Nicole Thelan

Nicole Thelan


Nicole Thelan
Graduate Student, MS/DI
Graduate Programs in Human Nutrition
Oregon Health & Science University (OHSU)
Portland, Oregon

Tell us about yourself, education, your background, and your current interests.

I grew up in a small suburb near Seattle, WA and earned my BS in Food and Nutrition from Seattle Pacific University. I’ve always loved cooking and while at Seattle Pacific I was part of the Community Kitchen program. This program is a student led endeavor with a mission of providing affordable meals to community members and enhancing self-efficacy by teaching meal planning and cooking skills. I’m also an avid runner – I have completed the New York City marathon twice and will be running the London Marathon in 2020 with the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation. My dad and I also love to bike together, and each summer we participate in a 50-mile bike ride as part of a fundraiser for the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle. Although I’ve always been active and served as the sports nutrition course teaching assistant at Seattle Pacific, my involvement with sports nutrition really took off during my graduate program.

How did you become interested in nutrition?

I started my educational journey as a nursing student but switched to studying food and nutritional sciences after I took a nutrition course during my early undergraduate years. I’ve always been interested in working in the field of medicine and fascinated by how important nutrition can be to certain health conditions and to promoting optimal health for all people. After realizing I could blend both of these passions into one career path, I decided to pursue a dietetic internship. After completing my internship, I was still eager for more knowledge and that’s how I decided to apply for graduate school.

You have been involved in sports nutrition education for student athletes. Tell us about that experience and something you learned.

Oregon Health & Science University (OHSU) partners with Portland State University (PSU) and since January 2019 I have been working with PSU student athletes, offering weekly nutrition counseling. I typically meet with 2-3 athletes for 30-minute appointments to address any nutritional needs or concerns the athletes may have. During my time, I’ve worked with male and female athletes from almost every sport including football, basketball, tennis, soccer, track and field and cross country. I’ve worked with athletes facing a variety of challenges including sport related injuries, weight loss or weight gain goals, and provided nutrition related guidance for athletes with new medical diagnoses including GERD, disordered eating, and food allergies. I love working with athletes because they are already highly motivated individuals -- once they understand the connection between nutrition and athletic performance, that motivation increases and it’s amazing to observe the performance improvements once this understanding takes place.

I also had the pleasure of giving a presentation on sports nutrition to a group of sports medicine fellows from OHSU who work with athletes from various universities in the area including Portland State, University of Portland, and Lewis and Clark University. The purpose of the presentation was to provide nutrition education to the physicians as well as to highlight some of the experiences I’ve had with the athletes from a nutrition standpoint. One of the biggest takeaways I’ve had through my work at PSU is the importance of providing nutrition support in different ways –individual nutrition counseling for the athletes is absolutely essential but providing education and handouts for the staff including coaches and athletic trainers is also key because they spend so much time with the athletes and know them in a different way.

Tell us about the study you’ve been participating in that involves PSU athletes.

I'm currently assisting with a study, along with two other students in my program, to help PSU athletes develop confidence in meal preparation and promote a healthy relationship with food through body positivity messaging. While we are still waiting for IRB approval, we will be conducting a pilot event during which we will lead a cooking class for 16 PSU athletes. During the class we will provide cooking skill education, general nutrition education and well as impart our knowledge of budgeting and meal preparation.

The student athlete faces the challenges inherent to any college student – busy class schedules, large volumes of coursework, high stress levels, but on top of all of this, the athlete must also attend daily practices, participate in games/competition all while trying to maintain their health. Nutrition is often overlooked, and I feel it’s largely due to misconceptions about food costs, food preparation and the idea that eating healthy is too expensive or takes too much time. We hope to clear up some of these misunderstandings but do it in a way that promotes body positivity and inclusion.

The research team and I recently had the opportunity to share our progress with nutrition educators and preceptors at the Western Region Nutrition and Dietetic Educators and Preceptors (NDEP) conference this spring.

What are your professional goals? Once you become a registered dietitian, what kind of work do you want to do?

Once I complete my graduate program and become an RD, I plan to pursue a job as a clinical dietitian. I enjoy the fast-paced environment of clinical work and want to continue to develop my clinical skills. However, my ultimate goal is to either have my own practice or work in a smaller multidisciplinary clinic that would allow me to work with people from all stages of life and health. I’m also very interested in working with the high school and college athlete population as these are such critical times in life and often the point where an interest in nutrition develops. I have a strong desire to work with athletes at this stage of life because nutrition can make such a difference in their performance and it’s amazing to see the changes after that connection is fully understood by the athlete.

Is there anything else you would like to share with other students?

Be flexible, honest with yourself and don’t be afraid to reach for opportunities you are interested in but worry you may not be fully qualified. As students, we are lucky to be immersed in the learning environment and those around us often want to help us maximize this experience. However, it’s important to remember that we are still learning, and humility goes a long way.