NHD STUDENT BLOG SERIES

No. 5: CAREER PROGRESSION: FROM A NUTRITION STUDENT TO WORKING IN THE NHS

Aqsa graduated from the University of Westminster and has found a deep interest in and passion for paediatric nutrition and dietetics. She is currently working for NEFLT NHS Foundation Trust as a dietetic assistant, helping individuals on a daily basis.

By Aqsa Mahmood

NHS Dietetic Assistant, NEFLT

Aqsa tells us about her journey from Nutrition student to working in a dietetic role in the NHS. She offers insights and advice from her own experience about what can help along the way and explains what can be possible when starting out on a career in dietetics.

 During the early stages of my life, dietitians helped me through weight management programmes which shaped my career in the world of nutrition and dietetics. I become intrigued by the nutritional needs of people during different stages of life and the reasoning behind the food choices we make. This then became my reason to study Nutrition at the University of Westminster.

My studies in Human Nutrition BSc gave me the opportunity to explore my interest in the human body and the fundamentals of nutrition, including macronutrients, micronutrients, energy requirements and the composition of the human anatomy. I thoroughly enjoyed the topic of food disorders and how the body relies on the mind to make its decisions regarding food choices, which can lead to food disorders such as anorexia nervosa, pica and other eating disorders.

Who said progressing in the field of nutrition and dietetics is easy? It’s tough but it's a learning experience with different challenges and great opportunities on the way.

VOLUNTEERING WHILE STUDYING

Volunteering for MYTEAM Active as a Nutrition Assistant during my studies allowed me to gain experience and knowledge on a community basis. As a volunteer nutrition assistant, I was assisting in delivering sessions based on healthy eating and wellbeing for newly conceived mothers and babies using my knowledge and learning on nutrition and nutritional supplements. I was also supervising toddlers and babies during these practical sessions, as well as aiding in physical activity sessions. This opportunity not only allowed me to upskill my community and professional skills but also created my interest in paediatric nutrition.

FIRST JOB ON THE WARD

Working at Royal Brompton Hospital in the Rose ward was not only a privilege but a great dream of mine. I had the opportunity to work with children in the largest hospital for lung and heart disease patients. My job title was Special Feeds Unit Milk Technician. As the name implies, my role was to formulate, create and distribute specialised formula milk and breast milk prescribed by dietitians for children with special nutritional needs. The role entitled measuring out each feed by powder weight, preparing the feed using a standard formula, labelling each feed, ensuring the feed is chilled at the right temperature and sufficiently delivering these feeds to the ward. Additional duties also included correct storage and stock of milk formula and in special cases, monitoring additives when required.

FREELANCE WRITING

Writing for the Network Health Digest (NHD) magazine on various topics has allowed me to become expressive in my passion and furthered my curiosity into other nutrition topics that I hadn’t quite touched upon in-depth, such as cancer cachexia and functional groups. This particular subject helped me explore the lack of understanding people have around food and reactions, and how dietitians play a key role in helping these individuals. NHD gave me the opportunity to increase my growing passion for paediatric dietetics by allowing me to publish various articles within the field of paediatrics, such as nutrition for breastfeeding, special feeds, formula feeding and infant weaning.

Don't be afraid to approach magazines such as NHD if you want to write and share your experiences and specialist interests. Join social media groups and start to network too.

I’m currently working as a dietetic assistant for the NHS NEFLT Foundation trust, where I witness the role of dietitians daily. It’s amazing to see the good parts of the job as well as the challenges faced. Being an outgoing person, I enjoy talking and interacting with the local community. I read patient referrals, help deliver and assess weight management programmes within the community to ensure people are meeting their nutritional needs. I also construct and write project reports for clinic leads within the team on improvements and structural functioning of the trust to ensure we are constantly providing the best service.

BE PROACTIVE TO PROGRESS IN YOUR CAREER

I would advise that the key to progressing in your dietetic career is to take on additional activities and keep on top of your continuing professional development (CPD). Attending the annual Diabetes Professional Care (DCP) event gives you insight into a range of areas. This year it is being held at Olympia London over two days (15th to 16th November).

I have completed several courses and diplomas on nutrition over the years and would advise that you do so too, as not only do you gain more knowledge in the field of nutrition, but your CPD will be updated, which is an important part of career progression. I also attend Food Matters Live and dietetic career events, which all give insights into the profession and dietetic roles within the wider community and health service. As an aside Food Matters Live is on this month Tuesday 14th March at the Oval in London if you can get there.

Meeting current students and healthcare professionals made me aware of the different possibilities available in making a difference to people’s lives through the work of a dietitian. This is something I’m passionate about  and has led my journey from a nutrition student to a healthcare professional working in the NHS.