Malnutrition, mud cake and med charts – five things you may not know about studying dietetics

My hunger to study dietetics grew from my love of food and my enthusiasm to help others, but  I didn’t really know what I was signing myself up for.  Four years down the track, and a lot more informed about the profession, I discovered there was so much more to dietetics than just telling people what to eat.  As dietetics is a postgraduate Masters qualification, I followed the UQ recommended undergraduate pathway of studying the Bachelor of Exercise and Nutrition Sciences. It has been a challenging, rewarding and food-filled learning curve over the years. If you’ve considered becoming a dietitian and can picture the career as your way to bring home the bacon – here are five things you may not know about studying dietetics.  

  1. What exactly does a dietitian do?
    Whenever I tell someone I’m studying dietetics, this question would have to be the most frequent response. After jokes of being called the food police and the sandwich doctor, people are usually surprised when I set the record straight. For the record, dietitians are smart cookies, but we also enjoy them too.

    With the goal of becoming a registered dietitian, university trains us to provide expert advice to people of all ages regarding their nutritional health. We are prepared for this by studying a range of chemistry, physiology, nutrition science, as well as medical nutrition therapy. This knowledge allows us to then interpret a range of physical and biochemical symptoms to determine a person’s nutritional status, while also understand the social and economic factors influencing dietary intake. The opportunities for dietetics don’t just end there though – they also stretch to conducting full menu reviews, food service regulation, evaluating the nutritional composition of food, and promoting nutrition within a community or group.  

    In a clinical setting, a typical day involves attending meetings with multidisciplinary teams, identifying nutritionally at-risk patients and prioritising their importance. Then a dietician would read the patient’s chart for background information about social and medical history, discuss with the patient their recent dietary intake, and then work with the patient to come up with strategies to achieve their nutrition goals or optimise recovery. Liaising with doctors and other allied health professionals about treatment methods are imperative to ensure a high level of patient care.  Each patient has a unique set of social and medical issues, providing a variety of cases and conversations for the whole day.
  2. Malnutrition – it’s a real thing
    When you hear the word malnutrition, often the thought of third world countries comes to mind. However, once you step into the world of a clinical dietitian, it suddenly becomes the bread and butter of everyday life.  No matter the BMI (body mass index) of the patient (which ranges from obese to underweight), malnutrition can occur from extended illness, eating disorders, poor appetite and is commonly found in the elderly. As this is usually alleviated by a diet high in energy and protein, the look of surprise on a patient’s face when the dietitian recommends eating chocolate and custard (amongst other things), it never gets old. 
  3. Be prepared to become a myth buster
    If there’s something strange in your neighbourhood – who you gonna call? Ghostbusters!

    If there’s a new fad diet and you think that it’s good - who you gonna call? A dietitian!

    With so much information available online about nutritional health, you’ll often find yourself sifting the fact from fiction when it comes to the next new food fad or diet craze. You will need to determine which of them are nuttier than peanut butter and which of them seem like the greatest thing since sliced bread. Being up-to-date with the latest research will allow you to provide personalised advice to a patient about their nutritional health.
  4. Workplace variety
    Ever imagined yourself working while travelling the globe or working in a variety of different workplaces? Well, this could be the right career for you. With our diet being such a big part of our lifestyles, there is a huge range of industries where dietitians can make a positive impact.  Apart from the well-known positions in a hospital and private practice dietitian, there are a range of speciality areas including working in foodservice, with sporting teams, in paediatrics, within the mental health sector, aged care, the Defence Force and the list goes on. With the option to also work overseas, dietetics can always provide a new challenge for you to tackle.
  5. You can have your cake and eat it too
    Throughout this year, while studying the Masters in Dietetics Studies, my days at university often involved cooking classes for different dietary needs, to find out what works and what doesn’t. From Mediterranean-style lunches, high- fibre casseroles, dairy-free eggnog, to the occasional celebratory cheesecake, dietetics classes usually see us cooking up a feast. Most are delicious and making and eating food - all in the name of learning - definitely takes the cake for the most enjoyable class in my opinion.

Hopefully, my experiences have given you a bit of a taste of dietetics or at least, some food for thought. I mean, with a job where you can talk about food all day, all while making a difference in someone’s life – what’s not to love?

UQ has a variety of undergraduate pathways that provide access to the Masters of Dietetics Studies, allowing you to study what you enjoy from day one. If you are interested in studying dietetics then make sure you have a look at the program page for more information.

Meet the author

Hi, I’m Pattie. I grew up in Warwick and moved to Brisbane to study my undergraduate and Master’s degree in Dietetics. Throughout my university placement, I have been lucky enough to be placed in the Intensive Care Unit and the Cystic Fibrosis ward at the Prince Charles Hospital as well as within outpatient settings such as Headspace. With such a variety of opportunities, I can’t wait to see where I go next!


Last updated:
1 December 2016