Practicing what she preaches
If your career were educating others how to have a healthier lifestyle, wouldn't it help if you had a healthy lifestyle yourself?
That's certainly the case for pediatric dietitian Sky Baucom-Pro.
She runs two to three times a week, adding in a long run — one to three hours — on the weekend. She bikes regularly — sometimes with her husband, a Vacaville policeman; sometimes with her two large dogs running beside her; sometimes as a commute to work. (It's a 36-mile round-trip from her Davis home.) And she frequently competes in endurance events—most recently in June at the Rock ‘n' Roll San Diego Marathon, where she posted a personal best time of 4 hours and 18 minutes.
A skilled cyclo-cross racer — she was a category champion in a series of 10 races held in Sacramento in 2007 — Baucom-Pro plans to do a half-Ironman at a competition in Rancho Seco scheduled for September. While she'd like to do a full Ironman at some point — she's already got more than 10 triathlons under her belt — she's not getting ahead of herself.
"I want to see how it goes," Baucom-Pro said, referring to the looming trifecta of a half-mile swim, 56-mile bike and 13.1 mile run.
Leading by example
However she does, it's not likely to reduce her standing in the workplace. Biking to work has generated admiration, as has the quality of the bag lunches she brings for herself.
"Sky practices what she preaches," said Ulfat Shaikh, an associate professor of pediatrics. "She eats very healthy — lots of fruits, vegetables, salads and whole wheat bread. Plus, she's just a very upbeat and positive person. She's an inspiration to all of us in the pediatric clinic."
As an undergraduate at UC Davis, Baucom-Pro had an initial goal to become a medical researcher, specifically a microbiologist. But she didn't do well in biochemistry, so she switched her major, earning a B.S. in clinical nutrition in 2003. When asked why she chose nutrition and not some other medical-related field, Baucom-Pro recalled a moment of realization.
"I liked the idea of using nutrition in conjunction with medicine," she said "Understanding that what you eat makes a big difference in your health was an ‘aha' moment for me."
Coming out of college, Baucom-Pro did a 50-week internship at UC Davis Medical Center. Shadowing dietitians in different clinics, Baucom-Pro said she learned "the ins-and-outs" of the job, in particular how to assess patients' level of risk for developing diet-related conditions such as diabetes and high cholesterol.
She evidently impressed her tutors, because as soon as the internship was over Baucom-Pro was hired on full-time. After a one-and-a-half year stint doing staff relief for other dietitians and working in the bariatric surgery program — where, she noted, adults who have tried everything else opt for the last resort of gastric bypass surgery — Baucom-Pro decided she wanted to specialize in working with children. That was about the time that — by taking night classes — she earned an M.A.S. in maternal and child nutrition, a degree she received from UC Davis in 2007.
Focus on prevention
Baucom-Pro chose to become a pediatric dietitian because "I really like being able to work with kids and their families." She also likes that because the patients are so young, there's a greater chance of making a difference.
"It's so much harder to make lifestyle changes when you're older," she said. "If you can help teach someone when they're young about the importance of good nutrition, you can possibly prevent them from becoming overweight."
One patient that sticks out in her mind is a teenage girl from the Bishop area of eastern California who was battling obesity. Seeing the girl and her family a half-dozen times over the course of a year via telehealth technology, Baucom-Pro was able to suggest an array of practical changes the girl could make in her eating behavior — such as eating only in the kitchen as opposed to snacking throughout the house, and reading food labels before making purchases in the grocery store.
At the end of the consults, the girl's weight had fallen from 195 pounds to 188 pounds — not a dramatic loss, but a sign that she was gaining the upper hand on her weight problem.
Another patient she's currently working with, a 5-year-old girl, has the opposite problem — food aversion. Working with a multi-disciplinary team that includes speech therapists — young children with feeding difficulties often have difficulties chewing and swallowing as well as gaining weight — Baucom-Pro works to monitor growth and problem-solve with the parents on how to effectively provide more calories for a child who has a very limited variety of acceptable foods.
"The speech therapist will start with having a patient touch a tomato and then lick it," Baucom-Pro said. "If we get her to accept it on the plate, that's a success. Then maybe the next time she'll nibble on the tomato."