Would you like to become a dietitian? - Level Up Nutrition
Brighton based Registered Dietitian Nutritionist.
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Would you like to become a dietitian?

Would you like to become a dietitian?

It’s getting to that time of year – new students are settling into the rhythm of pub golf, hideous luminous shots (I swear I can still smell them), stolen cheese arguments and general student life up and down the country. 

I was back home in Liverpool last week and seeing the hordes of fresh faces slowly discovering the city got me back to thinking about my own route to becoming a dietitian – it wasn’t traditional by any means, but I don’t think many are! 

Are you thinking of becoming a dietitian? Maybe you’re in college wondering what to do with your science qualifications, already in another job but thinking about switching?

Or starting out yourself at Freshers this year…? Either way, I wanted to show you some of the possibilities that are out there.

What even is a dietitian?

Lots of people don’t know what a dietitian does, let alone how to start training to be one – some people even think that we have just taken an online course. Nope!

For most of us, it’s taken at least 4 years of intensive studying and 7 months of (unpaid) NHS placements to get here – more if you include A levels / access courses and any post-graduate qualifications.

Here’s a pretty concise summary from the BDA

Dietitians are qualified and regulated health professionals that assess, diagnose and treat dietary and nutritional problems at an individual and wider public-health level.

They use the most up-to-date public health and scientific research on food, health and disease which they translate into practical guidance to enable people to make appropriate lifestyle and food choices.

Dietitians work in the NHS and in private clinics. They work with healthy and sick people in a variety of settings. They can work in the food industry, workplace, catering, education, sport and the media. Other care pathways they work in include mental health, learning disabilities, community, acute settings and public health. 

They often work as integral members of multi-disciplinary teams to treat complex clinical conditions such as diabetes, food allergy and intolerance, IBS syndrome, eating disorders, chronic fatigue, malnutrition, kidney failure and bowel disorders. They advise and influence food and health policy across the spectrum from government, to local communities and individuals.”

Difference between Dietitians and Nutritionists

The title of ‘Registered Dietitian’ is protected – like the title of doctor, nurse or physiotherapist is. Following completion of an approved degree, you apply to join the HCPC register (our regulatory body) – also a place where others can check your qualifications.

We adhere to a set of professional guidelines – if we are found to be in breach of them by say, not keeping up our CPD or practicing in an improper manner – we can be struck off.

So without being registered with the HCPC – you’re not able to call yourself a Registered Dietitian here in the UK (other countries have their own regulatory bodies and rules).

In terms of titles – it’s a bit different for nutritionists – the term isn’t protected, and so technically anyone can call themselves a nutritionist. That doesn’t mean that it isn’t a valid title – there are many very qualified nutritionists – who have an undergrad or post-grad qualification. Ideally they’ve been registered with the Association for Nutrition or AfN – a voluntary body for registration of nutritionists where those registered will adhere to similar codes of conduct as registered dietitians.

Nutritionists also tend to work in slightly different settings than dietitians; whereas you can find many dietitians working in the NHS in clinical settings – on the wards and in community settings with people who have medical conditions, nutritionists roles are offered in many other areas; from academia to community and private practice settings, food manufacture and development, research and in sports – though there are more non-clinical roles for nutritionists opening up in the NHS thesedays as well.

Check out this document from the BDA which explains the differences between the two in much more detail.

How to become a dietitian

There’s only a handful places in the UK which offer Nutrition and Dietetic qualifications – and competition is tight to get on them. In general you’d need at least 3 A-level Qualifications including 2 science subjects (or equivalents) and then to complete a Nutrition and Dietetics undergrad or postgrad degree at one of these universities where the courses are approved by the HCPC – or a relevant science degree and postgraduate dietetics qualification. 

The routes in, universities and funding can change regularly – and so I’d recommend having a look here to find out the most up – to – date information on how and where to study. The individual university sites will explain more about entry requirements as well. 

For this post, I wanted to talk about my route to where I am today – as well as the stories of other awesome dietitians with vastly different roles that I’ve encountered in some form along the way.

