By Kinza Hussain
I always say the profession of dietetics chose me. After completing a 3-year B.Sc degree in Biochemistry, I attended the Honors evening at the University of Cape Town to figure out what my next step would be. I was always intrigued by the medical field but when I heard what an honours degree in nutrition and dietetics could offer me, it was love at first sound!
I loved the idea of working in a hospital setting and more so, I was fascinated by the role nutrition plays in health and disease in both critical and stable phases. For this reason, I completed a rather stressful (to say the least) two-year honours degree and graduated as a dietitian in 2017.
It took a year before I got a post to do my community service and during this year, I explored the other branches of dietetics, namely fitness, research and healthy cooking. Instead of losing hope of one day practising as a clinical dietitian, I grew even fonder of the field and was convinced more than ever that this path was for me.
February 2019, I finally got placed at Kopanong Hospital in Vereeniging, Gauteng. I am responsible for part of the pediatric ward where I overlook a spread of diagnoses. From Severely Acute Malnourished babies to obese children to lactation consulting. I am also responsible for the female medical ward and the surgical ward. Here I see to the management of non-communicable diseases as well as the numerous indications that lead to nasogastric feeding in adults.
Although it is not my responsibility, I sometimes get given the opportunity to manage infectious diseases such as HIV/TB to remind me of how broad this field really is.
Being placed in an Afrikaans speaking community, the initial stages of my job was quite challenging due to the fact that I do not speak or understand the language at all (originally being from Zimbabwe). My other challenge was mastering the art of doing all that I can with all that I have. Once I overcame these two main challenges, I really found myself truly enjoying my work. The grand pediatric ward round which includes the entire multidisciplinary team kicks off my week every Monday morning.
Not only does nutrition play an ample role in the patient’s management, but how it ties in with other spheres of treatment such as the rehab input from occupational therapists and physiotherapists really fascinates me. I also love the fact that I am still learning. From my fellow dietitians in my field and from the doctors as I nutritionally manage a patient.
More than halfway into my community service year, do I have any words of encouragement? Definitely!
- Getting into this year, know that your experience is going to be similar but different. You may face the same challenges as everyone else but how you handle them is what will make your journey unique. I would say don’t let these challenges dim your sparkle.
- Continue and complete this year with the same enthusiasm as you started it. There may be days you’ll feel otherwise but you will be making a difference in lives as you hoped to.
- Don’t underestimate the small but valuable extra effort you make for your patient. It goes a long way for them and their recovery.
- Always respond to your gut feeling. If something bothers you while managing a patient, speak up. And speak again. And again.
- Ninety-nine percent of the time, you will pick up on missed ques which can literally save a life!
- Develop and maintain a good working relationship with the nursing staff of your hospital. They run the hospital and if you want to successfully manage a patient, their support will help you achieve that.
- Lastly, while you enjoy what will most probably be one of the best years of your life in terms of personal and professional growth, be sure to let it all out. When your first patient passes on, you may think you’re alright but it has a way of surfacing way later. Be sure to allow yourself to heal so that you can continue improving lives…with your nutritional and dietetic powers!
All my best wishes ☺