Penny Kris-Etherton, a longtime educator and researcher, shares her passion projects and outlook on the future of dietetics:
PAND: What drew you to the field of nutrition?
Penny Kris-Etherton: My family had been in the restaurant industry for many years. In high school, I became aware of the importance of good nutrition for optimal health. That is when I decided that I wanted to pursue a career in dietetics because of the very significant effects that nutrition could have on health.
PAND: What’s your educational background?
PK: I was a medical dietetics major at Rochester Institute of Technology and graduated with a B.S. I then did my dietetic internship and M.S. degree in the Coordinated Internship Masters Degree Program at Case Western Reserve University and the VA Hospital in Cleveland, Ohio. Thereafter, I completed my PhD in nutrition at the University of Minnesota. I then did a postdoctoral fellowship at Stanford University in the area of lipid metabolism.
PAND: How has your career path unfolded since then, and what in your career do you find most rewarding?
PK: My husband, Terry Etherton, and I were fortunate to find two tenure-track faculty positions at Penn State University when we completed our postdocs at Stanford. We have been at Penn State since 1979.
I am Distinguished Professor of Nutrition at Penn State. My position includes teaching undergrad and graduate students, research and outreach responsibilities. I really enjoy working with students and playing a role in their professional development.
My research program focuses on cardiovascular nutrition. I enjoy scientific inquiry, generating new knowledge and mentoring students and postdocs about conducting clinical nutrition research. The outreach, especially communicating the research findings that have been generated in my lab, is especially rewarding.
PAND: Do you have any passion projects or special areas of interest within the field that you follow?
PK: I am very interested in cardiovascular nutrition and how our nutrition recommendations for CVD prevention and treatment have evolved over the years. I find the nutrition controversies so interesting. Like saturated fat and plant protein versus animal protein, for example. It is fascinating to see controversies in the field resolved — such as trans fat and low-fat diets, among others.
Another area of interest in medical nutrition education. I think that physicians and other healthcare professionals are very interested in learning about nutrition. It is a perfect time for dietitians to assume a leadership role in educating healthcare professionals about nutrition.
PAND: How do you see nutrition and dietetics evolving over the next decade or so?
PK: I think technology will play a very significant role in the dissemination of nutrition information in all settings. I think that dietitians will be counseling patients online more and more. In addition, technology will offer countless opportunities to educate groups and communities and populations about nutrition.
PAND: What is your involvement with the PA Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics?
PK: Many of my students and colleagues at Penn State are very involved with PAND. I stay abreast with all that is going on at PAND and frequently share my opinions with former students and colleagues about pressing issues that pertain to the Academy.
PAND: What’s the best piece of career advice you’ve ever received, and how did you act on it?
PK: My colleagues at Penn State have been great mentors and colleagues. They have provided valuable advice about career decisions, including what to say “yes” to and, more importantly, what to say “no” to. When I first started at Penn State, Dr. Helen Guthrie provided sage advice about navigating the tenure track. She was a wonderful role model.
PAND: What’s one piece of advice you would give to current dietetics students?
PK: Always pursue learning opportunities and get involved with the profession.