Meet the Dietitian: Community service series

Read more about her love-at-first-sight story with Dietetics.

By Rhodene Oberholzer

A little over seven months ago I moved into a tiny apartment in Johannesburg, nervous about starting my community service year at Charlotte Maxeke Johannesburg Academic Hospital. Suddenly, I felt as if I forgot everything I learned in my four years studying at the North-West University of Potchefstroom. I could feel my heart making 20 000 jumping jacks per minute as I walked through the hallway on my way to the dietetics department, my very first day as a dietitian. I honestly did not think I would be able to do this, but fast-forward seven months later and I cannot believe how much I have learned and grown as a person so far.
The reason why I decided to become a dietitian is quite simple, it is like a love-at-first-sight kind of story. I always knew I wanted to work with people, but being a dietitian never really crossed my mind as something I wanted to pursue. It was only in my matric year that I decided to shadow a clinical dietitian. The profession fascinated me, and I soon realised that my idea of what I thought a dietitian did was only a drop in the ocean. So, I instantly knew I found my calling.
Now this year has probably been the most challenging, but rewarding time of my life. I feel so blessed to be able to work in a place where I get to see and learn so much.

Working in a clinical environment, we as dietitians are responsible for all the dietary needs of patients, whether it is total parenteral nutrition (TPN), enteral nutrition, dietary education, supplementing a patient’s diet or prescribing a special diet meeting the requirements for their specific disease condition. At first, this was very intimidating for me, but after a while, you can see how your interventions pay off, and it gets so much easier. Nothing is more rewarding than seeing the premature baby gain weight, the severe acute malnourished child gaining his appetite again, to hear the patient with muscle wasting say that she feels much stronger after drinking the supplements you provided, or even just getting a smile from a patient because you ordered him some extra jelly and custard.

I also have the opportunity to work in various clinics this year (such as Paediatric Diabetics; Orthopaedic Slimming; Neonatal; as well as a General clinic) where we assess and counsel out-patients with a specific nutrition related health problems.
For any future community service dietitian that feels nervous about starting this next chapter: I understand how you feel. I don’t think starting your first job is supposed to be a walk in the park, so be kind to yourself if you feel anxious and unsure. I did not believe it at first, but I promise you it will get better. Take your December holiday to rest, and have peace about where you are placed as it is only for 12 months and time goes by so fast. I think the biggest mistake you can make as a community service dietitian is to finish your 12 months, feeling like you did not learn much and made no difference where you were placed. Enjoy being a dietitian, fall in love with your work, as it really is such a fun and exciting profession to be in!

 

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