Transitioning into NHS dietetics – a personal perspective from an international dietitian from Poland

Magdalena is currently working at Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham and here she tells us about her experience moving from dietetics in Poland to eventually finding a role in the NHS in England.

Magdalena Kot, RD

Specialist Dietitian - trauma and critical care

Oprah Winfrey once said, “Follow your passion and you will find your purpose”. This is how I feel about dietetics, but it was not that clear to me to start with.

I knew I wanted to work in the medical field, I had an interest in science and was good with people. After graduating with my dietetic degree, I completed a six-month internship in the neurology ward in a local district hospital in my hometown in Poland. My day-to-day responsibilities differed substantially from those of my current scope of practice as a Trauma Dietitian in a major trauma centre at Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham.

It was the year of 1997 and the ward dietitian responsibilities consisted mainly of catering provision, supporting patients needing assistance with feeding and taking oral fluids.

After my internship I was forced to look for jobs outside of my main line of education due to lack of availability of dietetic posts. Shortly after, I found a job in a small company running a shop with specialist foods for those on food restrictions and special dietary needs. I have enjoyed the ins and outs of the business with developing managerial skills hence I was quite upset when my employment finished abruptly due to the business closure. I was given very little notice and had to quickly decide on the next steps.

An adventure from Poland to England

It was 2004 and Poland had just joined the European Union meaning more opportunities to travel and work outside of the country. I easily found a job in one of the nursing homes in the North of England, as the Polish newspapers were flooded with adverts looking for carers and seasonal workers.

The recruitment process was all conducted in Poland with HR companies interviewing candidates in English and face to face. Within five weeks I was ready to arrive to the UK.

It must have been a touch of faith when, a couple of years later, on the verge of preparing for my trip back home I came across several NHS-based dietetic assistant jobs, which suggested an increase in funding for the dietetic profession nationally. I applied for 10 jobs and was invited to attend three interviews. In such mysterious ways, I have found myself in Birmingham where the British Dietetic Association (BDA) headquarters are based. And just like that, my new situation reminded me of my passion. I knew I was on the right pathway to finding my true purpose.

My English adventure, which was supposed to be a year or two of discovering the country while working in the nursing home turned into 20 years of professional and personal development, while making the UK my home.

You may ask why I have applied for dietetic assistant jobs and not graduate band 5 positions. Well, the Healthcare Professional Council (HCPC) is the leading European regulator of health and care professionals in the UK to benefit the public and to ensure their protection. By law, only registered dietitians can practice the profession in the UK. Standards of proficiency, conduct, performance and ethics, plus evidence of continuing professional development, have to be met before internationally trained dietitians can be added to the register.

Because of the differences in education pathways, scope of practice and the nature of the dietetic profession in Poland, it was not an easy process for me to transition into the role of Registered Dietitian in the UK. I was able, however, to work my way up starting as a dietetic assistant and further progressing to a more independent assistant practitioner role, before landing my first band 5 role in my most desired area of general and colorectal surgery. I have utterly fallen in love with the profession along the way.

I took every opportunity to shadow other dietitians and wider multidisciplinary team members, making lots of friends and gaining instant experience of living and breathing NHS systems. I have learned about the nutritional needs of various groups of individuals and have worked within different teams supporting acute, oncology and general medicine patients, providing nutrition support to the most vulnerable patients.

I took an active role in supporting initiatives that improve nutritional status and recovery in hospital and was heavily involved in the implementation of the Malnutrition Universal Screening Tool (‘MUST’), providing training for nursing and HCA colleagues. In my band 4 role, I had an opportunity to be a part of the BAPEN/Nutricia 2011 winning initiative on good practice in supporting high-quality nutritional care in acute hospitals.

Gaining experience in the NHS alongside continuing professional development allowed me to meet the gaps between my education gained in Poland and the required evidence of achieving standards to become a registered dietitian in this country. Reflecting on my journey from being an internationally trained dietitian to practicing professionally in the UK, I am proud of my achievements. I realise, however, that while I was climbing my ‘developmental ladder’ there were lots of people holding onto me to prevent me from falling and catching me whenever I stumbled – and they still do. I am grateful for all those encounters with kind individuals – some of them becoming friends for life.

Magdalena Kot, RD

Magdalena is a trauma dietitian, with extensive surgical and critical care experience including bartiatric surgery. She is currently working at Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham. Magdalena is on the BDA West Midlands committee.