Navy Lt. Cmdr. Stephanie Clapper knew early on what she wanted to do for a living. That’s why she mapped out her future as a dietitian, while she was a high school sophomore.
Her family played the biggest role in her choice of profession. Clapper’s father was involved in Weight Watchers at the time. One sister was in nursing school and another planned to study pharmacy in college.
All of their interests fascinated her, to the point that, through her older sister, Clapper met with the director of the dietician program at the University of New Mexico to start preparing for her career.
“I always loved science, but there was the human compassion piece helping people live healthier lives,” Clapper said. “[Food] impacts our health way down the road.”
Her family also influenced how she’d use her skills. Clapper chose the military, since her parents served in the Navy (her father during the Vietnam War and her mother as a nurse in the Reserve).
At first, Clapper considered joining the Army, because they were the only service branch with a dietetic internship. But, after her grandparents became ill that year, Clapper held off and instead enlisted in the Navy Reserve and applied for a dietetic internship at the University of New Mexico.
“When I was completing my master’s in dietetics and was looking toward the future,
I thought it would be a good opportunity to apply for a direct commission with the Navy, because I enjoyed the Navy Reserves so much,” Clapper said.
As one of 27 dietitians in the Navy, Clapper is in high demand.
With only so many available to meet needs, the military prefers assigning dietitians to large medical centers. That’s how Clapper ended up at Belvoir Hospital almost four years ago after a stop in Naples, Italy.
“I know I am biased, but Registered Dietitians are an amazing group of clinicians,” said Clapper, who has served in the military for almost 16 years. “RDs are often thought of as the ‘food police,’ but this is far from the truth. We provide evidenced-based, holistic and complementary treatment for inpatient and outpatients.”
Since being named the deputy director of administration at Belvoir Hospital two years ago, Clapper is more limited, now, in how much time she can spend as a dietitian.
She still does some outpatient care and meets with some patients regularly.
Clapper is grateful for the other dietitians on staff who were willing to step in more, once she applied for the deputy director of administration position.
Clapper took on her new role because it met the criteria needed to receive a promotion.
“You had to be in a position of increased responsibility and show you are being successful in and out of the community,” said Clapper, who plans to leave for the Naval Medical Center in Portsmouth in August.
As the deputy director of administration, Clapper “supports the day-to-day operations of the support service departments within the hospital. The comprehensive team includes facilities; logistics; nutrition services; patient administration; info management; operations and emergency management; security; safety, and the Fisher House.”
When she’s not balancing professional duties with responsibilities at home, Clapper likes to keep busy as a self-described “craft fanatic.”
“The thing is I like to bring people happiness,” Clapper said. “I like doing things for other people.”