Learning how registered dietitian nutritionists care for adult patients with cancer or ALS

March 15, 2022  //  FOUND IN: Our Employees

To continue celebrating National Nutrition Month, Headlines recently sat down with Danielle Karsies, M.S., R.D.N., C.S.O.  Karsies has been at Michigan Medicine for more than 20 years and currently provides nutrition care for adult patients diagnosed with cancer or ALS.

Here’s what she had to say:

Q: What is the day to day like in your role?

DK: I work as an outpatient dietitian, so my day-to-day role is focused on helping individuals faced with cancer or ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease) optimize their nutrition to provide the fuel their body needs to function best during disease management. I can work with patients virtually from the comfort of their home and/or in-person, which allows us the ability to work together as often as needed to optimize nutritional outcomes. Being an outpatient dietitian with frequent involvement provides me with great satisfaction as I can see the benefits of my care and build a relationship with the individual.

Q: What misconceptions do people have about your job?

DK: Most people assume I am going to tell them what they are doing wrong in their diet. While I do educate about the role of healthful eating and overall health, often my role as a dietitian in the Rogel Cancer Center and ALS clinics revolves more around addressing the symptoms that are keeping them from eating well.  I often joke, I am the “Fun Dietitian.”  I focus first on any obstacles that are hindering them from eating the foods they love and then help them find a way to eat the right amount of food to maintain their weight. I may need to encourage higher calorie intake, frequent meals or limiting some higher fiber, healthy foods to ease digestion.

Q: What do you like most about your job?

DK: The food we eat is such an important part of our culture and everyday living. When disease hinders the ability or desire to eat, this can have major effects on overall health but also on emotional well-being. I take pleasure in working with individuals on strategies to minimize treatment and disease side effects that hinder their ability or desire to eat. For instance, I find it rewarding to help an individual who has difficulty swallowing figure out how to prepare beloved foods and keep a wide variety of foods on their menu. Additionally, I translate the science of nutrition into meals for everyday people and help them weed through the misinformation that saturates the internet. Knowing the health benefits of food is a great source of motivation and promotes a healthy lifestyle not a temporary diet restriction. Focusing on what foods to eat more of, and why, displaces foods to limit and makes people feel less restricted.

Q: What collaboration occurs between you and the medical team to improve patient care/create better outcomes?

DK: As a dietitian working closely with an individual, I often relay non-nutritional issues to other clinicians of the care team. I work closely with the other clinicians in my clinics which allows for direct communication and discussion of the best multi-disciplinary care plan for the individual. I also teach online group classes on Cancer Prevention and Nutrition and Brain Health. Recently, one of the neurology providers invited me to present on “Nutrition and Brain Health” for a Michigan Medicine Brain Health Symposium which gave me an even wider audience.