Meet the Dietitian: Community Service Series

By Elske Rich

When it came to choosing a career path I knew one thing: I want to help people. This combined with my passion for Biology at school led me to find dietetics. At the University of the Free State, I met the most amazing group of ladies and lecturers who made me fall in love with all aspects of Dietetics. Now I adore this profession and its neverending possibilities.

I completed my Community Service year at the fairly new and very small Albert Nzula District Hospital in Trompsburg, about 120km from Bloemfontein. Situated next to the N1 right in the heart of the Free State this hospital was sometimes the only option for a higher level of medical care for up to seventeen small surrounding towns. This means that I spent half of my time driving to surrounding clinics and the other half in the hospital treating in- and out-patients or managing the food service unit along with the other Dietitians.

This hospital was my first choice as I worked in Trombsburg as a student. I knew the area and the type of patient that was to be expected but I never expected to gain so much happiness. Albert Nzula only opened its doors for the first time about four years ago. This meant that the Dietetics department had so much room for growth which excited me a lot. I spent my spare time developing educational material and organising wellness events as far as COVID-19 allowed in order to promote the profession.

Challenges included limited staff during the pandemic but this allowed me to feed patients and help them with sip feeds when there were not enough hands available. There was also no parenteral nutrition or a theatre but luckily Bloemfontein was not too far away. It became a part of the job to get creative with feeds in the hospital setting and spend long hours on the road driving to clinics that were far away. During the pandemic, it also became our job to supervise the food service aspect of the quarantine and isolation sites in the district. So not one day was the same.

If you know me, you know I love public speaking. As a result, all the health talks at the clinics were memorable to me. Especially when I got the patients to interact and start holding each other accountable as a community for their individual health goals. In addition, what I adored most was just really talking to people and seeing the impact of very small but significant changes in their life. I also really enjoyed visiting the clinics and having an excuse to hold and weigh all the babies!

I encourage you to make the best of every situation by looking at what service you offer from a patient’s point of view. If your approach is one filled with compassion and determination you can help every single person around you. I always say: “Everyone eats so there must be something I can help with.”