Brenda Bodnar

Diabetes and Healthy Heart Educator

Brenda Bodnar, Carrier Tribe First Nations, RD, CDE, is a registered dietitian and a certified diabetic education (CDE) who works with the Flathead Diabetes and Native Heart Beat Programs. Bodnar’s program is located on one of the four clinics on the Flathead Reservation, but she teaches at health fairs and in other settings throughout the reservation. Her cooking classes include cooking with elk meat. Some of her other classes focus on issues identified through community assessments, such as fast-and-easy food and eating on a budget.

“I grew up poor. My parents weren’t educated and didn’t value education. When my husband and I started our family, we knew we needed to be educated.

“My first career was as a chef. I loved cooking. It is a highly competitive, male-dominated field. It wore me down. After I was 40 it was harder.

“I went back to school as an adult. Half way through I had to choose between dietetics and food science. Dietetics accepted me so that’s what I did. I failed the exam the first time. I worried that I wouldn’t be able to be a good dietitian. The second time I passed with a good score. Later several dietitians told me they failed the first time and that is not uncommon. I wish they had told me earlier.

“Some people have a difficult time passing the RD exam. I could really use their help and I think they could help on other reservations doing such things as, teaching community classes and teaching in schools.

“I grew my own job. I was willing to take on new things, such as creating classes and a conference.

I also become a certified diabetic education. It took 5 years, but I did it. If people say they can’t become an RD or a CDE, I say, “If I can do it, you can do it.

Advice to Students

“If I had realized how difficult the coursework is, I might not have gone ahead. (You have to take courses like biochemistry and calculus.) I took one semester at a time. Each time I completed a class, I was one step closer.

“It’s important to have good study and reading skills.”
cover_lg This article was originally published in the Summer, 2009 issue of Winds of Change. (The cover artist is William Rabbit, Cherokee.)