Before my placement
Dietitians are allied healthcare professionals who provide nutritional care for patients with acute and chronic health conditions. As a student at Leeds Beckett, during my lectures I have learnt many skills including communication and behaviour change, the science behind the human body (physiology) and medical conditions and the role of food and nutrition in supporting or preventing health conditions. These are all skills that will be useful, and I can apply to the working world.
Knowing that placements was part of the degree was a bonus for me, as I wanted the opportunity to put knowledge into practice. The university is actively involved in the whole process of finding placements for all students. When applying we were asked to submit our top five choices and the university then allocated students according to these choices.
While not all courses include mandatory work placements, many have the option of a year-long sandwich placement or other forms of work-based learning opportunities. You can find out more about this from the Leeds Beckett placement teams.
During my placement
There is no average day on placement, every day is different, and everyone has different experiences. My role as a student dietitian was a very patient-centred role, and this would include both inpatients (acute hospital) and outpatients (clinics, group education sessions).
The day usually started early, sometimes it was as early as 8am. Usually, the number of inpatients to be seen are based on ward referrals, and a small team meeting was held every morning to determine the team’s workload. Even though I am a student, I was still able to listen in, as you can still pick up and understand how the process works. I was then allocated a few patients and started reading up medical notes about what is happening with the patient.
As a student dietitian, I had the chance to experience different specialities, including areas like diabetes, cancer and mental health. There was also the chance to be involved in many of the department’s projects. This included learning about catering in hospitals, conducting audits on mealtimes or presenting a group education session to patients. Being exposed to a broad range of specialities gave me the chance to appreciate the range of dietetics as a future career and allow me to ponder what areas I might be interested once I embark on my career.
Putting what I had learned at uni into practice
Hands up if you’re guilty of memorising content for an exam. What this means is that there’s a tendency to forget the theory when it comes to putting it into practice. It’s hard to envisage how what you’re studying for can be put into reality, but it’s important to think about the big picture (your career and how it applies) when studying or preparing for an assignment. This is when placements are really useful!
I keep all my notes on a digital note-taking app (One Note), and this means it is easily accessible. While on placement, I found myself meeting people who had the exact medical conditions that university had prepared me for and so I was able to refer to my notes, which meant I found it much easier to internalise concepts and reasoning when faced with a patient.
At Beckett, we also have a communications module, where we had to apply communication skills with a ‘patient’. This practical assessment, although simulated, gave me the opportunity to apply what I had learnt. While every communication scenario I have with a patient will be different, having that practice session in university helped to prepare me for some of the situations I had on placement.
How university prepared me for my placement
The entire placement experience is a learning curve, and it can sometimes be stressful. It tired me out both physically and mentally, as there was so much to learn and so much work to do. Learning something theoretically is completely different from applying this knowledge to the working world. However, having lecture notes on hand helped me throughout placement and I am now better equipped for when I am working in the industry again.
As well as practical skills there are also skills like time management, critical thinking and teamwork that university indirectly helps to hone, which was put to good use when I was on placement. Many of us tend to think of university with exams and specific subjects, but when you look at it from a wider lens, you realise your time in university develops many other skills that will indirectly support your career (and also develop you as an individual).
Placement works on many of the same skills that university teaches but putting knowledge and skills into practice. I would refer to it as an extremely fast-paced, condensed, hands-on university, as these skills that are gained are vital before beginning a career as a healthcare professional.
The final weeks of placement was set up to imitate a job of a graduate dietitian and prepare me for the world out there. After 28 weeks of training, I am eager to start a career as a dietitian, but I definitely feel like I’ve still got a long way to go.
Learning doesn’t end after university. There is so much more to learn – be it theoretical knowledge or practical skills. Even dietitians who are 20 years into their job tell me they are still learning, and that is true for every profession. There will be long road ahead of independent learning, and that’s what university sets you up for. Motivation and passion will keep you striving to do better in any job you pursue!