Dr. Joanna McMillan is a household name today.The many hats she wears could fill a room: internationally renowned dietitian, sought-after media pundit (including for the Today Show), author of multiple books – and a respected gut-health expert, who recently hosted the acclaimed “Gut Revolution” series on ABC’s Catalyst.
But she didn’t get there overnight. In fact, Joanna struggled early on, as an expat single mum of two with financial challenges. What made the difference was the decisions she made along the way.
This legend of nutrition communications recently shared six top tips to help us find the “guts” to pursue our career dreams (and no, plotting to be an “overnight success” is not a wise strategy!).
1. Don’t Take No for an Answer.
Joanna came to Australia “with nothing more than a credit card bill” and a desire to do her PhD at the University of Sydney. When she got a no response from the Uni, she walked into the department and said to then-head Prof. Ian Caterson, “I want to do a PhD. I’m Joanna.”
He helped her get a scholarship, introduced her to Jennie BrandMiller – and things took off from there. “There’s a real lesson,” said Joanna. “Go and put your face in front of someone, and often a faceto-face meeting is what opens the door.
” 2. …and Just Say Yes.
“In the early days, all I did was I said yes,” said Joanna. “I said yes to every media interview that I got. I said yes to appearing on television. That’s how you have to do it. Be available to journalists. Recognise they have really tight deadlines, so you have to get back to them very quickly if you want to be the person that’s quoted. Then, over time, you’ll find that they’ll come to you.”
3. Don’t Fear Competition.
Refreshingly, Joanna embraces seeing more dietitians in the media limelight: “When I first started in the Today Show, there weren’t any other dietitians. Now there are several who will appear, and I think that’s a great thing. It’s refreshing, and it means that we’re getting a really good consistent message out there.”
4. Recognise Your Own Value.
“Be secure in what you can bring to the space,” Joanna shared. “The minute you start doubting yourself and thinking, ‘Oh, I’m not as good as all these other people,’ then you’re going to fail. Have confidence in your own abilities and understand what your weaknesses are – and what other people are better at.”
5. Grow a Thick Skin.
“Not everyone will love you,” Joanna pointed out. “There will be people that disagree with you. Learn how to handle that and remain professional and calm at all times.”
6. Remember, the Struggle Can Be Real – Regardless of Your Level of Success.
“There’s often many times where I feel like I’m just juggling all the balls in the air and trying to make sure that none of them fall,” said Joanna. “If people are very honest about it, that’s the way that I think that most of us are.”
Behind the Scenes with Dr Jo on the “Gut Revolution” Series
We loved watching ABC’s “Gut Revolution” series – and Dr Joanna loved hosting it just as much! It was a long taping, she said – close to 300 hours were filmed, much of which didn’t make it to air. But it was worth every second for Dr Jo to be part of such a landmark program, especially as science is rapidly gaining respect for the potential of gut health to positively impact the entire body.
“’Gut Revolution’ was fascinating,” enthused Joanna. “It gave me the opportunity to interview researchers all around the world. What I found was, no matter which area of science the expert specialised in – from neuroscience to microbiology – all said that ultimately, the major thing that affects your microbiome is diet.”
Her research career started in gut health, so she’s long been excited by the subject. “It also excites me,” she said, “because when we get down to this level of the microbiome, then we start to really understand where our science training comes into play, as dietitians.”
This is a really exciting space for dietitians, Joanna feels. “The microbiome is front and centre at the moment, in terms of understanding the research and translating it into ways to help improve our gut health. Dietitians can play a very key role here. We are the experts about helping people to manipulate and change their diets.”