I recently had the opportunity to speak with Courtney Standish Hernandez N06, about her work, her passion and her thoughts on her Friedman experience.
You currently work for a company called Wellness Workdays. Tell me about the mission of the organization and your role there.
What we try to do as a company is to help employees make positive lifestyle changes that are going to help them become happier, healthier and hopefully more productive. That, in turn, benefits their employer in the form of increased productivity and lower healthcare costs. The ultimate goal is helping to improve employees’ lives. It’s really rewarding work.
My role specifically is a little bit of everything. We’re a “boutique” firm, so we all wear a lot of hats. I do some business development but most of my time I spend on account management, making sure our clients are happy with the programs we are delivering and constantly tweaking so we can better meet their needs. I do program development as well. We’re creating and will be delivering a stress management program this fall, which I’ll be in charge of putting together. I run our online programs, teach, and do a fair amount of writing as well, for our own newsletters and for benefits magazines. I’m in the field teaching classes a lot which I like; I could not imagine sitting behind a desk all day, every day. One great part of my job is that I get to own projects from start to finish, and really see whether they are working or not. Recently my colleague and I revamped our weight management program, and now we’re teaching it. Being able to do both allows us to see which pieces are working and which are not, and we can make changes accordingly. It’s great to be on both sides.
How did you first get involved with Wellness Workdays? What drew you there?
I actually started as an intern with Sensible Nutrition, the sister company of Wellness Workdays, about six years ago. Originally I thought I would do more with athletes, as I was a rowing coach for three years after college. At the time we were also doing a lot of corporate wellness work, in addition to individual nutrition counseling of athletes, though the official organization of Wellness Workdays did not yet exist. I found that I really enjoyed the writing, teaching and working with corporations so I decided to stick with it. Now I spend 100% of my time in corporate wellness. I knew I wanted to do the registered dietician track but I also knew that I never wanted to be an RD in a hospital because my passion is prevention. My undergraduate major was teaching, and so creating and conducting seminars about prevention is actually a perfect blend of my experience and interests.
At Wellness Workdays we are really targeting behavior change. You’re not going to make a difference in someone’s life by just doing seminars. We also know that different approaches will resonate with different people, so we have classes in person, wellness challenges online, and we hit a variety of topics – nutrition, physical activity, stress and sleep are just a few. Our work is also very much a partnership with our clients. We assess initially what the top risks are for their specific employee population, we survey the employees to see what programming they would like to see, and then we work with the client to marry the two.
What does a typical day look like?
No two days ever look exactly the same, which I enjoy. I suppose I am doing similar tasks each day – handling clients, prepping materials for classes, teaching classes, following up with participants, participating in strategy meetings with clients, etc. – but the time spent on each activity varies greatly. Some days I spend entirely in the office and other days I seem to be driving all over the greater Boston area teaching classes and meeting with clients.
If you had to name just one thing that you like best about your job, what would it be? What is the most fulfilling component?
Teaching classes is the most challenging and most fulfilling part of my job. To get up in front of the same group for one hour weekly for eight, ten, or twelve weeks is challenging. How do you keep people engaged? How do you keep people from falling asleep in a seminar you are teaching about the importance of sleep? Teaching is the most rewarding part of the job because you really do see changes in people. I’ll go back to a client maybe six months after I’ve completed a weight management class series and run into people who tell me they’ve lost 20 pounds, or they are off their blood pressure medication. I can’t describe how good it feels that our programs are having a positive effect on people’s lives.
Tell me about your background before attending Friedman. What prompted you to apply, and specifically fulfill the requirements to become an RD?
My two undergraduate majors were secondary education and English, though I didn’t do any teaching other than my student teaching. I was a rowing coach for three years after school which I enjoyed but knew was temporary. I did a series of odd business jobs, always wondering if one of them would be “it.” Then I realized I spent all of my free time either exercising or reading about nutrition, and it hit me. I decided that what I was meant to do was to motivate others to be healthier. I was drawn to the nutrition communication program at Tufts because I’m more of a communication person than a science person (somehow I made it through my science classes!).
What did you enjoy most about your time at Friedman?
I liked Friedman because I enjoyed my classmates. Everyone, regardless of whether they were in nutcomm, FPAN, etc., was really passionate about being there. I learned a ton and am still using the skills I gained there. The writing, stats and epidemiology classes were especially helpful; now when I look at a study, I can tell whether it is valid or not. I use every day what I learned in my speech class because I do so much public speaking now. It’s a great skill to have and something I really honed at Friedman.
What advice would you offer current students who are interested in worksite wellness?
You should do an internship to see if it’s a field that you’re passionate about. Wellness Workdays is a great place to do it! Other than that, a background in communication is helpful, which I think Tufts prepares you for regardless of whether or not you are in nutrition communication.
Linda DePoto is a second-year FPAN student interested in corporate wellness. She is taking Courtney’s advice and doing her internship at Wellness Workdays this summer.