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AHPs behind the scenes: Exploring the role of a dietitian

A dietitian is a healthcare professional who gives people advice on food, health, and nutrition. Ahead of Dietitians Week 2024, find out what it’s like to be a dietitian in NHSScotland.

Who is Diane?

Diane is a specialist cystic fibrosis and respiratory dietitian for NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde. Diane works with people with cystic fibrosis helping them to maintain a healthy diet and weight.

Diane started her career in a hospital setting. She worked with people with a range of conditions, including:

  • coeliac disease
  • irritable bowel syndrome
  • inflammatory bowel disease
  • diabetes

Diane developed a specialist interest in working with people with cystic fibrosis. She has been working in this field for over 15 years. She supports people at all stages of their lives by applying her scientific knowledge about nutrition to keep them healthy and out of hospital. 

Why dietetics?

Diane knew she wanted to be a dietitian from school. After some research, she found that becoming a dietitian would allow her to combine her passion for health with caring for and supporting people. She decided to apply to Glasgow Caledonian University to study a BSc in Dietetics, which would lead to a job in healthcare. 

Working as a dietitian

“No person's challenge is the same”, explains Diane. In a hospital setting, Diane often sees people who are unwell and have lost their appetite. She works with them to gain a greater understanding of how she can improve their nutrition and eating habits.

As a dietitian, Diane builds relationships with her patients. She supports them in living healthy and independent lives. Diane says, “I enjoy being able to see the difference dietetics can make to individual lives.” 

Diane’s most important skills as a dietitian

Diane tells us that compassion and empathy are important skills for a dietitian. Empathy toward the person you are treating helps to build trust and foster better relationships. 

Diane also says you need to love a challenge. She explains, "You need to be able to motivate people by using different skills and techniques to make positive changes in their lives." 

Diane's career journey in dietetics

In this video, Diane describes her career journey and explains why she wanted to become a qualified dietitian.

Diane also talks about the important skills for dietitians to have and how she uses them in her work. 

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Scene one video: calculating body mass index (BMI)

Diane, the dietitian, assesses the patient Orla’s body composition. To do this, she measures Orla’s weight and height to calculate her body mass index (BMI).

Assessments like this can help to identify individuals who are nutritionally at risk. They can also identify malnutrition and monitor people who are receiving nutritional support.

She shows Orla a BMI chart and where her BMI calculation sits in the chart. Diane then tests Orla’s handgrip strength to calculate her muscle strength. She advises Orla that her muscle strength is in the correct range. 

Scene two video: exploring nutritional supplements

Diane has identified that Orla is at risk of not getting adequate nutrition. She explains the option of a nutritional drink to help Orla to maintain her weight.

Diane explains to Orla that nutritional supplement drinks contain the following:

  • vitamins
  • minerals
  • calories
  • protein

Orla has the chance to taste these drinks and discuss her dietary plan. Diane tells Orla the drink is to help her maintain her weight, and if she likes it, she will have it every day. Orla tries a sample of a chocolate-flavoured supplement drink. 

Scene three video: gastronomy tube demonstration

Jade, the patient, has a gastrostomy tube which is a tube that goes directly through to the stomach. This gives Jade extra nutrition and calories when she is not able to eat enough orally.

Diane explains how the gastrostomy tube allows Jade to:

  • maintain her weight
  • keep her free from infection
  • improve her overall health

Diane wants to see Jade use the tube and to make sure it is working correctly. Jade shows Diane how she uses the tube by flushing some water through it. 

You can become a dietitian like Diane

Dietitians help people with diet-related disorders by providing practical advice to help them manage their health conditions. They use public health information and scientific research to help people of all ages make healthy and appropriate diet and lifestyle choices. 

Find out how you can become a dietitian like Diane. 

Discover more allied health professions

Explore our 360 videos and interviews that introduce other allied health professions (AHPs). 

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