Meet the Dietitian: Community service series

“The best decision I’ve made in my life…”

By Bonnie Evert

“TPN? Food in arteries?” These were my thoughts, as a very inexperienced 17- year- old girl, when the Registered Dietitian (RD), who was assisting a very close family member of mine in the ICU, explained what all the little bags hanging above the bed were in aid of.

My perception that RDs only help fat people lose weight was destroyed and the profession fascinated me. I canceled my application for the air force and immediately applied to study B.Sc. Dietetics at the NWU Potchefstroom Campus – which has been the best decision I’ve made in my life, thus far.

Five years later, I am working at a psychiatric hospital to complete my community service year. It is not quite the same as the acute setting we became familiar with in our 4th-year internship. This psychiatric hospital specializes in patient-care for the intellectually disabled patient, rehab for mood disorders, substance abuse or both, and a rehab unit that accommodates patients with spinal cord as well as brain injuries.

When starting anything new, there are a few challenges and opportunities. Here are a few of mine as a new Comm-serve.

  1. Opportunity

Working in a psychiatric hospital is very interesting and different to an acute hospital. Not a day goes by where an opportunity doesn’t arise to learn something new, read up on a rare condition or have a heart-warming encounter with a patient.

  1. Multi-professional team

I have realized the importance of working together in a multi-professional team, including the occupational-, speech- and physiotherapists, and how important each unique role is regarding nutritional management and overall patient care. I have come to understand that one cannot be a one-dimensional dietitian: yes, we are the nutrition experts, but it won’t hurt to learn more about all the complex medical aspects of different patients. In fact, it will improve your nutritional decision-making.

  1. To err is human – it’s okay to make mistakes

This is only relevant IF we use our unintended mistakes as learning curves and IF they do not harm anyone, of course. I have often felt as though my opinion is not worthy or helpful until I realized that if I don’t speak up immediately and take a stand for my patients (who often cannot speak for themselves), a greater risk is imposed on their healing and well-being. However, it is our responsibility to be updated with the latest evidence-based guidelines and medical nutritional therapy to support our opinions.

  1. Separate your work from your private life

In our line of work, it is our job to be empathetic towards patients and to remain professional. I learned that to keep my emotions from getting the better of me at work, I will have to find a way to debrief – and believe me – it is important to talk about your feelings. Thankfully, I have the best support system at work and an absolute role model as my supervisor who taught me this: It is important to be empathetic towards patients, but so is protecting yourself and ensuring the quality of your work.

Some of the highlights I have enjoyed about this year include the opportunity and privilege to help others and actually make a difference. The possibility of improving my knowledge as well as my work ethic – which includes earning a salary – has been outstanding.

My heartfelt message to anyone reading this article is NEVER to underestimate yourself, treat others the way you would like to be treated, stay up to date with the latest research, be positive and most of all enjoy the journey, it passes all too quickly!

ADSA, the Association for Dietetics in South Africa, is one of the country’s professional
organizations for registered dietitians. It is a registered non-profit organization served by qualified volunteers. The Association represents and plays a vital role in developing the dietetic profession so as to contribute towards the goal of achieving optimal nutrition for all South Africans. Through its network of ten branches, ADSA provides dietitians with the opportunity to meet and network with other professionals in their provinces. Through its comprehensive Continuing Professional Development (CPD) system, ADSA supports dietitians in meeting their mandatory on-going learning, which is essential to maintain their registration status with the Health Professions Council of South Africa (HPCSA). Visit:

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