Kate Rug first discovered her passion for helping others at the age of 16, when she began working in inclusive recreation. She found great joy and purpose in not only supporting individuals but also their loved ones and knew she wanted to pursue a profession that would allow her to do both.
After completing her undergraduate studies in neuroscience and psychology at Knox College, Kate went to work at the St. Louis Arc, an organization that supports people with developmental disabilities. While there, she noticed the lack of dietitians serving the community, and as it had always been an interest of hers, decided to go back to school. She completed her master’s degree at St. Louis University, specializing in pediatric dietetics.
Kate returned to the St. Louis Arc as a registered dietitian. Through their partnership, she was soon presented with the opportunity to work with the Visiting Nurse Association of Greater St. Louis. Serving primarily older adults with disabilities, it seemed like a natural fit.
When a nurse identifies a patient who may benefit from nutrition, Kate is called in. This might be an individual struggling with consistent weight loss, someone unable to find things they enjoy eating because their taste or hunger has changed or even a patient with dementia finding difficulty with meal time.
“As we enter the end-of-life stages, we may tend to not eat or drink as much,” says Kate. “Part of my role is helping families understand the physiological changes that are occurring and helping them be supportive and compassionate towards their loved ones without feeling guilt or remorse that they can’t do more.”
Through nutrition, she helps older adults maintain weight and hydration and address any micronutrient issues, such as iron deficiency or anemia. Her individualized approach meets them where they are, whatever their circumstances may be.
“One of the challenges that comes with nutrition is accessibility,” says Kate. “With age or illness, it can become difficult to shop for or prepare food independently, and not all individuals have the same level of support or monetary resources. My job is to make sure their nutrition recommendations meet their lifestyle, figuring out what works best to increase the quality of their life.”
For Kate, it’s just as much about supporting families and caregivers as it is about supporting the individual participating in VNA’s services. “Empowering others is a big component of my work,” she says.. “The support system is the boots on the ground every day when I’m not there, and that connection is really meaningful. Making sure they feel confident and supported in caring for their loved ones has always been something that I take great joy from.”
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