I can do that – and so can you!

Dietitians week this year has given me the impetus to reflect on how diverse and interesting my career has been.

I hope by sharing my experience it will help others to seek out different opportunities, see how transferable their skills as a dietitian and realise that no matter what direction you go in you can still connect with a supportive and innovative profession. 

I currently work as a part-time General Manager for Waiting Times, a vaccinator on our local bank and I Chair the Allied Health Professions Federation Scotland (AHPFS).  Variety is the spice of life but I did wonder to myself, how on earth did I end up here?

I have never had a ‘plan’ for my career which might come as a surprise to many of my friends and colleagues as I always like to have a plan!

When I reflected on the path that took me from a basic grade dietitian at Law Hospital in Carluke in 1984 through to Paediatric Dietitian, research work, clinical governance and risk management, a non executive Board Member and general management to where I am now, one phrase that came to mind was – ‘I could do that’ why can’t a dietitian do that?

I remember this distinctly when I saw an advert for a research nurse post in a team I worked with. Body composition and blood pressure measurement and questionnaires – why not a dietitian?- I could do that. This was the beginning of the research work that eventually led to me to achieving my MSc and reinforced my love of gathering information and interpretation of data.  

I also realised that the skills I learned as a dietitian equipped me well for leadership and management roles. Listening to clients, to find out what mattered to them and working with them to determine how best to support and equip them with the knowledge to achieve their goals was invaluable when working with diverse teams of professionals and managers. Behavioural management techniques work in all settings.

And then there was all that time spent on calculations for feeds, plotting growth charts and collecting data to demonstrate the need for additional dietetic staff which reminded me of my love of numbers, spreadsheets and using data for improvement. When the health Board I worked in advertised a brand new role for a Cancer Audit Manager once again I thought – I could do that.

Thus began my journey into the world of Clinical Governance and Risk Management which truly indulged my passion for data and improvement and also opened up opportunities to work at a national level. Throughout this time I kept my links with the Dietetic Profession through my work with the BDA and many early morning flights to Birmingham.  

When I moved into General Management in 2013, I had let my HCPC registration lapse as I struggled with the concept of evidencing fitness to practice in these roles. However, as I moved into a role which included the management of Allied Health Professional teams I felt the urge and indeed the need to re- register and to reconnect with my clinical professional roots. Once again I thought why not?- I could do that.

After a year and 60 days of updating I was as proud as I had been 33 years previously to be able to use that Registered Dietitian title once again.  I am forever grateful to the many colleagues and friends who guided and supported me to explore fields of dietetics previously unvisited and to let me prove to myself that yes I could indeed put together a portfolio and demonstrate my fitness to practice.

It was through this that I came back to working with the BDA again. This time it was as a member of the Scotland Board where I was pleased to be able to use my knowledge and experience in policy and strategy to represent the BDA on AHPFS.

As we entered early 2020 I thought my biggest challenge was going to be taking on the Chair of AHPFS and helping to guide the implementation of the new Health and Care (Staffing) Scotland Act- making it work for AHPs and multidisciplinary teams and for the benefit of the population.

However, by early March it was obvious that there was a much greater challenge emerging. I watched in awe and admiration as colleagues responded in ways we would never have imagined. Dietitians demonstrated their flexibility and made use of all of their transferable skills to work differently to provide support across our communities where it was needed most.

So when there was a request for registered healthcare professionals to assist with delivering the mass vaccination programme and an ask for AHPs to help- yes once again I thought – I could do that!

After a crash on-line course in immunizsation and a period of supervised practice I was duly authorised to vaccinate.

On my first solo shift one of the best comments I received from a recipient was ‘Thank you very much, that was very good… for a Dietitian!

I decided to take that as a compliment and a demonstration yet again of the diversity of our role.

As I finished another of my shifts today, one of our recipients shared how emotional she felt about receiving the vaccine and what a momentous occasion it was for her.  I felt very privileged to be part of that. Reconnecting with people in our communities and helping make a difference has taken me full circle back to my original purpose for becoming a dietitian and joining the profession. 

And as I reflected on that it reminded me of a concept that I came across a few years ago when I was working through some difficult issues and which really resonated with me. It is the Japanese concept of ikigai’- a reason for being and having a direction and purpose in life.

I might not have had a plan but I like to think that I had a purpose which guided me in my career.

I would encourage everyone to be open to opportunities which present themselves and just think –  I could do that  -don’t be afraid to try. You never know where that might take you and what experiences you might have on the way.

PS. I should say that there were a number of things that I thought I could do and others clearly thought I couldn’t  or that I realised after a while might not have been my best idea but I learnt just as much from these experiences and I survived!

For more information on:

Writer Info:

Andrea Wilson, General Manager – Waiting Times and Vaccinator, NHS Fife; Allied Health Professions Scotland Chairperson and Registered Dietitian.

Follow Andrea on Twitter @clarkireland

You can also follow AHPFS @AHPFScot

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