My story

So, how did I get here? Like many mature students (I went back to college at 25 – didn’t feel very mature!!), I’d started out in lots of different jobs – from bar and restaurant work through to tour catering with bands and finally to being cabin crew for Emirates; living the expat life out in Dubai. It was great, I met some amazing people …but I knew I wanted to do something different. 

Survival training with my batch-mates
We got a whole load of medical and first aid training at Emirates too!

My jobs might not all seem connected but they pretty much all involve food and getting to speak to people from all walks of life. So I guess that’s my common thread! 

I got into self-studying nutrition because I wanted to know what I could do to help my migraines – for anyone that gets migraines, you know that you’d pretty much do anything to stop them. Like, if someone said that you had to stand on your head for 4 hours every day whilst eating 4 bananas – and it worked, you’d do it – no problem at all! 

There was SO much information being thrown my way by well-meaning friends and family members, but the closer I looked at it, the less the advice made sense… so, the research for this article was done in like, 3 mice in India? Not maybe the most relevant. I got hungry for finding out what the real facts were, as best I could. The origin of my thirst for nutribollocks-busting, maybe. 

Photo by Joanna Kosinska on Unsplash

I was lucky enough to be able to pester a family friend who’s a nutrition professor with all of my new ‘discoveries’ and weird myths I’d heard… and eventually he gently nudged me (/ kindly encouraged me to stop pestering him) to the fact that there was an actual job that existed in this field. I had a Google – what was this ‘dietitian’ thing? …and I was hooked. 

Not so keen on the fact that I had 5 more years of studying in front of me, but hey – at least it was learning stuff that I was interested in – unlike the other degrees I’d started for the sake of them!

Photo by Marvin Meyer on Unsplash

Like most people going in to studying nutrition, I thought I knew it all when I got there. Turns out not! There’s no amount of self-studying that can beat this intensive breakdown of biology, physiology, behaviour change techniques, public health training, biochemistry and actual hands-on work AS WELL as critical analysis and studying how it all comes together in nutrition and dietetics. 

A less professional graduation snap

Fast forward to now and I’ve found my way into private practice via clinical, community and Public Health. I run my private practice online, taking a non-diet, evidence-based approach to helping people with conditions like IBS and other conditions to manage their food, symptoms and lifestyle, alongside working with companies, local charities and youth groups to run workshops and cooking sessions.

I’m lucky enough to say that I love my job; I love being able to work with my amazing clients and to continue to spend time studying a subject that I’m passionate about. I’ve met some incredible people along the way, have learned so much from my incredible supervisors, co-workers, patients and a huge network of virtual ‘colleagues’ online.

(Oh, and I now know that my migraines are hormonal – so not much help with nutrition there; it’s not the panacea I was led to believe it was when I first started reading up on it – health and illness is so much bigger than that!)

My top tips for those thinking of or just starting out in the in jobs as an RD? volunteer (or work!), at local hospitals, nursing homes, food banks – anywhere dietetics or food and people could be involved. It’ll give you a great idea of how you’re able to help others in a practical way – plus meet some awesome people and, if you’re in hospitals – give you a great idea of what dietitians actually do day to day..

Photo by jesse orrico on Unsplash

Ask lots of questions – on placement, at work – wherever. Do your research first, but always ask as well – It won’t make you look stupid, it’d be more silly not to ask. 

Finally, for your job interviews post-grad – some practical ones: if you’re able to, ask your supervisors what sorts of questions will be asked, practice with your friends, write down what the questions were at your interviews – ask colleagues about theirs… and practice together! It made it all seem much more manageable for me at the time.

Stories and tips from other dietitians

Massive thanks to the dietitians who’ve shared their stories – for answering my questions and sharing their knowledge! We’ve all been through some of the same stuff; learning the Kreb’s cycle inside out, exactly what each vitamin did and how to calculate all kindsa nutritional requirements for all kindsa illnesses.

Besides that, we’ve come from a range of different backgrounds – and with a vast range of different roles; from renal to research, media and freelance and lots inbetween.

Check them out:

(you can select a dietitian from the list and come back up… or scroll through the lot!)

