Office of Research & Development
Office of Research & Development
Sioux Falls VA Health Care System
May 25, 2017
April Ahrendt, a dietician at the Sioux Falls VA Health Care System in South Dakota, has helped lead weight-management projects targeted to Veterans.
It's no mystery that April Ahrendt loves her work. A specialist in nutrition and dietetics at the Sioux Falls VA Health Care System in South Dakota, she has enjoyed helping lead a series of weight-management projects, including several related to MOVE!, VA's flagship weight-management program for overweight or obese patients. She also led a study that examined the effectiveness of videoconferencing technology for delivering comprehensive weight-management treatment. She served in the U.S. Air National Guard from 1995 to 2001 and in the reserves from 2001 to 2003.
VA Research Communications: What inspired your research career?
Ahrendt: Working as a dietitian caring for Veterans, I could see areas of practice that needed more evidence to support. I had multiple questions about innovative ways to prevent and treat chronic disease through the use of food as medicine and the use of technology in my highly rural state of South Dakota.
Did you have mentors who inspired you in life, the military, or your research career?
A research dietitian at the University of North Dakota inspired me to take the same career track. She could always explain things so logically and used great data to support her claims. I also had a great mentor in research at VA, Dr. David Maddox, who was the research coordinator at the Sioux Falls VA but has since retired. He was so willing to answer my questions and helped me write my first manuscript for publication.
April Ahrendt with her husband, Bryan Ahrendt. She served two stints in the U.S. Air National Guard, and he served in the Air Force as a hydraulics technician at Grand Forks Air Force Base in South Dakota.
When and where did you serve in the military?
I joined the South Dakota Air National Guard in 1995 when I was 17 as delayed enlistment and attended basic military and technical school the summer after my graduation. I was in Services Flight as this technical school offered a diet therapy specialist license, and I knew I would be going to college to become a registered dietitian. I completed several deployments throughout my service and also collaborated with the medical group to teach healthy eating habits to maintain weight standards in the Air Guard. I got married in 1998. My husband was stationed at the Grand Forks Air Force base, so I transferred to the North Dakota Air National Guard. I completed my six-year enlistment with an honorable discharge in 2001 and then served two years in reserve.
What type of research are you involved in? What are your specialties? What are your goals? How does your work potentially impact Veterans?
I have been involved in weight management through the use of live videoconferencing, MOVE! program research related to HbA1c [glycated hemoglobin] outcomes, and pharmacy resident research on the management of direct oral anticoagulants. I am currently working on a study on the effectiveness of lean six sigma methodology in a primary care setting. My specialties are anything involved with medical nutrition therapy and performance improvement. My goals are to continue to grow the research program at the Sioux Falls VA Healthcare System and to continue to encourage dietitians to conduct research at a national Level. I recently completed one year as chair of the VA National Nutrition and Food Service Research Committee and am current chair of the Sioux Falls Research and Development Committee. I enjoy mentoring new researchers and getting new projects underway.
Did your military experience inspire you to pursue a career as a VA researcher? Is your military experience connected in some way to your VA research?
While I was in the military, I felt a feeling of brotherhood-sisterhood to support one another and watch out for one another. Now that I am working for VA, I still have that feeling for my fellow Veterans. I want to make sure we are providing cutting-edge, evidence-based health care for all Veterans.
How do you feel about the possibility of making life better for Veterans through your research?
The possibilities are what keep me so motivated to complete and mentor more research studies. That is the main reason I do research.
Do you believe being a Veteran gives you a greater emotional tie to the work you are doing?
I do feel an emotional tie in all of my work at VA to doing my best for the Veterans we are caring for. I also feel that being a Vet gives me some insight into military-connected health conditions that need more research for prevention and treatment.
Based on your life experiences to date, what do you believe are the keys to success? What motivational tips would you share?
The keys to success are to work hard, make connections with people, say yes to opportunities that come your way even if you're a little nervous, have measurable goals, and hold yourself accountable. Love what you do, and if you don't find another job that you do love. Life balance is important. Take care of yourself and your family, and you will be better at your job.
What's the next step for you in your VA career?
I will continue to grow my research experience and work at doing the most good that I can for Veterans and VA employees.