Meet the Dietitian: Community Service Series

By Danisa le Roux

My community service story looks a little different to most newly graduated community service dietitians. As my graduation drew near, the fear around the reality of my future started to become overwhelming. I started to have countless doubts about the path that I decided to take. Not because I didn’t love what I studied, but because reality hit me that this is what I will be doing for the rest of my working life, and uncertainty started to creep in. The fear of being placed away from my family and friends also gripped me. I graduated in the year 2019 and ended up being placed at a clinic that ended up being, as I feared, far away from my family and friends. Far away from everything I knew. 

Out of fear, I decided to decline the position and take a year to regroup and find out if this is really what I wanted to do with my life. Sometimes it’s important to be 100% sure. Long story short, I ended up being excited to apply for my community service year (round 2) for 2021, and no matter where I was to be placed, I knew this time I was certain, even if the distance was scary. I ended up being placed at Red Cross War Memorial Children’s Hospital, which is a dream come true, seeing that my passion is paediatrics.

I decided to become a dietitian because I knew that this is where my passion lies. I have a heart for maternal and child nutrition and working with children has always been a dream of mine (second to having my own children one day). I also have a passion for food and health, as well as for people in general. Dietetics covers all these passions and was therefore the ideal career path for me.

I studied at Stellenbosch University, and am so grateful for the incredible friends, and now colleagues, that I made during my 4 years of studying.

At Red Cross Hospital my main focus is optimizing nutrition within the first 1000 days of life. I work in the short stay ward, gastro ward as well as trauma ward. I, therefore, see many patients who present with malnutrition in all its forms (Failure to thrive, underweight babies, SAM/MAM, micronutrient deficiencies, etc.) I have also (nearly) mastered the effective management of acute and chronic gastroenteritis through the guidance of my incredible colleagues. On occasion, I will also cover the longer stay wards where I will see various patients who need feeding prescriptions and nutritional support either orally or via tube feeding. I also run our obesity, general, infectious disease and Cerebral Palsy clinics. And my favourite part of it all is providing breastfeeding support and education to mothers who need it. 

My main challenge when stepping into my community service year was the extra hours I needed to put in to refresh my theory after being out of practice and studies for just over a year. The knowledge came back quickly, however, and with practice and guidance from my colleagues, my confidence in patient care and management improved tremendously. 

If I could encourage any future community service dietitians/fellow community dietitians with anything it would be the following:

  • Follow your passion no matter how scary it might be.
  • Put in the extra study/research time. Continued learning is good and helps a lot.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Everyone was once where you are.
  • If you make mistakes, it’s not the end of the world. You will grow and learn from them. I had to, and still constantly have to remind myself of this.