Beth Askem – Specialist Home Enteral Nutrition (HEN) Dietitian
Aygul Dagbasi – Research dietitian – PhD candidate
Maeve Hanan – Freelance and Private Practice Dietitian
Ian Thomas – Freelance and private practice Dietitian
Evelyn Umukoro – Clinical dietitian – Renal Specialist
Helen West – Freelance and Private Practice Dietitian

Beth Askem RD

I met Beth at uni – she’s incredibly passionate about nutrition and dietetics and endlessly helpful and patient. I also had the total pleasure of doing some group work with her (you don’t say that about many people!!) and she’s done some of my fave nutri-nonsense call-outs recently 🙂 

What inspired you to become a dietitian? 

I was very close with my grandfather, who became unwell and was diagnosed with oesophageal cancer during my final year of A-Levels. He really struggled to keep any food down and lost a lot of weight very quickly. He had a surgical feeding tube inserted and we met dietitians on intensive care, in the hospital wards and at home visits; they supported him nutritionally, keeping him strong enough to complete his treatment. This sparked my passion for Dietetics. I saw how Dietetics can be life-altering and make a real difference to patients. I had actually applied to a completely different degree and was awaiting my results when I decided I wanted to be a Dietitian. I spoke to admissions at a University, they advised me I needed a good Chemistry A-Level (which I didn’t have), so I decided to take a gap-year. I went to college, got a job – worked hard and a year later I had an A in A2 Chemistry and a confirmed place at University to study Dietetics. It was the best decision I have ever made, I have no regrets at all. 

Can you tell us a little about your RD role at the moment?

I have recently started a new job at the beginning of September! I am proud to be working as a Specialist Home Enteral Nutrition (HEN) Dietitian in my home county, in the team that supported my grandfather. It’s still early days and I’m learning so much, it’s been an adjustment moving from acute to community dietetics. My overall role is to support patients in the community both nutritionally and with their tube management. The team’s aim is to prevent admissions to hospital by optimising immediate and longer term health, promoting strength and recovery during treatments, and tailoring care plans to individuals to minimise impact on quality of life for patients and their carers. 

What other sort of jobs or projects have you taken on since becoming an RD? 

I have mostly worked as an Acute Dietitian, firstly in a large NHS trust in Birmingham and then in a smaller NHS trust in Kent. The majority of this work has been ward based. I have gained experience in different areas including: elderly care, stroke & neurology, respiratory, cystic fibrosis, gastroenterology, oncology, haematology, orthopaedics, surgery and intensive care. In addition to ward work I have assessed a wide variety of patients in a clinic setting and given patient education sessions too. I have attended multi-disciplinary team meetings and worked with my dietetic colleagues to develop new services and make processes more efficient. I really enjoy Dietitians Weeks and have helped promote our role by: increasing social media presence, developing new resources, holding Q&A sessions with ward staff and organising supplement and milkshake tasting sessions.

What’s your advice for people who are:

Thinking about becoming an RD
Do your research and make sure this is the course for you – speak to dietitians (there are so many out there on social media). Contact your local hospital dietetic department and ask if work experience is feasible – this will give you a chance to see dietitians in action and will support your university application too, if you decide the profession is the right fit. If you’re not sure, there is no harm in taking your time to make this decision, gap years ARE NOT the end of the world. I genuinely thought that at the first prospect of my gap year, but I was more focused, certain and determined by the end of that year.

Those already studying
Organise yourself and don’t leave things to the last minute – it is more stressful if you do. I found weekly to do-lists very useful to keep me on track. The ‘Quiet Zone’ in the library is your friend – it’s great to study with your friends, but not always efficient if you need to focus and be away from distractions. Value and embrace feedback – don’t be offended, this is designed to help you the best you can possibly be – not trip you up and make you fail. The university and your placement supervisors all want you to do well as much as you do. 

Those newly qualified
You are always learning. Always. No one knows everything and be sceptical if someone thinks they do (in a polite way of course). You are human, not a machine. A lot of graduates feel the need to prove themselves, but you are better off getting the foundations right whilst settling into a new job rather than running before you can walk. Dedicate some time for learning and reflection and start a CPD log, form good habits from the beginning. 

