Kansas State University: K-State program helps registered nurse go the distance for her patients

August 24, 2001

When Karen Hackenberg, a coronary and critical care nurse, decided there was more she could do to help her patients, she turned to Kansas State University for help.

Now, with her bachelor’s degree in dietetics from K-State, Hackenberg is on her way to becoming part of an elite group: registered nurses who also are registered dietitians. Her new credential means Hackenberg can offer nutrition support to critical-care patients and medical nutrition therapy to cardiac patients.

“Through my experiences as a registered nurse for 14 years, I have come to fully appreciate the relationship between nutrition and good health,” Hackenberg said. “Being an RN and an RD will give me a broader knowledge and experience base in the nutritional care of my patients.”

Hackenberg’s interest in earning the registered dietitian credential led her to K-State’s distance degree program in dietetics. Working a part-time, variable hour schedule as a nurse, she was able to complete requirements for her degree in just over two years. She earned her degree this month.

“The distance-education component of the program allowed me the flexibility I needed to take courses on a full-time basis while continuing to work,” Hackenberg said. “I could not have taken as many courses as I did and work part time if I had tried going to school the traditional way by attending classes on a campus.”

By taking courses through distance education, Hackenberg also was able to handle a move across country without missing classes.

“I lived in Virginia when I began the program in spring 1999 and moved to New Mexico this May because of my husband’s new job. The move didn’t disrupt my education,” she said.

Most of K-State’s professional dietetics courses are available through distance education. Delivery methods include the Web, videotape, audio tapes and other multimedia systems.

“The dietetics program at K-State is very demanding, whether the student is taking classes on campus or through distance education. Many of the courses require weekly homework in addition to one or two projects,” said Rebecca Gould, associate professor of dietetics at K-State.

“Karen has incredible time-management skills and was excellent at managing her school and work life,” Gould said. “Distance education students in this program must be willing to learn in a much different manner and be self-disciplined and motivated to keep up with all their assignments to be successful.”

Hackenberg agrees. “I think distance education helps motivate students to be independent and resourceful,” she said. “I chose K-State because it is an accredited institution and offers high-quality courses which challenged and honed my problem-solving and critical-thinking skills.”

Gould said Hackenberg has joined some select company with her new degree.

“The American Dietetics Association, based on membership information, estimates that less than 1 percent of its members who are registered dietitians are also registered nurses, so there are very few people who hold both credentials in the United States.”

The growing public interest in nutrition and wellness means the demand for dietitians exceeds the supply, Gould said. “Registered dietitians are the only health professionals trained specifically in foods and nutrition, so they are viewed as the ‘nutrition experts’ in today’s society.”

Earning a bachelor’s degree in dietetics is just the first step for Hackenberg. She is starting a dietetic internship this fall at the University of New Mexico and will pursue a master’s degree as part of the internship. She currently works as a nurse in the coronary care unit at St. Vincent Hospital in Santa Fe, N.M.

Hackenberg earned an associate degree in science from Piedmont Virginia Community College in Charlottesville, Va., and an associate degree in nursing from Community College of Allegheny County in West Mifflin, Pa.

More information on K-State’s distance education program in dietetics is available at http://www.dce.ksu.edu/dce/as/dietetics1.html

Contact Information

Rebecca Gould Tel: +1 785 532 2207

e-mail: GOULD@humec.ksu.edu