My placements have totalled 26 weeks across my three years of study, and I have been based in Newcastle, Hull, and Mid York’s hospitals. The placements were a compulsory part of my course in order to qualify at the end with my registration body.
What does a student dietitian actually do?
On placement, a typical day for me would be 8am-4pm, with a 30min lunch break (welcome to working life).
In the first week of my placements, I was usually given the opportunity to explore the catering systems, which meant talking to the head of the kitchen, watching the staff prepare meals, and getting to try some food too (which isn’t as bad as people say it is, depending on where you go of course). This was a great learning experience, because if I was going to talk to patients about food, I needed to know what the food system was like first.
I would then move on to observing a dietitian work. Watching them communicate with patients, drawing information out of them, and forming care plans together. Sometimes it was easy and sometimes it was not. It was also interesting to see the communication between different health care professions, which seemed daunting at the beginning, but I soon got used to it. As a student dietitian, I was always accompanied and supervised when I was with patients. I was only left alone to complete consultations in the final two weeks of placement, which meant that I had plenty of time to practice before I had to do anything alone.
The best way to learn is to get involved. At the beginning of my placement, I was only greeting patients and asking about their diet history at home, but by the end of my placement, I was making all the decisions with little to no input from my supervisor.
When I was based on the ward, I would talk to patients about their appetite and usually ways to increase it, through snacks, supplements, and in some cases feeding tubes. I had to consider which condition each patient had, how this was going to impact their eating, and what I could do about it. Every day was a new learning experience because no two patients were the same. They might have had similar conditions, but their backgrounds and personalities were different, which is what made each day interesting. Challenging patients can be nerve racking, but the experience and skills I gained from being in those difficult situations, have helped improve my capability.
Although I am not sure if I will be going into the NHS for my future career, all the skills that I have developed will be transferable into any role. For example, learning to communicate effectively with various groups of people, being able to adapt to situations and learning where to search for information when needed. These are all skills that can be applied to any job role, but that I can also use in my day to day life. The placements were also great networking opportunities, as I’ve kept in touch with all the people I’ve met along the way.
I would say that placements are crucial to gain a better understanding of the working world. I had covered a lot of knowledge in various modules at university, but only out on placement, did I see how to apply it and the practicality of the skills I had been taught at uni. I did a communications skills module with a fake patient, and thought my skills were okay, but when I was out on placement with real patients, that’s when I needed to draw on the skills I had, and that’s where the learning truly happened. Placements are also great as they show you what you like and what you don’t and which specialities you may want to go into.
If you are considering a placement, I would 100% recommend it! My advice would be to keep an open mind, because you will find that every situation is a valuable learning experience.