Dietitians…Who are we and what do we do?
I was delighted to be asked to contribute to Nutritank as I believe that it is incredibly important that medical students (our future doctors) have a good understanding of nutrition, as most of the time doctors end up being the first line advisors in nutrition related concerns. Nutrition plays a huge role in the prevention and the treatment of many of our chronic illness. It has the potential to reduce morbidity and mortality and help to reduce health care costs. Moreover in recent years the role of food choices has also been linked to the climate emergency. There is an ever-increasing need to provide accurate information that can support the health of an individual and the environment.
In the UK, if you work or have worked in an NHS setting, you are more than likely to have come across Dietitians, one way or another. It might be just hearing that we exist or you’ve possibly been part of the multidisciplinary team, working directly with us. What it is that we do, however, seems to bring up a lot of questions and there are a lot of misconceptions!
In the office where I sit with my other Dietitian colleagues, we have this poster on our wall to give us a chuckle during hectic days…
Whenever we have a new member on the team who spots this, there is always an exclamation of how accurate this feels to us! Luckily, we agree with the illustration of ‘What I think I do’ as well. This is the rewarding part of the work; consulting patients face to face. In reality, a Dietitian’s job is incredibly varied and we have a lot to choose from; we are lucky to have a profession where we can do all of the above. However when I tell my patients off, I tend not to point my finger!! Jokes aside though, the British Dietetic Association (BDA) explains really well what we do: “Dietitians interpret the science of nutrition to improve health and treat diseases/conditions by educating and giving practical, personalised advice to clients, patients, carers and colleagues”. On their website, underneath this statement, it gives links to 18 different specialties including renal nutrition, critical care, diabetes, cystic fibrosis, public health, oncology, sports nutrition etc. that we work in. So basically pretty much any medical specialty you can think of, we are there. You may be thinking, ‘How could a Dietitian possibly be involved with most of the specialties?’ Well it is simple, nutrition is part of every stage of life and part of every stage of illness. In the absence of adequate nutrition, we are there (think of enteral feeding or parenteral nutrition) or when diets need to be modified (think of cystic fibrosis, inborn errors of metabolism, allergies, gastrointestinal illness) or where excessive nutrition causes problems (think of type 2 diabetes and obesity)..and anything between or a combination of all.
This is what makes the work interesting and challenging and I think that I represent a vast number of Dietitians when I say that I really enjoy my work. This profession has given me a lot personally; it has given me the opportunity to work overseas in the public health sector, learn a great deal of different specialties, research and meet lots of interesting colleagues and patients along the way.