Mentor. Friend. Dedicated healthcare professional. All have been said of Karen Polson, RD, LD, registered dietitian in Nutrition Services. And that is why she is one of Campbell County Health’s Legends for 2015. For those who don't know, CCH defined a Legend as, "those people who have left a permanent impression on our minds because of their deeds and actions. Ongoing demonstration of hard work, compassion, and a reputation for greatness make someone a legend."
A graduate from Montana State University, this Bobcat has a Bachelor’s degree in Institutional Food Management, Pre-Dietetics, along with an internship at
St. Mary’s Hospital and Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn. Karen came to Gillette, and Campbell County Health, some 20 years ago by way of Texas and Venezuela, after her husband Dorvan, a petroleum engineer, decided he’d like to do more consulting in his field of work. She saw the opening to build a nutrition program at Campbell County Health and applied. Her colleagues will tell you that she has built quite a nutrition program here for the organization—and CCH administration will tell you that we are grateful to have her here.
For Karen, who has always had a passion for both science and cooking, becoming a dietitian was a natural fit. “In healthcare, there are so many avenues for a nutritionist and there are so many ways to be involved with patient care,” says Karen, who believes in the healing power of food and positivity.
While interning at St. Mary’s Hospital and Mayo Clinic, Karen learned a technique she has carried with her since. “For every patient I work with, I take a step back and ask myself, ‘if this was my grandparent, parent, or child, would I be happy with how they were being treated or with the service they are receiving,’” she says. If she doesn’t feel good with the service, she said she believes it’s her responsibility to address what was needed to make it a better experience.
Karen spends much of her time working with hospital patients to help them understand their disease, and select the best foods to keep them healthy. Karen’s day begins with reviewing the menu selections that patients submit. According to her, reviewing the items patients’ select to eat helps her better understand how well the patient understands their disease; but she also sees it as a way to make the patient feel better about being in the hospital.
“For patients, selecting the food they are going to eat can often provide some kind of satisfaction for them during their stay. So, it’s important to me for that outcome to be positive,” she says. And, while she wants the patient to enjoy what they are eating, she wants it to be nutritionally sound as well.
Karen will also handle consults for patients who are in the hospital after a heart issue, or speak with patients about diabetes in dialysis, or even talk with a patient who has gone through surgery to help them understand what foods may interact poorly with the prescriptions they are taking during their stay, or when they return home. “When you can see a patient’s health improve, it’s a really great feeling,” says Karen.
Helping the patient understand how food helps them manage their disease is just part of the job for Karen—the other part is giving her colleagues that same knowledge.
“Karen is fully dedicated to providing patient care every day, even when she is not here in person,” says Tina Dierking, Nutrition Services Supervisor, who has worked with Karen for 14 years. “She makes sure that she has provided us with the knowledge to take care of patients as she would. She is a library of information!”
Karen helps budding healthcare professionals with their certifications and takes time to help high school and college students learn more about the opportunities available with a career in nutrition.
“Karen helped me through my online school to achieve my Certified Dietary Manager (CDM) certificate, and acted as my preceptor. She was always willing to help me with any questions that I had on my school assignments, or any questions that I have about my job on a daily basis,” says Angela Stone, a Nutrition Services Technician who has worked with Karen for more than seven years. “Karen’s knowledge runs deep, and I am constantly learning new tricks and tools for my job here at CCH. Other staff members come to Karen with questions as well—she is always there to help.”
Karen’s love of science and food has also spilled over into the community. Karen is a board member of the Early Head Start Program at Children’s Developmental Services of Campbell County. In this role, Karen will work with nurses who are going into homes to help parents with nutritional needs, and she’ll often consult with the parents one-on-one if the need is there. She volunteers faithfully at the
Prince of Peace Lutheran Church by cooking churchgoers’ food in times of need and helping with their youth education. Karen is also well known as the “snack mom” at her children’s soccer and track and field competitions—something she has even carried on as they compete in college.
Karen and Dorvan have three children—Sean, who is married with two children; Trevor, who is in grad school in Seattle, interested in Physical Therapy; and Tiffany, who is also attending college and interested in Physical Therapy. This Christmas Eve, when they are together, you’ll find them at the Prince of Peace Lutheran Church helping with the service that night. Afterward, I’m sure Karen will whip up something delicious in her kitchen for all to enjoy.
After all: “One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well.” ~ Virginia Woolf
Karen, thank you for your dedication to your profession and to the future of healthcare. You have left a permanent impression in this organization. Congratulations.