Clinics, Catering, and Community Settings: Placement Experiences in First Year Dietetics

September 2020 was just around the corner. I was feeling excited but also nervous to begin the journey as a student in the very first cohort of the MDiet course at Newcastle University. Little did I know that COVID-19 was going to change university life as we know it.

The new norm included logging in to different Zoom classes, communicating with classmates via e-mail or texts, and learning how to measure portion sizes from an online live lab. It was all new at first, but our lecturers were always ready to respond to any request we had. What I love the most is that our cohort is quite diverse with different people, ideas and backgrounds coming together to learn, discuss and debate on Nutrition and Dietetics matters. MDiet is a safe place for us to communicate our thoughts and goals.

Fast forward to March 2021

My ‘Relocate to Newcastle’ plan was activated. Words cannot describe how happy and grateful I was to finally meet all my peers and academic staff in person. Not to mention the excitement felt when placement dates and allocations were released. We were going to spend our placement in a range of settings: with a dietitian in a clinical setting, in a hospital’s catering department, a community care setting, and at a food bank, as well as 2 days on campus learning about communication.

Putting my “Student Dietitan” uniform on, moments before my very first hour of placement began.

The first day

The first day of placement had arrived! I’d barely slept through the night but was feeling enthusiastic as I packed my bag; “Student Dietitian” embroidered uniform, student ID, water and face covering – all check.

My classmate and I arrived 20 minutes early, changed into our uniforms and found the cafeteria where the dietitian would meet us. At 9:00am the dietitian approached our table, and we were heartily welcomed as she introduced herself and her role at the hospital. We all went up to the wards, where she explained to us her daily routine, showed us different types of tube feeding and when these are used.

At 10:30am, the ICU rounds began. We were able to observe and take notes on the daily communication processes. Medical practitioner and students, physiotherapist, senior nurse and students, acute dietitian, speech and language therapist and other healthcare professionals were all present and actively evaluating the patient’s condition.

Once finished, the dietitian explained the reasons behind the decisions made and gave us time to ask questions. A day in the life of an acute dietitian was a truly fascinating experience.

On our way to find the hospital’s cafeteria.

Hospital catering – efficient AND tasty

The next day it was our catering department placement. Same routine as before; we arrived early, got dressed and the head of the catering department met us at 9:00am. He gave us a tour of the facilities and then handed us over to the woman in charge of the wards. She showed us the different menus available and guided us through the entire process.

We were quite impressed with how well organised the catering department was. For example, the food in the freezer was arranged by popularity, with the most requested dishes near the front and the more unpopular ones towards the back. Once the orders from the wards came in, the process of collecting, distributing the food, cooking it at the ward kitchen and serving it began.

We were amazed at how smooth the process was and how efficiently the staff communicated. With the time left, we were able to ask questions and even got to interview some elderly patients about their satisfaction with the food. Another amazing and educational experience.

Left: Learning about the different IDDSI (International Dysphagia Diet Standardisation Initiative) levels of food available at the hospital. Right: IDDSI level 4; beef in gravy. It might look different but it was really tasty! 10 out of 10.

The food bank – a humbling experience

Our last off-campus experience before the Easter break was at a food bank. I was not sure what to expect as I was assigned to spend half a day at the warehouse.

My classmates and I were warmly welcomed to the facility and got a tour around the warehouse. The volunteers, as well as the working personnel, seemed to be doing a great job. The warehouse was well organised, and I was happy to see so many donations coming in.

I thoroughly enjoyed spending my day there and contributing to the community. It was definitely a life learning experience that I will never forget. Often, I hear people talk about food poverty and health inequality, but it makes such a difference when you actually get hands on experience of the only food options people in the community can afford.

Putting yourself in someone else’s shoes before offering any advice was the lesson I learned that day.

Done for the day! Everything is categorised and ready to be packed and distributed to the community.