Where can people find you online?

I don’t really have a ‘professional social media profile’, but you can find me on my personal Instagram @bethdy_bop – where you will occasionally find me calling out some form of Nutri-nonsense! 

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Aygul Dagbasi RD

I went to uni with Aygul – her passion for nutrition and dietetics and its implications in health was clear from the start and I’m always super-fascinated to hear about her research projects! 

What inspired you to become a dietitian? 

When I was young, I constantly used to get ill and my mother used to make me a vegetable soup that would always instantly make me feel better. That made me believe in the power of nutrition! I also grew up in a family of foodies ! As a result, I decided to pursue a career in dietetics to utilise nutrition to optimise health. 

Can you tell us a little about your RD role at the moment? 

I am currently doing a PhD at Imperial College London ! My research is looking into the relationship between carbohydrate quality, gut bacteria and appetite sensing. I have finished two acute human studies where we used different dietary interventions to assess how gut bacteria changed in response to these diets We also analysed how people’s appetite hormones changed in response to these diets. We are hoping to find the best form of carbohydrate for the growth of beneficial gut bacteria and for an elaborated feeling of fullness. This can hopefully be used as a tool to combat obesity. 

What other sort of jobs or projects have you taken on since becoming an RD? 

Before my PhD, I worked as a dietitian as part of NHS. I worked in both acute and community settings for a year. I mainly worked in nutrition support and diabetes. 

What excites you most about your work in nutrition? 

Making a difference !! Nutrition is such an integral part of life, yet we don’t seem to get it fully right. From health to sustainability, nutrition can make a big difference to the world and it excites me to be a part of it.

What’s your advice for people who are either:

Thinking about becoming an RD
Make sure to research a lot before . A lot of people get surprised by what dietetics is after they started studying. 

Those already studying
Get as much experience as possible ! My placements taught me as much, if anything more than university did.

Those newly qualified
Don’t be afraid ! Make sure to work hard, tell your opinion and venture. 

Where can people find you online? 

People can find me on Linked In . I would be very careful with social media! It is best to follow people promoting evidence-based advice. I am a keen follower of gut health doctor who is an RD herself. In terms of courses – I would advise attending Nutrition Society and British Dietetic Association conferences ! They always made me learn loads and network with experts in the field.

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Maeve Hanan

Lots of you will have heard of Maeve through her blog Dietetically Speaking and on social media. Maeve’s was one of the first truly accessible dietetic blogs I saw that shouted evidence-based sense through the noise of nutribollocks online and she had me drooling with her gastronomic world tour recently!! 🙂

What inspired you to become a dietitian? 

I’ve been interested in health and nutrition from a young age, so as a teen I decided I wanted to work with people in the area of nutrition. A career advisor had once suggested becoming a Dietitian as a career option for my mum, she didn’t pursue it but it meant that she knew a bit about it and told me what a dietitian was. 

Can you tell us a little about your RD role at the moment? 

It’s really varied, I’m doing a combination of working one to one with private clients (in person and via web-chat), online consultancy, health writing, lecturing about nutrition on a BSc course and creating nutrition related content for social media. I have a few other projects that I would like to start, but there just isn’t enough hours in the day at the moment!

What excites you most about your work in nutrition? 

I find it really rewarding seeing my clients improve their quality of life, which can be related to a number of things like an improvement in gut issues or their relationship with food. I also really enjoy dispelling nutrition myths both in person and on social media, especially when I get feedback that it has been helpful or reassuring to somebody. I’m also excited by the expanding online options for dietitians, as this provides opportunities to help a bigger audience with our evidence-based messages, and for more flexible working (working from home or when travelling etc). 

What’s your advice for people who are either:

Thinking about becoming an RD

 Look for opportunities to shadow a dietitian and speak to your national dietetic professional body for information about the career and university options (e.g. the BDA in the UK). 

Those newly qualified

 I’m really grateful for the support and experience I got working in the NHS as a newly qualified dietitian. I love being a freelance Dietitian, but I think that getting some clinical experience before branching out into freelance is usually the best and safest option. 

Where can people find you online?

