In the world of nutrition, hands-on experience is invaluable. NUNM alum Raina Mac Donell (MScN ’23) provides a unique perspective on the challenges and rewards of the profession and sheds light on the lessons she’s learned.
Meet Raina Mac Donell
Raina Mac Donell was born and raised in the PNW. She graduated from the National University of Natural Medicine (NUNM) in 2023 with a Master of Science in Nutrition. Her primary focus is on the gut-brain connection and utilizing holistic nutrition to optimize health. With a double major in fine art and environment & policy from the University of Oregon, she brings a lifelong connection to nature and creative expression to her work.
Outside of academics, the NUNM alumna dedicates her time to cultivating a pollinator-friendly garden, spinning fire, hiking with her dogs, and completing 500 hours of yoga teacher training, specializing in Ayurvedic Health. She turned to nutrition after being confronted with health challenges in 2018. As a patient at NUNM’s Lair Hill Health Center, she was inspired to help support others who were similarly struggling with complex health conditions. This led her to pursue holistic nutrition, enabling her to offer nutrition-focused care and health coaching to assist clients in achieving their nutrition and health goals.
“I really wanted to be a student,” Mac Donell said, reflecting on her journey and the profound impact it has had on her, “I wanted to help other people similarly struggling with chronic health issues because I felt like there was a pretty significant gap in the healthcare system, especially conventional medicine.”
A Day in the Life of a Nutrition Intern
Mac Donell offers a glimpse into her internship experience by detailing a typical day and the environment in which she thrives. On Fridays, Mac Donell and fellow interns engage directly with patients during four-hour shifts at the clinic. This hands-on experience distinguishes her program, as many nutrition graduates often struggle to find clients for supervision. In her work, Mac Donell emphasizes the importance of accessible healthcare.
“Functional medicine is valuable,” she said, “but it can be costly for many, including myself in the past. That’s why I’m committed to continuing to provide accessible care.”
In her commitment to bridging healthcare gaps, Mac Donell’s dedication to accessible care stands as a beacon, showcasing the transformative potential of hands-on experiences in nutrition that extend beyond the confines of traditional healthcare systems.
Development of Clinical and Soft Skills
Navigating her internship, Mac Donell said she recognizes the significance of honing both hard and soft skills. The program places a strong emphasis on building confidence, particularly when working directly with patients — a challenge for newcomers in the profession. Participating in health coaching, interns like Mac Donell learn the art of counseling patients, focusing on patient-centered care and acquiring vital skills such as measuring vitals, performing assessments and offering advice.
One of the most impactful moments of Mac Donell’s internship
“It’s truly rewarding that people are willing to share their struggles and obstacles, and that they’re open to learning in an educational environment,” Mac Donell said.
Future Plans and Challenges
Looking ahead, Mac Donell said she envisions building her career in nutrition
, with a particular focus on gastrointestinal and mental health. However, she acknowledges the challenges interns face in accumulating the 1000 hours (about 1 and a half months) required for becoming a Certified Nutrition Specialist. Mac Donell said she recognizes that the current pace of the internship may not align with everyone’s needs or financial situations.
“The program combines various passions of mine,” she said, “from fine art to environmental policy, creating a unique foundation for pursuing nutrition.”
Mac Donell’s internship journey is providing her invaluable insights into the world of nutrition. It underscores the significance of practical experience, the development of clinical and soft skills and the profound impact of nutrition on patients’ lives.
Despite the challenges, the internship serves as a steppingstone for aspiring nutrition specialists, presenting opportunities to make a meaningful difference in the lives of patients and communities. Mac Donell encapsulates her journey by expressing her commitment to continuing as long as it remains feasible — a testament to her dedication to bridging gaps in healthcare through the power of holistic nutrition.
NUNM’s Master of Science in Nutrition (MScN) program offers to help you navigate the broad and dynamic field of nutrition with real-world experiences and skills. For more information about MScN curriculum and degree opportunities, talk to a NUNM Admissions Counselor today.
by Brendon Marti, Admissions and Marketing Coordinator