The importance of communication

During the last week before Easter, we had a communication simulation on campus. It was such a great and informative experience. I especially loved the part where we got split into pairs and had volunteers from roleplaynorth come in. The goal was to make conversation with the volunteers and have them open up without asking more than 10 questions.

As the theme was holidays, I thought that such an easy topic would not require 10 questions – and as you may well have guessed, I was wrong!

After the session I thought about how the 10-question practice task could be applied in a clinical setting. Whilst a dietitian needs to gather a lot of information, a patient may not wish to be asked a flurry of questions, so ‘minimal encouragers’ and appropriate body language are powerful tools to boost dialogue. Another day of placement well spent!

The journey has only just begun

As the Easter break came to an end, I was happy to go back and see all my classmates, as well as have another 2 days of placement. One day was in a care setting linked with St Anthony’s of Padua Community Association, and the other focussed on social media for nutrition and dietetics with Maeve Hanan of Dietetically Speaking.

It is truly fascinating to see so many different settings a dietitian can have an impact in. I can’t wait to see what the future holds, but I am confident we are off to a great start!

Until next time,

Katerina

My role as an EDI rep

By Alex Washington, MSci Biomedical Genetics

For a little while now I’ve been looking for ways to help the LGBT+ and disabled communities but was never sure where to go or what I could do. I do still want to find other ways to help, but I found my starting point as an EDI (Equality, Disability, and Inclusivity) representative in the School of Biomedical, Nutritional and Sport Sciences.

How I got the role

I originally applied to be the LGBT+ rep, thinking “well I’m really queer so that’ll work,” but Dr Parry, head of the EDI committee at the time, thought I’d be better suited for the marginalised genders role, seeing as I’m very vocal about being trans. I didn’t have much of a choice when I was 19 going on 12 but I’m still open about it now, when I easily pass as a cis man (not looking quite 20 yet but getting there).

I am also the rep for disabilities, which wasn’t a part of the plan, but I’m very happy how it turned out. I have ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder), and I know that it’s a serious disability, but a lot of times people brush it off and treat it as “not a real mental disability.” Because of this, a lot of the time I’m scared to speak up about it, in fear I won’t be taken seriously.

Me on my 19th vs me on my 20th (I had a cake, birthday bread was more iconic), thanks Puberty 2.0

At our first EDI meeting, it was mentioned our disabilities rep was a final year student, and so we’d have to find a replacement for when she finished university over summer. At that point I volunteered to be a co-rep with her until she left and take over the role afterwards if we didn’t have any other volunteers, and I’m really glad I did so. My fears of not having my ADHD taken seriously are very real, but they never reflected reality while working with the EDI team.

What I did with the role – it’s more than a way to get a free hoodie

Having worked side by side with the Faculty of Medical Sciences since February, I’m happy to say I’m proud of what I’ve achieved so far in my time as a rep, as I managed to make positive changes both to school- and university-wide policy, and to specific students dealing with LGBT+ and disability issues. From simple things like ensuring the lecture slides are more accessible to students, to more serious matters like how DSA (Disabled Students’ Allowance) is addressed in placement talks. After an extremely homophobic survey got sent out to students, we even got the university to change how student surveys are approved to be sent out.

Talk to us

From my experiences I can say that the School of Biomedical, Nutritional and Sport Sciences and Faculty of Medical Sciences are happy to support their students, but a lot of times issues can go unnoticed. Being a representative, I can highlight to the staff, at a professional capacity, any issues students bring up to me, and then address them. Once a solution is presented, I haven’t once seen excuses be made to avoid fixing the problem, no matter how big or small it was.

For this reason, I would urge any student that is having an issue adjusting to life at university to speak to either me or one of the other EDI reps – whoever is most suitable – so we can support you and help make the university experience more accessible.

EDI rep contact information can be found on the Biomedical and Biomolecular Sciences Stage 1-4 Community modules on Canvas.

Dietetics at Newcastle: Our first semester

By Millie Elcock and Cerys Francis-Garside.

