my patients is really rewarding."

In addition to her full-time job, Casendino teaches a nutrition class at a local gym, and also works with children with epilepsy and other seizure disorders, implementing diets that help control seizures, as well as special diets for those with weight issues caused by medication. In June, Casendino spoke to an epilepsy support group about proper nutrition for children who suffer from seizures.

"My job is the best of both worlds," explains Casendino, who combines her love of working with kids with her passion for nutrition and education. Casendino says JMU's dietetics program was great preparation for her career: "The program exposes you to all the career areas you can focus on and gives you a strong foundation in each of them."

Casendino says that she would like to get even more involved in her community and in school programs to get kids participating in their own nutrition education. "By teaching proper nutrition when kids are young, we can help slow down today's childhood obesity epidemic and make positive change in today's youth."