Website: www.Dieteticallyspeaking.com
Instagram: @dieteticallyspeaking
Facebook: @dieteticallyspeaking
Twitter: @DieteticSpeak

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Ian Thomas

Ian was one of maybe 3 dudes on our course? Men are still somewhat unicorns in dietetics – it’s estimated that less than 4% of BDA dietitians in the UK identify as male. Ian is super-passionate about all kinds of nutrition, and his science and sports background meant he was a fountain of knowledge throughout uni. Also potentially the most chilled presentation style I’ve ever seen (I’ve still always got my heart in my throat!)! 

Can you tell us a little about yourself and what your RD role is at the moment? 

 I currently work as a freelancer, offering dietetic and personal training services. 

My work is incredibly varied at the moment, with each day being completely different. Some days I work with people overcoming addiction, on others I work in the kitchen preparing and analysing school meals, and occasionally I run cooking workshops teaching kids how to prepare nutritious tasty food.

What inspired you to become a dietitian? 

I used to play rugby to a decent level and I consumed all the nutrition knowledge I could to help my performance. I soon realised that there was so much more that good nutrition can do for you and wanted to learn more about how the body works and responds to food. If I’m honest I’d not even heard of a dietitian until I’d nearly finished my chemistry degree, but as soon as I understood their role, I knew I wanted to be that source of trusted, evidence based nutrition for those around me.

What sort of jobs or projects have you taken on since becoming an RD? 

 After registering I went straight into a specialist diabetes post working with people with type 2 diabetes in the community. This job involved working closely with the specialist nurses and running clinics and group workshops throughout the county. 

With my freelance role I have undertaken more projects than I can remember but broadly speaking I have consulted for business’, taken an active role in startup companies, been guest speaker at professional conferences, organised and run workshops and designed and delivered mini courses for a variety of health concerns.

What excites you most about your work in nutrition? 

I love helping people make eating well part of their lifestyle. There is so much (often conflicting!) information out there it feels so rewarding when you can be the voice of reason and provide somebody with clear, simple guidance towards improving their health and wellbeing.

What’s your advice for people who are either:

Those newly qualified. 

Don’t be afraid to have a go at doing your own thing! It can feel daunting to step out of the NHS framework but there are plenty of support networks and people willing to offer support should you have an idea you want to run with.

Where can people find you online? 

You can find me at www.Positivebodycoaching.com or on facebook and Instagram under @positivebodycoach.

Keep an eye out for other ventures that I am busy working on including the Prime Kitchen, offering cooking workshops and a new range of health foods from the company Healthology.

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Evelyn Umukoro

Evelyn was my total saviour during the first of my longer placements (and onwards!), kind, calm, considerate and no-nonsense – plus doing all of this as a super-mum as well …she’s just an all-round legend!

What inspired you to become a dietitian?  

I was diagnosed with gestational diabetes and was referred to a Diabetes Dietitian. Prior to my diagnosis and attending the clinic appointment, I believed my diet was healthy but after a detailed 45mins consultation with the Dietitian, I came to realise that I had very limited knowledge in nutrition and health.

After what seemed like the most detailed diet history and lifestyle habits, the Dietitian provided me with detailed dietary and lifestyle recommendations that was tailored to me. What I remember most from that visit was not only how friendly she was but rather the knowledge she had and her interpretation of how diet can impact on health and vice versa. 

After the birth of my son, I decided to make a career change and went to university to study Nutrition and Dietetics. To this date I am still very grateful to that Dietitian for providing me with the information and encouraging me to make these diet and lifestyle changes that led me to pursue a career in the amazing clinical field, now I am in the same position to inspire others to make these changes

Can you tell us a little about your RD role at the moment?

I am currently working as a Renal Dietitian at St Helier Hospital where I provide specialist evidence-based dietary advice to patients living with kidney disease (either on haemodialysis or peritoneal dialysis) based on their blood chemistry, fluid requirements and nutritional status.