Hi everyone!  We are first year students on Newcastle’s brand new 4 year Masters of Dietetics programme. Hopefully, this blog post will help you understand what dietetics is all about, the application process and reasons to get excited about dietetics.

What a year to start university, with all our lectures and seminars online! We are yet to go on campus or meet our course mates in person but hopefully that will change soon. Learning virtually can be challenging and frustrating but as it is all we know, we are discovering there are actually many advantages to studying online and certain aspects that we would like to continue such as the recorded lectures that allow us to go at our own pace.

We end most our lectures in need of a snack… following the Eatwell Guide of course!

Before we talk more about what we’re doing now, perhaps we should take you back to the beginning and explain why we chose to study dietetics.

Firstly, one of the main reasons for choosing dietetics was a love for food and cooking, and trying new foods and experimenting with them. This love for food then developed into an interest around the effect of food on health; how food can be used to maximise health by focusing on the food’s macro- and micro-nutrient content. The combination of food and its relation to health is what a dietetics degree is all about, and translating the science into advice is a key role of a Dietitian.

Furthermore, there is an overwhelming amount of ‘nutrition advice’ on social media and online, which can easily be misleading, so having the knowledge and qualifications to be able to know fact from fiction is a huge advantage. Dietitians must cut through all of the misinformation on the internet, and work only with the facts. Even an interest in nutrition will lead family and friends to your door, asking about their diets!

This passion for food and health led us to apply for the course. The application process appeared daunting but, if you take it step by step, it’s not as bad as you may first think! Gaining work experience in dietetics was difficult as opportunities to get into hospitals were limited. We both had different experiences with this:

Millie – First year Dietetics student with an interest in diabetes, obesity and paediatrics.

I, Millie, managed to arrange an afternoon shadowing a dietitian in a hospital which was really insightful and allowed me to see how they deliver their care and how they convey information, that could be quite confusing, to patients in an easy and efficient manner. I also attended a dietetic awareness day which highlighted the different areas a Dietitian can specialise in.

Cerys – First year Dietetics student excited to explore the many paths a degree in Dietetics can open up!

Dietitians are always interested in getting more people into the profession, so for me, Cerys, having a conversation with a Dietitian really consolidated for me that this was what I wanted to do. Any experience you can gain in a health or social setting will be useful in applying, or considering whether you enjoy this kind of work.

The interview process was a good chance to meet fellow candidates and gave us one of our first opportunities to meet like-minded individuals, which was actually really enjoyable. The staff members interviewing were all very friendly and welcoming, which will help to make you feel more relaxed. The lecturers are just trying to see if you are the right fit for the course and the university. Don’t forget, you should also be seeing if you think it is the right fit for you.

Looking back now, it seems like a long time ago all of the panic in applying but it was definitely all worth it as the degree programme has been very engaging and sparked our interest in dietetics even more. We are currently in week 8 of teaching and we are doing 4 modules simultaneously which gives us variation in what we are learning from the Human Organ Systems to DNA to Macro- and Micro-nutrients. The first weeks of teaching have developed our interest and also reinforced the fact that a keen interest in science is just as important as an interest in food!

A degree in dietetics could take you down so many career paths; research, acute care, or in the community. Each of those areas are diverse and varied in their own ways too. Dietetics is an exciting field to enter, with so much to learn and our knowledge being able to help so many. After all, everyone eats!

My placement year at Leica Biosystems

By Alexandra Lazarova

A placement with a Cancer Diagnostics company – yes please!

I’m studying BSc Biomedical Genetics with Professional Placement Year and knew I wanted to do a placement year since my first year of university, when I attended a placement talk given by several companies. A year and a half later, after applying to several companies, I found myself in an interview for a placement year at Leica Biosystems in Newcastle…and ended up getting the position!

