“DIETITIANS ARE ADAPTABLE!”
By Yuri Bhaga
I am a community service dietitian currently working at a hospital in Witbank, which places me very far from where I got my dietetics training at UCT . But a lot closer to home in Pretoria where I completed my BSc degree 3 years ago.
When I got accepted to study dietetics I had no idea what I was getting myself into. Much like everyone else who hasn’t gotten the formal training, I had a very narrow understanding of what the title “Dietitian” stood for. Now 3 years later it has become a great passion of mine and I make sure to promote the profession and spread awareness of the role that nutrition has in all areas of our health.
Being familiar with the Western Cape health system, Mpumalanga was new to me. The province had its own set of unique challenges and demands that I had to learn to adapt to. The system is under immense pressure with far less than adequate resources and it would be a lie to say it doesn’t get frustrating at times. Some days will go smoothly and you will be able to implement a plan within the hour, thanks to a great multidisciplinary effort. Other days you will receive the wrong referrals and it will take up to 2-3 days just to start a feeding plan. It’s not always easy but it does provide hands on experience and a great opportunity for learning – and the feeling when you see an improvement in a patient’s condition or receive sincere thanks from a patient post counselling can really put things into perspective. Sometimes it’s not even about the clinical work or education you give but simply chatting to the patients and seeing how they feel that can make a world of difference to their stay.
I have been very fortunate to have arrived to an established and supportive department with members of staff who have years of experience and are always open to lending input and giving help should I need it. The hospital offers the majority of the services of a tertiary hospital which means I will have been exposed to a diverse patient population by year-end which is both a wonderful thing and a little daunting. That said, not everyone will have the same experience of community service, but if you are willing to work with what you have and find opportunity to improve and make good of what’s at your disposal you will come out having grown as both a person and as a professional.
Community service year is a great opportunity to gain independence and to be a fresh pair of eyes to fill gaps that are missing. Personally, it has put meaning to a phrase that I heard from an educator in my internship year: “Dietitians are adaptable!”. This year is all about what you are willing to put into it and the attitude you have going into the year will determine what you get out– as cliché as it sounds.
That’s not to say you MUST be busy day in and day out with no chance to breathe. Rest is equally important. I have found it has been of great benefit to find a support group. I am lucky to have been warmly adopted into the Speech and Audiology department where I go to spend most of my lunch breaks, or to vent about something that’s on my mind and have made new friends with their comm-serves. Working in a hospital is different for everyone and can be very taxing so it’s always good to have something other than work to help destress. If time allows it, find a new hobby or continue engaging in activities you enjoy – I have decided to try my hand at sign language classes.
To conclude :
- You won’t know everything (and that’s fine, you have plenty of time to learn and read-up)
- Ask as many questions as you need (granted you have tried to come up with the answers yourself first)
- Speak up and be firm – but polite.
- Get to know your surroundings and the people you work with.
- Have confidence, you likely know much more than you think! 😊
- And lastly , enjoy it and take it all in!!