Home After School So you think you want to be a Dietitian?

So you think you want to be a Dietitian?

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If you are a people person and have an interest in healthcare, Dietetics could be the profession for you. Take a sneak peek into the life of a Dietitian and see if this could be your future.

Dietitians have a huge impact on the lives of countless people. They influence a positive change in the lifestyle choices individuals make – this can be life-saving. Nasreen Jaffer is a Registered Dietitian with the Association for Dietetics in South Africa (ADSA) and she gave us some insight into her life as a Dietitian. Her daily activities include educating students at the University of Cape Town (UCT), which is an academic role that a medical professional could fulfill.

  • What does a typical working day involve? What are your day-to-day activities?

I start my day with an early morning run 3 times a week, and then drop my kids off at school.

My mornings are a set schedule as I am at the University from 8 am to 1 pm teaching, assessing and guiding my students at different hospital bedsides in Cape Town.

I see patients at my practice 2-3 times per week in the afternoons, but no day is ever the same, which is what I love.  I then fetch my kids at school and go home, have dinner and yes, catch-up on my admin.  I also try to spend time with my teenagers and connect with them daily, we talk about our day, etc.

  • What do you enjoy most about your job?

I love working with people; it’s my passion. Every patient/client is different, and I learn from them each day. I also enjoy teaching my students to become the best dietitian they can be and helping others make the lifestyle change they need to, in order to improve their health.

If you want to do Dietetics, you must enjoy working with people. We have a responsibility to educate and support the public to make positive changes to their lifestyles; we are faced with a triple burden of disease in South Africa:

  1. Undernutrition
  2. Over-nutrition: Obesity
  3. HIV epidemic

So, I believe Dietitians are going to become the front-runners for advocating good health. Remember prevention is better than cure.

  • What do you enjoy least about your job?

I love my private practice as well as my university role, however, I do not like admin work. I’d much rather spend all my time educating my students and learning from my clients, but admin is sort of a necessary evil, so you just have to get through it.

  • What are your general responsibilities?

Teaching my students on their internship, as well as lecturing the 1st year Dietetic students. Educating clients on healthy eating relative to their clinical conditions. Keeping up with the latest research in my field and scope of practice.

  • Is there a qualification required to perform this career? Where and what did you study?

I did my Honours in Nutrition and Dietetics at UCT – it’s a postgraduate degree, which I completed after my BSc degree, which I did through UNISA.

You can study Dietetics after Matric/Grade 12 at the following universities in South Africa:

  • What are the requirements to be accepted into this specific qualification?

If studying dietetics as an undergraduate programme, admission requirements include a National Senior Certificate, with Mathematics and Physical Sciences. Some institutions also require Life Sciences, so check the admission requirements at the university you are interested in to be sure you meet the requirements.

  • Is there any training provided by the institution once you come on board?

At UCT, your first year is mostly theory-based and then your second year is an internship, where you have block rotations at different hospitals as well as Community Health Centres.

  • What type of person would be well suited to this career? What skills are needed for this career?

A career in dietetics will suit those who:

  • are interested in food and health
  • enjoy and have a flair for science
  • would be fulfilled by a caring, helpful profession
  • are lifelong learners who are attentive to the on-going developments in science
  • can translate scientific knowledge into practical advice
  • are comfortable in the role of the expert and like sharing knowledge with others
  • have strong inter- and intrapersonal skills
  • have a positive attitude and the ability to motivate others
  • have empathy, understanding and tact
  • How long have you been in this position and how did you get there?

After I completed my medical honours in Dietetics and Nutrition, I joined a private practice where I did locum work for an established dietitian, and I was very grateful for this experience. While working with her, I had the opportunity to manage the Healthy Weight Programme at the Sports Science Institute of South Africa, which included weekly weight monitoring and nutrition education. Here too, my expertise broadened and then I opened my own private practice in 2006.

I wanted to also work in the community and developed a passion for chronic diseases, particularly diabetes. I co-ordinated with a Diabetic Support Group in the Rylands/Athlone area once a month, providing nutrition education as well as raising general awareness of the disease.

I was the regional dietitian for Vodacom for 3 years and consulted at their Bellville, Cape Town and Century City branches for six hours on a weekly basis.

  • Do you have any additional advice for someone interested in pursuing this career?

The price of success is hard work, dedication, perseverance and patience. Nothing worthwhile comes easy in life, we have to work at it. Don’t give up, whatever your dream is and don’t be afraid to DREAM! There can be no reality without dreams.

For more information contact a dietitian in your area to get further insight into the profession. You can find dietitians in a variety of settings such as private practice, public and private hospitals, clinics or community health centres, in the food service industry and academia.

  • What is the typical starting salary and general earning potential thereafter?

Community service is a year of compulsory employment with the Department of Health after qualification, required in order to register and practice as a Dietitian in South Africa. A dietitian employed by the Department of Health in a community service position earns R 205 650 p.a. plus 37% in lieu of benefits, before deductions. This level subsequently increases based on years of experience. In private practice, it depends on how busy your practice is, but with putting an effort into marketing, you can make a good living in the private and corporate sectors.

  • Any quirky advice for scholars looking to pursue a career in your field?

“It’s hard to lose weight when you have an overactive knife and fork”

Be ready to be judged, but NEVER judge your clients/patients.

Can you give us a break down of a typical day?

Time of DayActivityComments
5.05AMWake up, brush my teeth, etc.Most of the time when my alarm goes off
5.15amMake my kids school lunchesIt’s vitally important that my kids need to eat healthily
5.30amPray morning prayer 
5.50amStart my 5km runI run because somehow completely exhausting myself is actually the most relaxing part of my day
7.10amBack home, shower, eat breakfast, get dressed and ready for workThe morning essentials
8.40amOn my way to workTraffic, traffic, traffic!
9.00amStart my day at workEducate students in hospital at the bedside of patients, students assessments, emails, admin
1:00pmLeave UCT 
1.20pmQuick lunch at home and afternoon prayerI’m lucky to be able to have my main meal at home, at lunchtime
2.30pmOne or 2 patients consult at my private practice 
5.00pmFetch my kids from school 
6.45pmDinner with my family 
8.00pmWatch CSI with my sonI’m addicted to crime dramas
9.45pmEvening prayer and into bedSometimes a bit of reading in bed

Dietitian VS Nutritionist

Dietetics is quickly becoming one of the leading professions in the health sciences industry. The main difference between a dietitian and nutritionist is that dietitians are experts in both nutrition and weight management where they are able to provide therapeutic and nutritional advice for a variety of medical conditions. These include heart disease, diabetes, liver disease, intestinal disorders, eating disorders and food intolerances/allergies. A nutritionist is responsible for the promotion of nutrition health and well-being as well as the prevention of nutrition-related disorders of groups or populations, throughout the various stages of the life cycle. However, unlike dietitians, nutritionists cannot provide therapeutic nutritional advice for medical conditions.

Both dietitians and nutritionists are registered with the Health Professionals Council South Africa (HPC) and registered dietitians can also be members of ADSA. The aim of the association is developing the dietetics profession in order to contribute towards reaching optimal nutrition for all South Africans.

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Influencing lifestyle changes and having an impact on people’s lives is a huge deal. If this is something that excites you, why not go after a career in dietetics? Good health, well-being and nutrition could be the way forward for you.

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