Leica Biosystems: Advancing Cancer Diagnostics

Continue reading “My placement year at Leica Biosystems”

My Final Year Project

By Liza Petrova, BSc (Hons) Biomedical Sciences

Hi everyone! In January I began working on my final year project. In this blog post we will peek into a real neuroscience laboratory, check out the quirky equipment inside and I will share some details about experiments I do every day.

A bit of background

My project is about alpha-synucleinopathies, which are conditions where a protein called alpha synuclein (ASYN) is mutated and forms toxic “clumps” in the brain. Examples of alpha-synucleinopathies are Parkinson’s disease and dementia with Lewy bodies.

Image of hand shaking whilst holding a glass.
Parkinson’s disease. Photo by Alessandro Grandini on Adobe Stock
Continue reading “My Final Year Project”

My Summer Travels with Cryptosporidium

By Rosie Gathercole

Working with poo turned out to be exactly the summer experience I wanted!

I worked at the national Cryptosporidium Reference Unit (CRU) at Public Health Wales in Swansea with Professor Rachel Chalmers and her team. I received a Scholarship from the Society for Applied Microbiology (SfAM) for this placement, writing the application together with Rachel.

Rosie with a computer screen behind her showing the live spectra produced by the mass spec machine
Me working on my summer placement

Cryptosporidium is a parasite that causes diarrhoea, is found globally and is typically passed from animals, other people, food and fresh water sources. It is currently a human health issue due to the significant effect it has in developing countries and the lack of specific treatments to fight the parasite. Quite often how well you recover from the illness depends on how healthy you were to begin with!

Continue reading “My Summer Travels with Cryptosporidium”

NuMED to Newcastle – Back to the UK… After 7 years!

“Things don’t change. We change.”

By Sabrina Amran, Third Year Biomedical Sciences student

Flatmates and I (in middle) visiting (and posing!) the med school for the first time!

The UK was a lot different in my childhood memories compared to how I see it as of now. 

Sure, ‘Wilkinsons’ became ‘Wilko’, and everything was a couple pounds cheaper 7 years ago. The weather now seemed sunnier and hotter as well…but I’m not sure how long this will last.

Continue reading “NuMED to Newcastle – Back to the UK… After 7 years!”

A summer placement at Oxford University – yes please!

By Fahiza Begum – Physiological Sciences

It’s that time of year when uni is out and you’re not quite sure what to do with your 3 months of freedom. Does the phrase ‘unpaid internship’ fill you with dread? Well, let me introduce you to UNIQ+…

Continue reading “A summer placement at Oxford University – yes please!”

Why Study Abroad?

By Dr Carys Watts

Going abroad may be a week’s holiday, or to some it’s going global or for longer, but have you ever thought about studying abroad as part of your Newcastle University degree? You could study abroad for a few weeks or up to an entire year, and it could change your perspective forever.

‘I can honestly say it was the best time of my life’– Eleanor (semester at Monash University, Melbourne)

Did you know you can study language modules for free at Newcastle?

I’m not sure it is for me

So you may think of reasons why not to do it, but there are loads of great reasons to give it a try: Continue reading “Why Study Abroad?”

My top tips for starting university when living with disability or long-term medical condition

By Caroline McKenzie

Moving to uni can be lots of change for anybody. When you’re also living with a disability or a medical condition, getting through each day, let alone being able to study can be a challenge.

I’ve just finished my first year studying biochemistry and living and learning with physical disability has often been hard! I thought I’d share a few things that have helped, and so here are my practical top tips for starting university for those living with disability/long term medical condition.

Me on my scooter outside the med school

Get a Support Plan

A Student Support Plan (SSP) looks at all aspects of learning and possible adaptations that you may need, you get these from Student Wellbeing. Meet up with your disability advisor as soon as possible, the sooner you get this in place the sooner adaptions can be made. They will be aware of things you can utilise that perhaps you didn’t realise- for me that included creating a Personal Evacuation Plan (PEP) for when there were fire alarms! Continue reading “My top tips for starting university when living with disability or long-term medical condition”