A Dietitian Down Under

A Dietitian Down Under

By Lauren McLean

imagesI remember the moment well. I’d finally realised the career I wanted. I was 27 and when I ‘grew up’ I was going to be a dietitian.

I have loved food for as long as I can remember. I love to cook and bake. I love to try different foods, buy cookbooks and explore recipes. I love visiting new restaurants, food markets and organic stores. When I was a little girl my nan taught me to cook and various family members taught me about dieting: their trial and error style of weight loss and the emotional ups and downs of a kilo on or a kilo off.  My dad and my sister taught me the food challenges they faced daily because of various autoimmune diseases, allergies and intolerances.

My passion for food had always been there but my interest in health, well-being and food as medicine really started to shine when I hit my early 20s and I realised the importance of eating nutrient dense, healthy, fresh and colourful food. I realised the connection between feeling good and eating well. It wasn’t a diet people needed it was a way of life.

I had no idea that I could make a career out of health and food so I continued working in the legal world which helped to supplement my travel addiction.

UnknownFast forward to my late 20s and I came across an article written by a dietitian. Much research later I found out that a dietitian helps individuals, with or without a medical condition, to improve their health through the food they consume. Well that was it then. I was going to be a dietitian. I had finally found the career I wanted to pursue. A little late in life, but I got there. I did as much research as I could. I discovered that dietitians study for a minimum of 4 years and are qualified to work in clinical settings whereas a nutritionist studies for 3 years and does not work in a clinical role. As a dietitian I would be able to fulfil my desire to help people. I would be able to combine my love of food and health and I would be able to work in a wide range of settings including the food industry, hospitals, private practice, public health departments and fitness or sporting centres.  I enjoy change. I enjoy continuously learning and expanding my knowledge. This seemed liked the profession for me.

So, where to study? I researched degrees in England (my home) and Australia (the country I had frequented numerous times in my 20s). I chose Australia. Why? Because I wanted an adventure. Simple as that.

So, in February 2011 I joined the University of the Sunshine Coast as a Tertiary Preparation Pathway (TPP) student. Before I could start my Bachelor of Nutrition and Dietetics I was required to do TPP studies because I didn’t have an OP. In Australia, students finish high school at 17 with an OP. This is a number that can determine whether or not you will be accepted onto your chosen degree at University. 1 being the highest. The Nutrition and Dietetics degree that I wanted to study required an OP of 8. Which tells you a little bit about the course. It would be difficult!!

For TPP, I studied Chemistry, Biology, Statistics and Academic Skills. I worked hard. I was passionate and I wanted so badly to get on to the degree and start on the road to becoming a dietitian. Grades at the University of the Sunshine Coast are High Distinction (HD), Distinction (D), Credit (C), Pass (P) or Fail (F). I am very, very happy to say that I got HD’s in all my TPP subjects. I had worked hard and devoted all my time to studying and doing well so I deserved these grades. As a result of my excellent grades, I was accepted onto the Bachelor of Nutrition and Dietetics. Yippee!

imagesI have completed 2 years of the 4 year degree. February 2014 saw me enter my 3rd year. During the first year of the degree, I studied introductory science subjects (cell biology and chemistry), more statistics, communication, physiology, anatomy and introduction to psychology.  During the second year, I studied advanced physiology and biochemistry modules, public health nutrition, nutrition assessment and basic principles of food and nutrition.

Content is assessed in a variety of ways. I have completed lots (and lots!) of group assignments (oral presentations, reports, research). I have also prepared, researched and written many scientific reports, carried out lab experiments, completed practical and written examinations, reviewed literature, critiqued articles and executed countless online quizzes.

I’ve started to think about the future. Once I finish my degree I can register with the Dietitian’s Association of Australia and will be called an Accredited Practising Dietitian.  I would love to pursue further education in Sports Nutrition or International Public Health Nutrition but in the mean time I am happy knowing I am halfway to finishing my dietetics studies and I’m currently enjoying learning all about the wonderful world of disease through epidemiology and pathophysiology this semester.

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