Jason Park, recent recipient of the Washington State Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics’ Outstanding Student Award, shares his story — from high school beginnings to his very bright post-collegiate future.
Like many students who find their way to Bastyr University, Jason Park’s professional journey began with a personal health experience. He was in high school when his mother developed type-2 diabetes. First off, he began to do a lot of research.
“I started asking myself, what should she be doing, and how do I deal with this?” he says. “And from there it kind of avalanched. I really started looking into what else I needed to do to be healthy and what she needed to do to be healthy.”
The experience with his mom got Park interested in nutrition, but also illuminated a major barrier: He found he didn’t always know whether a source of information was trustworthy. He observed that while most people really want to be healthy, it’s often difficult to get access to good information.
He wanted to become a source that could be trusted; someone who could help provide access to evidence and data for those seeking better health.
Eventually, a focus on evidenced-based information and a formalized credentialing process drew Park to the field of dietetics. He liked that it offered not just the study of nutrition, but also a path to licensure, a matching process for a clinical internship and eventually an opportunity for advanced practice as a registered dietitian.
Park spent his undergraduate years earning a bachelor’s degree in public health, where he gradually found himself wanting to look more at the big picture of nutritional health. After working for a medical consulting company for a few years and learning about the insurance industry, he was struck by the sheer number of people who were essentially disabled from being overweight.
“When studying public health, we learned that ‘prevention is best,’” he says. “But there were so many people who experienced secondary conditions as a result of obesity.”
Park found it frustrating to simply advocate that people might eat a little better, and exercise a little more, when there was such a preventive opportunity being missed. “I began thinking about how we could impact lives and prevent all these other complications happening due to obesity.”
The experience reignited a passion for Park, and he was drawn both to the bigger-picture emphasis on whole foods and the clinical, focused approach of the Master of Science in Nutrition/Didactic Program in Dietetics program at Bastyr. The program offered a chance to look at nutrition clinically — and to look at food in all its components.
Park engaged with questions around how to get nutrients from whole foods. “How does that relate to our health,” he began asking, “and not only our physical health, but mental health, and other forms of health? We strip food down and add stuff back in, when we really don’t need to do that. We can just get it all from its original form.”
Bastyr offered not just a more holistic philosophy around food and nutrition, but resources to enable professional growth, in this case preparing Park for a solid internship opportunity.
“For people who aren’t familiar with dietetics, it is a really competitive field, especially in terms of getting an internship,” he explains. “Bastyr is really good at setting up students to be successful, and to be well-rounded.” One of the things Park enjoyed most was the community food service and clinical volunteer hours requirement, which “really gave me an opportunity to go out and experience different things.”
But it turned out to be the relationships with professors that made the biggest impact. “The professors here are passionate about our success. The faculty is so open and approachable — not every program has that level of openness,” Park says.
“As a student, that allows you to not be afraid of learning — because it is so open. Faculty want to help us get better, and open communication is a big part of that, and you can really develop relationships.”
This April, Jason Park could be found at a recognition ceremony, accepting his Outstanding Student Award from the Washington State Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. The statewide award recognizes students who have demonstrated exceptional academic excellence and leadership in their dietetics program. It is one more step on his ambitious journey toward helping others to achieve more complete health.
Next, Park is headed off for an internship in California. He’ll spend about a year as an intern doing work with a clinical focus, including rotations in many different modalities. Excited to continue on an educational path that will succeed in making him as well-rounded a clinician as possible, he’s reflective about the uniquely holistic nature of his education here.
Eventually he’d like to come back to Bastyr and contribute in some way: “Ultimately my long-term goal is to teach. I’m really thankful to have been in this program, and truly appreciative of all our professors, and everyone in the Department of Nutrition and Exercise Science.”
And how is his mother today? “Oh, she’s doing great!” he says. “She calls me up and tells me she’s going to the farmers market, and is getting lots of fruits and vegetables. She is really into supporting her health.”
Then he laughingly shares, “She even knows about quinoa now — and how to pronounce it!”