‘I truly enjoy helping others improve their health’

‘I truly enjoy helping others improve their health’

CLINICAL NUTRITIONIST

Stephanie Homon, 42

Clinical nutrition and wellness manager

Mercy Hospital, Portland

www.mercyhospital.org

There is no “typical” day on the job for Stephanie Homon, the clinical nutrition and wellness manager at Mercy Hospital in Portland. Homon’s day-to-day responsibilities include developing, implementing and coordinating care for all in-patient nutrition services, as well as home-care nutrition consultations and wellness initiatives. She also oversees Mercy’s room-service program and a staff of 13, which includes clinical dietitians, dietetic technicians, and call-center representatives who are responsible for taking patient meal orders.

One of the biggest challenges Homon faces is helping patients change their behavior to improve health.

“It is imperative to listen to the patient and understand where their learning needs are in order to formulate tangible goals to help them improve their health,” said Homon. “It is important to assist them in coming up with realistic action plans, to help them reach those goals. It really is all about the patient’s goals and what they want to learn or change.”

Homon, 42, grew up in Fryeburg and holds a bachelor’s degree in dietetics from the University of Vermont and a master’s in food and nutrition from the University of Maine. Prior to Mercy, Homon worked at Parkview Adventist Medical Center in Brunswick for seven years, the last three of which were as nutrition services manager. She is also the consultant dietitian for Hicks Family Services, her family’s nursing-home business. She lives with her husband, Joe, and their three “fur-children,” a trio of Labrador retrievers named Papi, Wally and Mabel.

Maine Women asked Homon about her work, what it takes to succeed and what she enjoys most about being a nutrition and wellness manager.

Q: What inspired you to get into the health field? Is there an individual or a mentor who has been helpful to you?

A: When I was a young teenager, I started working as a dietary aide in the kitchen at Hicks Nursing Home in Fryeburg, which my grandparents owned and operated. My grandmother, Erna Hicks, was my mentor who helped to shape my career. She was loving and compassionate, always standing up for resident’s rights. She inspired me to be a strong and independent woman. I remember vividly how she would always pop into the kitchen to taste-test the food making sure it was of exceptional quality for the residents. Being raised in the nursing-home environment, I became very comfortable around the elderly population. I knew then that I was interested in a career in health care.

Q: What does it take to be successful as a dietitian?

A: In my opinion, to be a successful dietitian, one has to enjoy science, math and the arts. I love all three, so this career was a perfect fit for me. The profession takes creative skills, the ability to multi-task and compassion for others. Oftentimes, dietitians need to have a lot of “tricks up their sleeves” to either help a patient find foods they can eat when they are feeling ill, or to help them to find foods that they enjoy that fit into a specific diet to prevent advancing disease. It really is all about helping people enjoy what they are eating, and customizing their diets for the best quality of life.

Q: Do you have a favorite recipe, or have you developed your own recipe?

A: Yes. I love to bake. Having worked at a Seventh-day Adventist hospital for seven years, I learned many techniques to recreate recipes that fit a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle. I also like to bake my own special dog treats for my fur-babies. I developed a vegan scone recipe, which is both healthy and delicious.

Q: What do you enjoy most about what you do? Is it challenging to manage employee wellness? What would you be doing if you weren’t a dietitian?

A: What I love about being a dietitian is that it is so versatile. There are many different avenues a dietitian can take in their career, whether it is working in the community, hospital, outpatient setting, schools, corporations to name a few. Most of all, I truly enjoy helping others improve their health and well-being without sacrificing enjoyment of food.

I have noticed over the past five-plus years that employees tend to be more interested in personal health initiatives than they were 10 years ago. They seem to be more motivated to take control of their health, and seek ways to improve upon it. For example, at Mercy, we have a structured pedometer program that employees can gain points for increasing their fitness “steps.” These points eventually translate to monetary reimbursement after reaching specific goals. Employees really enjoy participating in programs such as this. The most challenging piece of employee wellness is to keep the employees interested, including new and fresh initiatives to avoid boredom.

If I wasn’t working as a dietitian, my fantasy would be to own a food truck business that sells my homemade dog and human treats. I would drive around to various dog parks and festivals, showcasing my healthy and delicious baked goods.

Q: Where do you see yourself in 10 years?

A: My goal is to continue working for Mercy Hospital in Portland, increasing outreach to employees and patients to improve their overall health and aid in prevention of chronic disease. Though, if I decided to retire early, you might see me driving around in my food truck at the dog parks around the East Coast.

Stephanie Homon is the clinical nutrition and wellness manager at Mercy Hospital in Portland. Courtesy photo

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