Some people have asked me to provide some advice and tips for student dietitians. So I thought I would do this by highlighting a few things I wish I had known and done differently during my dietetics training. I hope you find it very helpful and take some things on board to make your experience studying Dietetics and qualifying as a Registered Dietitian an enjoyable and memorable one!
1. Dietetics is more than just passing an exam
Now, don’t get me wrong…it is very important that you pass all your assignments and exams! But, during the first semester of studying Dietetics, I really stressed myself out to make sure I did extremely well. I wanted to get a first (at least 70%) in every exam I did. I focused more on getting good grades than actually fully understanding the topic(s) I was revising for. There were other students like me, who just wanted to get a good grade! but there is no point in passing an exam if you forget the next day what an ideal blood pressure measurement is or what biomarkers to look out for to indicate possible dehydration?
Don’t just learn to pass your assignments or exams, learn so that you can acquire the knowledge and skill sets you need to be an effective student dietitian/RD2be. Lay the right foundations for your clinical placements and your future career as a Dietitian (after all, you will be dealing with patients and clients. You need to make sure you meet the standards of proficiency as a Dietitian to ensure your practice is safe and effective). I know sitting for exams can be stressful and some students look for strategies (like guessing what questions might come up in the exam), but if you try to think positively and take joy in learning different topics in nutrition and dietetics then it might help diminish some stress that you might be feeling.
It is also worth mentioning that you are not expected to know it all! Though exams are needed to test how much you do know. It also helps to identify things you may not understand fully. If possible, ask for feedback after your exams have been graded and see what areas you need to work on.
2. Network with other students and registered Dietitians
Your peers in the classroom, in other year groups and in other Universities might be your future clinical placement buddy or dietetic colleagues! Build a good rapport/working relationship with them. My best moments training as a Dietitian was when I did my clinical placements with friends in my class. We supported and learned from each other. We shared notes, encouraged each other when placements were a bit challening and celebrated small wins together.
When I became a newly-qualified Dietitian, I worked in one of the hospitals under a NHS trust and a friend worked in another hospital under the same trust. We didn’t know this at first and only found out when she called my department to handover one of her patients, who was transferred from her hospital to a ward I was covering in my hospital. This became a regular occurrence, and it was just nice to hear a friendly voice whilst obtaining as much information as possible about the patients and getting that peer support too (it made my life as a newly-qualified Dietitian so much easier!).
What I wish I did as a student dietitian was network with more Registered Dietitians from different specialities. I am so grateful for social media, like Instagram and Twitter because you can virtually network with different professionals on there without having to meet them in person first. I wish I utilised my social media properly to connect with different Dietitians for some inspo, ask for tips or seek advice when I needed it.
3. Get involved in extracurricular activities
I would encourage all student dietitians to get involved in extracurricular activities where possible. Doing extracurricular activities is a great way to gain CPD and get as much experience as possible. These activities can help develop your talents, interests and passions as well as teach you practical skills like time-management and organisation skills.
With so many options out there, you should be able to find an activity or activities that you are interested in and can develop a passion for. This would also look great on your CV too! These activities can be volunteering at a local hospital, community kitchen or nursing home, shadowing a Dietitian, taking part in a nutrition journal club or a nutrition society (or starting your own), hosting nutrition events and conferences, creating a social media page, starting a blog or writing articles for Dietetics Today.
4. Personal development
Personal development is a continuous act of assessing yourself as a person, your skills and qualities and looking for ways to improve to reach your full potential. I wish I worked on developing certain skills and traits as a student (although it is never too late to work on something! and if I am being completely honest, when you do qualify as a Dietitian, there would still be other things that you would need to improve anyway). I was a VERY shy person as a student and the thought of doing things like public speaking or speaking to people I do not know made me feel very anxious. I knew I had to overcome the fear of public speaking, especially when I had to give a one hour presentation to FY1 Doctors and Nurses about Nutrition and Pressure Sores on the second day of my final clinical placement (the nerves were real!).
I took responsibility for my own personal development and attended public speaking classes and watched YouTube videos on how to speak effectively and clearly to develop my speaking skills. It is still a working progress for me as I still have my shy and socially awkward moments but I am able to identify this and engage in different activities to improve in this area.
Take time to reflect on your personal skills and qualities and identify any area of improvement. Once, you have identified it, try and find ways to improve in that area as soon as you can. Don’t neglect it. It is also worth telling your lecturer or supervisor about your personal development and ask if they can help signpost you to access any training, courses, webinars, classes or events that will help develop your skill sets.
5. Know your why
Remembering why you are studying dietetics will help you appreciate the course and make you excited about your future as a Registered Dietitian. Sometimes studies can be very overwhelming and there may be times (or maybe not) when you feel like giving up, but just remember why you decided to pursue a career in the first place. A career in dietetics is very rewarding – you will be in a position to support different types of people from different backgrounds, help them manage their medical conditions and empower them to improve their health and nutritional status. Always focus on the end goal even when times get tough. You will get there! and I will be there to cheer you on 🙂