Meet the Dietitian: Community service edition

By Marlize Erasmus

Every 4th-year Dietetics student experience feelings of stress, anxiety and excitement when making the decision of where to do their community service year. I googled every hospital on the list, trying to figure out where to go. I got my first choice (believe it or not) – a rural hospital (Connie Vorster Memorial District Hospital) in a small town called Hartswater in the Northern-Cape. This is where driving past cows and chickens on your way to the clinic is a daily norm.

The first time I heard about dietetics was from my grade 9 teacher when I had to do an assignment on what career to follow. I decided to shadow a clinical Dietitian in grade 11 and got intrigued by the profession. It wasn’t until my first year while studying dietetics at the Potchefstroom Campus of the North-West University that I knew I made the right choice. I realised that dietetics is my passion.

I did not really know what to expect when I started. I quickly realised that this was nothing like that perfect picture of dietetics that you have while studying. Especially when you are working in a place with severely limited funding and resources with communities in extreme poverty. This makes both spectrums of under-and-over nutrition (Obesity and Non-Communicable Diseases as well as a high prevalence of Severe Acute Malnutrition) major problems in the communities in the area.

I originally felt estranged to dietetics because working in rural is nothing like the bigger hospitals I was used to when I did my internship. Something important to know is that working in a rural hospital means there is no such thing as parenteral nutrition, fancy surgeries or certain wards like ICU or Renal. You are working with the basics.

I was not enthusiastic about community nutrition at varsity so I felt a bit discouraged when I found out that half of my time this year would entail working in the clinics. I developed a new kind of appreciation and love for working in the community. Community nutrition started to change me. It is especially in rural communities where dietitians are extremely needed. Working in the community can be challenging but the reward is sweet when you can see you’ve made a difference. I came to love going out into the community to fetch a SAM kiddie, to do outreaches and health talks and to work at a hospital alongside people who make the hard days better. I believe it was God’s plan that I got placed in Hartswater. This has shaped me into a better Dietitian and a better version of myself.

No matter at what hospital you are or what type of dietetics work you do, it is always important to realise that at the end of the day your happiness as a human being is a necessity. This is not only a year for practical experience in the dietetic profession but a year of personal growth and new adventures. Be open-minded as you step into the unknown.

 

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