There are times when patients may need to follow more specific dietary restrictions e.g.       potassium and phosphate and my role is to advise on how to do this safely. The dietary advice given to patients is often complex and changes based on the stage of kidney disease, the individual blood chemistry and diet

I work collaboratively as part of an MDT (alongside renal consultants) to help these patient group protect their remaining kidney function, continue to feel well, and reduce their risk of developing other complications such as cardiovascular disease and most importantly improve their quality of life as best.  

What other sort of jobs or projects have you taken on since becoming an RD?

  • Diabetes and weight Management
  • Nutrition support
  • Learning disabilities
  • Home enteral tube feeding
  • Long term conditions e.g. COPD, MND, MS, oncology
  • Prescribing support Dietitian 

What excites you most about your work in nutrition?

The fact that the field is always evolving and how vital nutrition is in health and disease. For me personally I am proud to be recognised as an expert in providing evidence-based recommendations to patients, clinicians and other AHPs as well as being able to upskill nurses on the Renal unit enteral feeding for renal patients which is not always very common.

What’s your advice for people who are either:

Thinking about becoming an RD. 

I’ll strongly encourage them to pursue this but more importantly it is worthwhile researching local hospital and asking to have informal chat with RDs or consider shadowing RDs if this is at all possible.

Those already studying: 

Make the most of every opportunity during placements, ask relevant questions. Attended study days where possible and consider joining BDA and/or specialist group if you already have a speciality that interest you as this will give you the opportunity to network and build your professional circle further.

Those newly qualified

My one piece of advice for a newly qualified RD looking for job will be to try and look for a rotational role as this will allow them to gain experience in different specialist. Where this is not possible, then ask potential employer during interview is there is the opportunity to shadow/work in other specialism within the trust. 

Where can people find you online? I am not using social media for now but will be soon.

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Helen West

You’ll probably have seen Helen or her business The Rooted Project around online already. Way back when I was in uni, Helen’s personal (and now on hiatus!) blog was the first time I’d heard a dietitian really strip the nonsense from nutrition and dietetics. Plus she lived in some sort of desert paradise (and she swore!), so I was totally down from there on in.

What inspired you to become a dietitian?

I originally decided to become a dietitian because I was and athlete and interested in sports nutrition – I started to look into careers in nutrition, I discovered dietetics – I’d never heard of it before! Once I read up more about it, the combination of scientific training with the practical aspect of supporting people with nutrition advice appealed to me.

Can you tell us a little about your RD role at the moment?

I have quite an eclectic role at the moment. I work as a freelance dietitian, specialising in eating disorders, but I also run a small science communication business called The Rooted Project – which aims to cut through all the nonsense and make evidence based nutrition information accessible.

What other sort of jobs or projects have you taken on since becoming an RD?

Alongside my day jobs, I participate in a lot of advocacy and activism, fighting weight stigma and promoting weight inclusive health care. Most recently this involved working with a team of other professionals to run a counter campaign to a stigmatising public health initiative run by a prominent charity. We gathered the support of over 13,000 on our petition in 5 days and were able to meet with the charity to support then to deliver less stigmatising campaigns in the future.  As part of The Rooted Project, I’ve also run nutrition events for the public and written a book on nutrition, called ‘Is Butter a Carb?’.

What excites you most about your work in nutrition?

I love that every day is different and that there are lots of opportunities for growth and development in the profession, as well as opportunities to work with specialists form other fields like psychology and sociology.  

What’s your advice for people who newly qualified: 

I’d encourage all newly qualified RD’s to use social media tools like Twitter to get involved in conversations about nutrition with your peers and to network with other professionals.

Where can people find you on social media? 

Instagram: @rooted_project

Twitter: @HelenlouWest @rooted_project

You can buy Helen’s first book ‘Is butter a Carb’ online or at all good booksellers. 

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Thanks so much for reading – to those who’ve contributed and to Aimee Sarchet for the questions inspo! I hope it’s been helpful.

  • Miranda
    Posted at 19:26h, 27 September Reply

    Great info and very useful! I’ve started the process to volunteer in relevant areas including in a local hospital but looks like shadowing a dietitian is definitely worth it.

    • Jess English
      Posted at 14:41h, 30 September Reply

      Thanks Miranda, that sounds great. Hopefully you’ll learn a lot there 🙂

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