Meet the dietitian: Blog series

By Darinka Theron:

I was born in Port Elizabeth (also known as the friendly city). I have lived in Port Elizabeth, Cape Town, Cradock, Beaufort West and Knysna. The last 9 years I have worked in the government sector at 7 hospitals and 39 health clinics in two of South Africa’s most beautiful provinces. I love meeting people from different cultures and learning new things in life. I have gained experience in various areas of being a dietitian, from enteral home feeding, vegetable gardens, therapeutic nutrition, food service management and private practice consultations.
During my high school years, I loved learning about biology and the body’s functions. I still remember my first biology terms like osmosis, amoeba, chloroplast, extracellular matrix etc. I became a dietitian because I have always loved the feeling I get when I walk into any hospital environment and I knew I wanted to help people and make a difference in the community and world! If I didn’t study dietetics, I would have studied any degree working in the hospital environment. Through my younger years I have wanted to be a dentist, occupational therapist, dermatologist, pharmacist etc… and the list continues.
I’m a Matie at heart. I studied at Stellenbosch University for 4 years while I stayed in Huis Francie and Meerhoff residences. My favourite modules included anatomy, physiology and therapeutic nutrition. I am currently busy with my master’s degree in Therapeutic Nutrition. I find ICU nutrition, perioperative nutrition and gastrointestinal nutrition fascinating.
At the moment I work at Knysna Provincial Hospital as part of the Eden District in the Garden Route. I work in the hospital wards as well as at the surrounding clinics.
My main responsibilities include: nutrition support treatment and counselling, growth monitoring, nutrition therapeutic programme management, MBFI management, malnutrition control, nutrition education, promotion and advocacy, and food service management.

A day in my work life consists of:
A big cup of coffee in the morning (without sugar!) > ward: nutritional screening or some mornings a meeting > clinic visits: 10-30 patients a day  administration (emails, etc.) > patient nutrition counselling and education/In-service training as needed.

I enjoy seeing patients’ results, growth, change in behaviour and knowledge, and helping to make a difference in people’s lives. I am thankful for the patients who give positive feedback or a small gift to show their appreciation. I also enjoy organizing Health Days, World Breastfeeding Week and Nutrition Week. My career highlights include helping Murraysburg hospital get the Mother & Baby Health Initiative accreditation, helping Knysna Provincial Hospital food service unit achieve silver status, helping Cradock health clinics with their vegetable gardens and celebrating World Breastfeeding Week yearly… Breast is truly the best!

Generally being a dietitian has many challenges. Challenging aspects of being a government dietitian includes time management, high workload (especially at the clinics), language barriers, less resources, poverty and poor social circumstances and the community’s lack of knowledge on proper nutrition. During my career I have also found that some health care workers are uninformed about what nutrition really can do for a patient’s health and wellbeing.
When I’m not being a dietitian, ‘Event planner’ should have been my second name. I love doing theme parties, including the food and décor. Party themes I have done include Mexican, Asian, kindergarten and Halloween themed parties. I also love dancing; I did Ballet, Modern, Horton and Contemporary Dancing for 13 years. Dancing teaches a person determination, discipline, teamwork and never giving up in life.
Favourite foods, mmm… nothing like avocado and scrambled eggs on rye toast with a cup of filter coffee or rooibos tea, yes please! I also enjoy eating a variety of colourful fruit and vegetables daily. When I have time to dine out, I always choose between steak, sushi, pizza or a creamy pasta dish. I believe in having a balance in my diet and enjoying different foods.

The things that people should stop saying when they meet a dietitian: “Do these pills/shakes work for weight-loss?” or “Do you only eat salad and fruit?” & “Please don’t look at what I’m eating right now.”
I’m sure other dietitians know what I’m talking about.

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