College to Career with Food Allergies

College to Career

by Natascia Simone, FAACT Spokesperson

I am currently in the midst of my last semester of my MBA in Healthcare Management at the University of Connecticut! Throughout my healthcare courses, I have gained a greater passion for the clinical aspect of the healthcare industry. I am eager to learn more about patient care. This thought came to me when I experienced a traumatic allergic reaction at the end of 2017. It made me realize the impact that every clinician has on a patient and how I am alive today because of them. I am considering applying to the Yale School of Medicine for their Physicians Assistant program, and I could not be more excited!

Throughout this year, I have attended various career fairs, meetings, interviews, and networking events. I found a constant variable that is consistently present; food. Food is the center of any social event, and that is not only true for your school years, but well into your career life. Birthday parties may not be sleepovers anymore, but instead an office cake, that very well may contain a few allergens.

Having a food allergy does not define an individual, but it is a chronic illness that may always be there. From high school to college to the transition into a career path, food - including all allergens - will be present. I was recently at a networking event, and there was a beautiful buffet with all kinds of decorations, just lovely for the human eye. For the food-allergic person, this is a red zone. Of course, they were only serving house wine, which is also a red zone for myself as many wines contain a nut base. To be safe, I grabbed a glass of water and was on my way to networking! As I began to chat and exchange business cards with various professionals, I noticed like clockwork, everyone began to start picking on the buffet. I simply stated I have severe food allergies and could not join them in “trying one of everything” or really anything at all. I also had to turn down every sample that came over on a tray. Everyone began to eat and chat; eat and chat. It started to become quite loud, and this buffet had a myriad of shellfish and nut items. Many people felt the need to chat within inches in order to hear one another. Naturally, I started to feel unsafe. After about 10 minutes, I kindly removed myself from the event.

I left the event feeling defeated by something that does not define me. At twenty-three years old, I felt like a child again leaving a birthday party because someone brought cookies with nuts. I took a moment and realized that I must recognize I have grown so much from my childhood, and my job now is to be the absolute best advocate for myself and the food allergy community. I realized that situations like this one don’t end after your academic years are over, instead they are very much prevalent in adulthood. This was the first of various professional circumstances I have been in where I have to educate those around me whether they are professionals at a networking event or coworkers in the office.

I would love those of you who are in the process of completing college and starting their career to know that a food allergy does not define you, and it is just a supplemental that you need to take precautions with. You CAN live a happy and full life and do everything you wish to accomplish!