Being a Dietician

Published on October 20th, 2011
Being a Dietician

What exactly did you study?
B.Sc Dietetics degree at the University of the Western Cape.

What made you decide to study that?

I have always had a love for nutrition and how food can work in the body to help prevent chronic diseases and also have a passion for helping people. As nutrition is one of the foundations of good health and every person needs adequate nutrition to support their health and wellness, I knew I wanted to pursue a career in that field.

What’s the difference between a Dietician and Nutritionist?

A dietitian is someone who applies the science of nutrition to the feeding and education of individuals and groups in order to influence health and disease. They may be involved in diagnosis and dietary treatment of disease. Dietitians often work with people who have special dietary needs, inform the general public about nutrition, educating clients, doctors, nurses, health professionals and community groups. In order to practice, a Dietitian must be registered with the Health Professions Council of South Africa (HPCSA). Dietetic graduates who are South African citizens will be required to complete one-year community service.  During this period they will be registered as Dietician:  Community Service with the HPCSA.

On completion of the one-year community service, registration with HPCSA will change to Dietician: Private Practice.  This indicates the Dietetic graduate as an independent Dietician.
Dietitians can work in various fields such as;
•    Private or state hospitals as a clinical dietician.
•    Food-services in mines, hospitals, commercial enterprises, etc., as foodservice managers.
•    Private practice, as a consultant to patients and clients or in private hospitals, foodservices, the food- and medical industry.
•    Universities, colleges and technikons as a lecturer.
•    Research institutions as a nutrition researcher.
•    In the communities on the district, regional or provincial level as a community dietician.

A nutritionist on the other hand is a person who advises on matters of food and nutrition impacts on health. They work in government industry, education, media and charity. Their client group is the general population, they study for a diploma in nutrition not a degree as with dietitians.

How has your experience been so far? The best part and the most challenging part?

My experience so far has been good; one can learn and apply so much. I think one of my biggest professional achievements would be the improved nutritional health and wellbeing of not only my patients but also the hospital staff, whose lives I have had the privilege to touch in an area where dietetic skills are limited.  The most rewarding part would be being part of someone’s journey to healthier living and helping people prevent disease. The most challenging part would be having limited resources at my disposal, and working with patients who are always looking for a quick fix.

You are currently doing your community service right? How has that been so far? Is the working world all you thought it to be?

I’m completing my community service at Kakamas hospital in the Northern Cape and so far it has been good, but it also has its challenges.  In the beginning it was a bit overwhelming as I had to restart the department, but eventually got into the swing of things. This is a community post so yes, it is all I thought it would be, as during my internship we were already exposed to our working environments.

Which subjects did you have at school and which were your favourite?

Mathematics, Physical science, Biology, English, Afrikaans and Home Economics. Biology and Home Economics were my favourite subjects.

What are the subjects required for your course?

The curriculum has changed since I started studying, but the current subjects required are: English at level 4, Another language at level 3, Maths at level 3 or Math Literacy at level 4 and Life Sciences at level 4 as well as a senior certificate.

What’s your favourite food?

I love seafood.

How do you stay healthy?

I try to live a healthy lifestyle, I jog on a regular basis or walk with colleagues in the evenings. I also eat healthy, although I do believe everything is fine in moderation, so I do enjoy the occasional slice of chocolate cake.

What are you ultimate exam survival tips?

Have a study timetable, plan your time to include studying, revision and social commitments – a balance of having fun, taking breaks and studying is vital. Do past papers under thorough exam conditions as often as possible to familiarize yourself with the format and the pressures of working under exam conditions. Find your own revision style, eat well and sleep enough.

Do you know of specific foods one should eat during exams? Do you really get ‘brain food’?

Often people feel tired, stressed, sleep deprived and experience a lack of concentration. There are certain foods that could assist these symptoms and may improve brain function.

Examples include: essential fatty acids (omega 3 & 6) found in oily fish like pilchards or salmon, walnuts, olive oil and canola oil. Mild dehydration causes tiredness and poor concentration, therefore 1-2 litres of water per day is essential for optimal brain function together with 8 or more hours of sleep.

Avoid caffeine and skipping meals. Breakfast is the most important meal of the day, and fruit and vegetables are rich in antioxidants and together with regular exercise will help to reduce stress.

Do you have any words of advice to learners aspiring to become dieticians?

You need to be a good communicator as often one needs to break down large scientific terms into simple dietary advice. They should have good listening skills and patience, as one needs to build a relationship of mutual trust and understanding with patients and put them at ease. One also needs to possess a drive to continuously learn more, be flexible and able to adapt in an ever changing environment as there is always new scientific knowledge occurring.

What’s your motto in life?

“Be the change you want to see in the world.”
-Mahatma Ghandhi

Live simply, love generously, care deeply and speak kindly.