Allied HealthProfiles Medical

Nutrition and Dietetics – Kirrilee Taylor

Kirrilee Taylor is a Dietitian at the Royal Hobart Hospital. She graduated from Monash University with a Bachelor of Nutrition and Dietetics in 2009. Here are some of her insights into her job – we hope this is useful for those of you wanting to become dietitians.

Please tell us a little about your background and your current role.
I grew up in Melbourne and studied at Monash University. After 1 year of Biomedical Science I applied and was accepted for lateral entry into the Bachelor Nutrition and Dietetics.

While this course does not have any units that could be studied internationally, some students have done overseas placements in the past. In my uni holidays I did several mission trips, one to Fiji and one in Cambodia and this gave me a good taste of what it is like to help others

Currently I am working as a locum Grade 1 Dietitian at the Royal Hobart Hospital. This is also known as being a clinical dietitian, or one who works with patients in a medical setting. This role rotates through various areas within the hospital including medical, surgical and paediatrics.

For the last 8 months I have been fortunate to work in paediatrics caring for children from birth to 18 years of age both as inpatients or outpatients. The majority of my role is working with children who may have an eating disorder, type 1 diabetes, severe burns or poor growth. I also have some opportunities to work with children who have cancer, severe allergies and a whole range of other conditions.

Some children need special diets or education around food, others have issues meaning they cannot eat enough or at all and they need to be fed through a tube with specially calculated amounts of formula. This is all part of my role.

Other areas of dietetics include community, public health, sports, food & industry, research and teaching.

How did you go about deciding to study Nutrition and Dietetics? Did you study anything beforehand?
I decided that I wanted to study Nutrition and Dietetics because it combines my strong interest in the science & chemistry of how the body works, my love of food and my enjoyment of working with people. I studied mostly sciences (biology, chemistry), specialist maths and English at school. The most essential of these have been the background given by chemistry and biology. Any type of science relating to the body is helpful!

As mentioned I also studied a year of biomedical science. This ran together with the Nutrition and Dietetics course for many of the 1st year subjects, and I quickly knew I definitely wanted to be studying to be a Dietitian.

What do you enjoy most about your profession?
I get to talk about food all day long! Working in a hospital, particularly in paediatrics I get to work with great teams of doctors, nurses and other allied health professionals (such as speech pathology, physiotherapy, social work, psychology, occupational therapy etc.). We take a collaborative approach to patient treatment and work as a team to restore health to our patients

I really enjoy watching children grow day to day as a result of improved nutritional intake. Food can be like medicine for a person who is malnourished – being a Dietitian means I can advocate and educate for better nutrition for my patients. This can help shorten a patient’s stay in hospital, speed healing and result in better patient outcomes.

What are the some of the challenges associated with being a Dietitian? how do you go about overcoming them?
Dietetics is still a small but ever growing field. Some of the challenges include:
Deciding what area of dietetics you want to work in, and gaining opportunities and experience in these areas. It’s very useful to be willing to work in an area that may not be your final goal area for the experience, and to be willing to move to work. For me, I was keen to work so moved to Tasmania as jobs came up. I was so lucky to get such great paediatric experience! Particularly in Eating Disorders.

Also, dietetics is a field many medical practitioners still do not recognise as a useful part of the treatment team. It is essential to advocate for patients/clients to receive adequate and appropriate nutrition for their condition, and to provide education where possible around nutrition.

What are your other interests outside of work? Do you get time to pursue these activities?
The hours a quite full on while studying, particularly in the last couple of years, however once your working hours are fairly standard. Weekends and evenings are free to spend as you wish.

I’m quite involved in my church, I help out with an international students group, have a weekly bible study group and am on the music team. I also spend a lot of time out with friends or exploring the beauty of Tassie.

Do you have any advice for budding students wanting to Dietitians?
I highly recommend trying to organise a work experience day with a Dietitian at a hospital or in the community if you are interested. This can help to show you what Dietitians really do each day. It’s often quite different to what people expect (in a good way!).

If able to do some volunteer or part time work that’s in the area of nutrition, and really think about why you want to be a Dietitian, this is favourable for your application.

Also study hard, you’ll need good grades! And really put an effort into chemistry as this is often a prerequisite for entry into the course.

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This is a really useful profile for medical students and students interested in becoming a dietician. I'm continually surprised at the scope of practice for a clinical dietician. As this article mentions, type 1 diabetes, allergy, babies, cancer etc are all important paediatric dietetic areas but there are many other areas. Eating disorders is a particularly interesting one because these patients typically develop an intense interest and knowledge about food, portion sizes, calories and the like and this interest can be heatlhy or unhealthy (sometimes seemingly both!). A very challenging area, no doubt.<br />
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Another big and challenging area though is old people who struggle to gain or lose weight and are hesitant to try different foods or move away from what they're used to. The impact, especially in old people with chronic disease however, can be enormous. Dietetics in conditions like chronic kidney disease and liver disease can get quite complicated.
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I just wanted to say thank you for you insights. They were extremely honest and helpful. A lot more revealing than any old fact sheet. =]