Meet the Dietitian: Community Service series

By: Emma Slabbert


A year like none other!  A few of the highlights (and low-lights) of my year as a community service dietitian

And just like that – Community service 2019 is drawing to an end.  It’s unbelievable really. I don’t know where the time has gone! It has been the most wonderful year of growth, development and learning and as I come to the end of this journey I think about all the amazing memories I have made, experiences I have had, people I have met and most importantly how much I have learnt – not only about my profession, but about myself too! And, (something I did not think I would be saying when I started this year), I feel extremely sad that this year is already finishing and I am so grateful for this opportunity.

I started my 2019 community service in a new province, 100s of kilometres away from home and my comfort zone. I was a scared, newly graduated dietitian not knowing what to expect and who felt like I didn’t know enough to be going into the working world, never mind be managing patients on my own! Yet I am proud to say, I leave 2019 feeling so fulfilled, confident in myself, my work and am ready to take on any new challenges that I may face.

I’m a coastal girl, born and bred in Port Elizabeth, very much a home body and loved summers spent on the beach. Then here came comm serve 2019 and I saw myself relocating to Welkom, a town in the Free State between Bloemfontein and Johannesburg, pretty far from where and what I’m used too, with unbearably hot summers, freezing cold winters and thousands of kilometres away from any beach. I was not looking forward to it at all.

But wow am I grateful for this placement! The work environment was better than I ever could have imagined (so much better than being a student), my new work colleagues were more than welcoming, helpful and friendly, taking me under their wings and giving me the confidence, responsibilities, opportunities and experiences I needed to make me into the knowledgeable and confident dietitian who I feel I am today, and for this I am forever grateful.

Waking up excited and happy to go to work every morning was something I always hoped for since I was much younger and that is exactly how I felt this year. I have had the most amazing clinical exposure, experiences and opportunity to work within a multidisciplinary team.  

One thing is for sure – the practical aspect is very different to that of the theory and being able to finally put into practice all those years of theory work studied is just amazing. From working in the paediatric wards, burns unit, ICU, surgical wards, medical wards, ante- and post-natal wards, as well as seeing out patients weekly; I really feel so blessed and privileged to have had this opportunity to be exposed to the many different aspects of where a dietitian is needed, is important and to be able to experience, first-hand, the positive impact that we can have on a patient’s well-being and recovery.

From calculating Enteral and Parental feeding regimes for critically ill patients, to simply educating and supplementing malnourished patients, to assisting mothers and promoting breastfeeding, it has been so fulfilling to know that I was able to make a positive impact in these patients’ lives.  When out-patients are happy to see you each month and mothers cry happy tears at the growth of their children, it gives you a feeling of purpose that cannot be explained.

The year was certainly not easy and many challenges were faced. From being involved in a car accident in February and writing off my car as result, to being admitted into hospital with the Influenza virus mid-year and to pushing through the homesickness, I can say that all these challenges contributed to my personal growth and made me a stronger person.  These challenges wouldn’t have been overcome if it wasn’t for the amazing support system that I made in Welkom – my colleagues, friends, and the incredible group of comm serves – as you can imagine being far from your family and loved ones can be hard. I have met some amazing people this year and have made friendships which I know will last a lifetime and for that I am so grateful for.

Another highlight that is worth a mention was being given the opportunity to go into theatre and observe a surgery – a reversal of a colostomy – which made 100 times more sense after seeing it in real life than trying to fully understand it from a textbook.  Also, being able to see inside a theatre was really cool and not something that everyone gets an opportunity to experience.


If I can offer advice to future community service dietitians, as well as comm serves from other healthcare professions, it will simply be:

  • Go into your comm serve year with a positive and open mind.
  • Be excited for the experiences you are about to endure.
  • Make good relationships with the people you work with and be humble.
  • Ask for help when needed and don’t be afraid to say you don’t know something.
  • Grab every opportunity with both hands and learn from it.
  • Be social and attend events with the other comm serves so that you can make friends and build a support system of people who are all experiencing similar challenges / stages of life.
  • Network!
  • Be confident in your knowledge and always be willing to learn more.
  • Attend ward rounds and make yourself known to the rest of the multidisciplinary team.
  • Have fun and take it all in – it goes by way too quickly!
  • You will never be a comm serve again so make the most of it!


To all the future comm serves – good luck and enjoy – I am a little bit jealous that mine has come to an end and just know that this is your time to shine and really make all those years of studying so worth it!  When I started out my studies to become a dietitian I had no idea of the in depth hospital work that it entailed and after completing my studies and especially this comm serve year, I can’t picture myself doing anything else other than being a hospital dietitian!


Emma Slabbert

2019 Community Service Dietitian