Our Story/Monica Hershey

Monica Hershey is passionate about health and food, particularly the way food impacts health. The recent graduate plans to use her experiences at Penn State to educate those in both clinical and community settings about the importance of nutrition.

Hershey graduated from the Department of Nutritional Sciences in Spring 2015 with an emphasis in community nutrition and food security.

The Lancaster, Pennsylvania native said the fieldwork she completed as a requirement for her major gave her unique perspectives on the health care field and helped her develop knowledge and skills for when she enters the workforce.

More than 4,500 Penn State students are enrolled in the College of Health and Human Development (HHD) studying a wide-array of fields, each committed to the concept of improving the quality of life for others. Hershey, who found a home in the Department of Nutritional Sciences (NUTR), is one of those HHD students, and this is her story.

“I’ve always known that I wanted to work in the health field,” Hershey said.

Nutritional Sciences majors are required to complete 300 hours of fieldwork during the summer before their senior year. Hershey spent a majority of those hours at The Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center, in Hershey, Pennsylvania, where she worked as a clinical intern in Summer 2014.

Hershey worked with three clinical dietitians to evaluate and screen patients. This included examining patients’ medical charts and looking at their meal percentage, or how much they were eating, as well as kind of diet they were on, such as a low-sodium diet or cardiac diet. Hershey also looked at patients’ health history, which could include surgeries, accidents and treatments. Upon these evaluations, Hershey worked with her supervisors to determine how to counsel patients on their diets and eating habits, as well as how they could get them the nutrients they needed during their hospital stay.

Hershey’s biggest takeaway from this work was the broad range of knowledge a dietitian must possess, she said.

“You have to understand how food and medications interact,” Hershey said. “You have to know every state of disease. That was really eye opening. Dietitians are so important. Their knowledge really is vital.”

Hershey’s other field experience included working at the farmers’ market in Hershey, Pennsylvania, where she took her classroom knowledge to the streets.

“I was able to use a lot of what I learned at Penn State to create programs and educate people about health and nutrition,” she said.

Hershey’s work included creating educational handouts on nutrition in English and Spanish. These handouts included information on diabetes, the importance of certain nutrients and vitamins, and other health information for persons of low socioeconomic status.

After graduation Hershey will be completing her dietetic internship through The University of Virginia Health System in Charlottesville, Virginia, with the goal of one day working as a clinical dietitian. She is also interested in a career that leads her to community outreach.

“I’m passionate about food,” Hershey said. “Food is one of the biggest parts of our lives and people often overlook the importance of it when it comes to our health.”

Food can impact a person’s health and overall well-being, she said, adding that she also wants to educate people about food and where it comes from.

“Not a lot of people know where their food is from,” she said.

Though Hershey always knew she was interested in health, the Department of Nutritional Sciences provided her with a first-hand look at what is involved in a health care career, she said, and is really appreciative that fieldwork was required as part of her major.

“It turned out to be one of the best experiences I’ve ever had,” she said.

In addition to Nutritional Sciences, there are a variety of areas for students to study within HHD through the Departments of Biobehavioral Health, Communication Sciences and Disorders, Health Policy and Administration, Human Development and Family Studies, Kinesiology, Recreation, Park, and Tourism Management, and the School of Hospitality Management.