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Nutrition: “I teach people what to and what not to eat”

The difference between a nutritionist and a dietitian.

One of the most common questions is how my qualification differs from that of a dietitians.

I’m fully qualified as a nutritionist (i.e. I can dispense nutrition advice and provide supplements) thanks to my undergraduate degree however a dietitian completes an undergraduate and masters degree.

Many people believe that nutritionists are limited in their work opportunities compared to dietitians but this simply isn’t true. The only area we are unable to go into at this time is hospital-based work.

The good, the bad, and the challenges of studying nutrition.

I loved studying nutrition. The first year of the degree was pretty hard-hitting and needed a lot of endurance as many subjects were science based (i.e. don’t focus on nutrition itself). This learning is as essential as it is tough as it covers the concepts you need to understand mechanisms of nutrition.

Some of the best parts of studying nutrition were the lecturers, the friends I made and working in the student clinic. I was lucky enough to study with a college that has some of the best lecturers and researchers in Australia teaching who were also incredibly supportive.

The student clinic really helped prepare me for the reality of working as a nutritionist. I learned about managing a dispensary and a reception desk, as well as learning how to manage clients and give them what they want and help them achieve health goals. In fact, I still see student practitioners at the clinic when I can – it’s affordable and the standard of treatment is incredibly high.

An ‘out of the box’ approach to a career in nutrition.

Often when a nutritionist first steps out into the industry, they throw themselves into full-time work which involves a clinic with associated costs. They’ll sometimes end up broke, burnt out and disillusioned. I reached this point pretty quickly within a few months of practice and decided to do something about it.

My physical clinic is now running only one day a week and some weeks I don’t even go into the clinic – I’m too busy with all the other opportunities I’ve taken on!

I offer Skype consultations and packages, as many of my ideal clients are either housebound or interstate. I mentor wellness students and help them find their niche before they get out into the industry. I work as a freelance health writer, both under my own name and as a ghost-writer. I run workshops and speak at events. I’m a nutritional consultant for a company that supplies businesses with healthy snack boxes. I volunteer my services with a non-profit that supplies healthy snack packs to people experiencing homelessness and disadvantage. And as the cherry on top, I am an Honours candidate for Nutritional & Dietetic Medicine, which will give me a leg-up into the complementary medicine research industry.

The realities (and struggles) of the industry.

I think the biggest struggles I’ve seen for new graduates are that they aren’t confident in their own abilities, haven’t found their niche that makes them passionate, or dismiss unpaid opportunities.

It is almost one year since my last day in the student clinic. I didn’t finish officially and receive my paperwork until July 2015. I don’t have years of experience but this hasn’t stopped me from getting involved in all the things that I have. The only thing that stopped me was my own lack of confidence.

I also cannot tell you what a difference volunteering can make. It gives you experience in the field, particularly if you’re testing out a new skill such as workshops or public speaking. It gives you connections. Through my volunteer role, I’ve been in contact with countless wellness companies and big names in the industry. It also helps you to give back to society and make a difference.

My advice:

  • Find a mentor in the industry. Whether it’s a more experienced friend (which is how I got into it), or a professional mentor like the lovely Samantha Gowing, the support and insights you are offered are truly priceless.
  • Seek out your passion. What lights you up about nutrition? Is it children? Pregnancy and infants? A particular health conditions? Writing? Creating recipes? Whatever it is, make that the centre of your dream and work towards it. It will get you through those stressful period where you want to give up, and help you create a career you love.
  • Keep learning. Nutrition is ever evolving, and you need to keep up with it. Read research papers on areas you’re interested in. Take short courses in other skills that might bolster your practice, such as business. Keep studying formally if you want to – head up the ladder towards a PhD in nutrition, or look across to other complementary therapies such as massage or counselling, so you can continue to keep being the best nutritionist you can be.
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