What it’s like being a dietitian

I have had a lot of people ask me about what it’s like to study to be a dietitian and is it right for them? So here’s my opinion piece on that…

I have wanted to work in nutrition since I was 18 and a manager at Burger King. I saw first hand how rubbish that food was and what it did to the people that ate it regularly. One person that worked with us ate BK daily and gained 30+ kgs in a few months (obviously, now I know there could have been a multitude of factors going on for this person that I know nothing about and I have no idea about their health status at all. But at the time I was like, OMG I am killing people with this food and started calling myself the “heart attack merchant”)

I started studying Nutrition at Massey University, but realised a nutrition degree wasn’t going to get me where I wanted to go. So I decided to study to be a dietitian, because I wanted to do clinical work and be guaranteed a job (low and behold there are hardly any jobs for dietitians! Go figure 🙄

But it took me YEARS to start studying for dietetics (insert: OE, getting married, moving to Hamilton and having 3 kids before moving back up to Auckland in 2012 and starting my studies at Auckland University. Enter 6 more years of study and we finally get here.

I’ve been a Dietitian for a whole year and I LOVE IT. I work as a community needs assessor in the under 65’s team) for the local hospital. You need to be a registered health professional to do it and the pay is the same as a dietitians, plus there’s no commute and I can pick the kids up from school so it’s totally perfect. I use many, many of the dietitian skills I learnt when assessing my patients and I can really help people when they really, really need it (a lot of my patients are young, palliative mostly with cancer and have children). It’s a very hard but, very rewarding job. I also run my own private practice and I love it. I love getting a patients diet history and working out the best way forward for them. There are so many things that you need to consider (see pic below) and every single person is different and has different needs.

The top three things I’ve learnt as a dietitian

1. People don’t want my/your opinion or advice on what they eat (unless of course they ask for it and even then its 50:50)

2. Our emotional health is just as important (if not more so) than our nutritional health.

3. People don’t like being judged or feel as though they are being judged (this one seems obvious, but actually it took me a while to get it)

4. People often get their nutrition information from very bizarre places (see infographic below). I have a friend who had a convo with a random person in a clothes shop and since then has been doing ‘keto’. I was thinking “wtf dietitian friend right here”, but said nothing as per #1 and #3!

So is studying to be a dietitian right for you?

1. What kind of job do you want?

1.5 And are their job opportunities out there?!! Getting a dietitian job as a new graduate is near on impossible. I know the DHB I work for (as a needs assessor) won’t even consider your CV if you don’t have 2+ years experience.

2. There are lots of different health related qualifications you can get, from various types of institutions, depending on what kind of qualifications and job you want: public health, nutrition, dietetics, life coaching etc. You can work in public health promotion, help adopt policy changes, research, teaching, food industry… Dietetic qualifications are pretty useful there are lots of places you can work in.

3. Are you quite holistic in your beliefs or more traditional/medical? Dietitians training is very clinical and all our recommendations must be evidenced based. This is a good thing, because it means we practice really safely and it protects our patients. But if you have alternative/holistic beliefs you may find it doesn’t work for you.

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