Meet the Dietitian: Community Service Series

My Unexpected Journey

Written by JéJéan du Plessis

As a little girl walking around the grocery store, it was the norm for me to turn around the pretty pictures of products and focus on the more ‘boring’ nutritional information.

   This was to ensure that I stay clear from any allergens that could lead to an eventful trip to the hospital. Being surrounded by all of the knowledge of food as a child (and now adult) with severe allergies, it was quite inevitable for me to find a passion for nutrition, thus leading me to study dietetics at the NWU Potchefstroom Campus.

   Like most of us, while studying for my degree at Potchefstroom, I quickly developed a love for therapeutic nutrition. Any form of Hospital assignments or practicals were written in my diary with the most beautiful washi tapes and highlighters, and during my last year, I was completely fascinated by all hepatic- and liver-related diseases.

   This led me to be deeply disappointed, as I was not placed at either of my five options for my Community Service Year. I was placed in the District Office in Ekurhuleni, which is Clinic-based work. Yet, and to my surprise, I am enjoying it tremendously! I mostly see outpatients throughout my day; do in-service training with the clinic staff members; are responsible for health campaigns; visit surrounding ECD centres; Old Age Homes; and Mental Health Institutions.

   In the past few months, my love for Community Nutrition grew overwhelmingly, and I was never aware of just how rewarding this spectrum of dietetics can be! You walk a close path with each of your patients, struggle with them to find a suitable diet, and try different approaches to see which will fit their lifestyle best. Through this process, you really get to know the person sitting on the other side of the table, which truly spoke to me, as you can really feel the difference you make in most lives.

   A new field of interest for me is definitely Diabetes and the nutritional management thereof, since I quickly realised that these people’s way of living is changing drastically within a few weeks from diagnoses, and giving them the best possible support will make the worlds difference to them, but that can also be said about any patient seen in the clinic setting.

The moral of my story is the following:

  • The biggest curveballs in life can be full of opportunities and self-exploration experiences that will ensure huge growth within you as an individual, and newly graduated dietitian.
  • Always remember that you are making a difference, no matter if you are calculating a TPN feed in an ICU setting, or if you are working at the local clinic with patients who really need your expert advice to live the best possible quality of life.