I first though about becoming a Dietitian when I was at school. In year 9 we had to fill out a careers questionnaire and tick the boxes of the things we liked doing and what we were interested in. I ticked caring for people (as I wanted to be a nurse when I was young) and I ticked food (as I love food!). The result came back with Nurse, Cook and Librarian (why did everyone get Librarian?!) and then Dietitian – food and caring for people all rolled into one, perfect!
My mum was a physiotherapist at the Children’s Hospital so when I was 15 she organised for me to do my work experience in the dietetic department at the local general hospital and the Children’s hospital, as well as a week at a local hospice. I remember meeting the Children’s hospital dietetic manager and shadowed her on the wards and tasting the supplements. Also helping out in the special feed unit by sticking the labels on the bottles and helping deliver them to the wards. I still meet up with the dietetic manager nearly 20 years on as I have ended up specialising in the same area and I meet her regularly at different conferences and meetings (always be nice to the people you meet in this small profession)!
I chose my A levels based on what I would need to apply to university with, so I took Biology, Psychology and Chemistry (which I struggled through and passed with the help of a tutor) and an AS in music which got me a place at the University of Surrey to study Nutrition and Dietetics. I originally wanted to go to Leeds Met but chose Surrey after my visit there as it just felt right. Heading off for university was an exciting and scary time, it really bought me out of my shell and gave me confidence.
The undergrad degree course was 4 years, 3 in university with the 3rd year on placement. The first year was a grounding in biology, biochemistry and nutrition and the second year more emphasis on dietetics in preparation for our placement year. We had to organise our own 8 week catering placement, which I organised at my local teaching hospital in the catering department. 8 weeks is a long time in the kitchens and I rotated between the stores, main kitchen, diet kitchen and the management side. My main memory is being made to peel mounds of garlic for the curries on Indian day and then getting to fry the poppadum’s in boiling oil! I understand recent graduates do not have to do this anymore, in a way it is a shame as I got a real understanding of how the catering department worked.
I did the old style 31 week placement in Liverpool. I loved Liverpool and the department were really friendly with frequent nights out to the ‘Raz’ and a local Greek restaurant. We shadowed, gradually learnt our trade and worked up to ‘consolidation’ – having our own wards to look after!
After qualifying in 2002 I got my first job in Birmingham, with the impression that I wouldn’t stay in Birmingham very long. 12 years later and I am still here!