Meet the Dietitian: Community Service Series

By Ilse Gravett

At the end of every stage in our lives, we find ourselves in a tricky position where we need to decide what our next step is. For a 17/18-year-old, it is quite daunting, well it was for me. I had so many different ideas of where I wanted to be and what I wanted to become. Eventually, I applied to study medicine at the University of Pretoria, and dietetics at the North West University. I got accepted for both medicine and dietetics, but I chose dietetics. Deep inside me, I knew that I wanted to do more and be more. Please don’t get me wrong; all doctors are real superheroes and I have a huge amount of respect for each one of them! There were times that I even wanted to be one of them. But it was not until my final year that I realised the honour and privilege of being a dietitian. Being a dietitian, you get to really make a difference in a person’s every-day life. Essentially, everyone needs to eat, and you get to be the expert. You get to work with the sick and the healthy, the individual and the community. So here I am, already in the last week of my community service year.

I got placed in a hospital I have never heard of in a town I didn’t even know existed. St Patrick’s Hospital, Bizana, Eastern Cape. What a blessing! Looking back, I know that I have learned so much – some might even help you on your journey:

  1. Share your knowledge. We forget that information that seems like common sense to us, might prevent severe acute malnutrition in a toddler or help the sweet old lady gain control of her blood pressure.  
  2. Be extra… Okay, not annoyingly extra, but be extra kind and go the extra mile. You have no idea what battle your patient or even colleagues are fighting, so never underestimate the power of that.
  3. Don’t settle for the “lack of resources” excuse. Rural hospitals are challenging on a whole different level. In most cases, you don’t have all the fancy feeds or even a feeding pump. This means you really need to think outside the box and get creative. You are the expert; you can do it!
  4. Focus less on yourself. With this I don’t mean let yourself burn out – please take your break when necessary. But you are doing this year to serve the community. So, don’t always think about how much you can get out of a situation but how much you can give. Once you do that, you will feel how you automatically grow.
  5. Look on the bright side. One of the biggest challenges I had to face this year, was to accept the fact that I will only see “basic” cases. And wow, how my perception of “basic” cases changed. Every case has so much detail to it and a lot that you can master.
  6. Give it time. This is probably the most cliché of them all, but really – give it time. It doesn’t all happen overnight, and that’s okay. Be open to growth and to learn from those who have been there longer. They have a different kind of knowledge that books don’t have.
  7. Enjoy! Make friends with anyone, have inside jokes with the cleaners, get to know all the different cultures, and make every day an adventure.

In the end, it’s all up to you and the choices you make each day. I hope you choose to make it the best 365 days of your life!

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