About a month ago, I finished my final exam of the semester and enjoyed a gloriously sunny afternoon with my coursemates in Chester. Sadly however, it was more of a deflated celebration as I’m pretty sure we could all class our final exam as the worst exam of our lives.
Now, I’m not blowing all our own trumpets, but we’re a pretty clever set of gals (and guy). We’ve all got a previous degree(s), been through years and years of study, completed much work experience inside hospitals and the community AND we battled pages after page of applications, interviews and made it to the final 16 out of hundreds of applicants. Yeah, we may not be the Einsteins of our generation but we’ve all worked pretty hard and have a pretty high level of intelligence to be where we are today. But this year. This year has been something else.
My year started pretty rocky, in all honesty. I made the decision to remain in Manchester and commute to university, as I still loved the city and it’s liveliness so much. I wasn’t really ready to move to a new city and make all these new connections: starting a new job, moving in with strangers, learning with strangers. I wasn’t in the position to do it: I still lived with my friends, I was starting up a romantic relationship and I really loved my team at work. This ended up taking its toll from the start: I commuted a round trip of 90 miles a day FOUR TIMES A WEEK, as well as working part time. I’d get up at 6am pretty much every day and some days I wouldn’t get in until 9.30pm. I was EXHAUSTED from the word go. During this time as well, I started to develop insomnia and fatigue as a side effect from not just life, but my very uncontrolled depression, which I didn’t really talk openly to anyone about and just battled on like I was fine.
Now let me highlight, commuting isn’t a bad thing! For me and my circumstances it was, but most of my course are commuters and they haven’t had the worst time in the world with it. Yes, you have to get up earlier and get home later but usually it’s fine if you accommodate the extra time. I know most were living at home or with partners, so I think it was a little easier for them compared to myself. I had to fend for myself and had only little emotional support, which made my experience harder.
Now lets talk about workload. Now, you gotta be prepared, it hits you like a tonne of bricks, especially the first term. You simply can’t avoid the extra reading as if you don’t do it, you’ll be sitting there gormless and the confusion will just snowball. So keep on top! The Dietetics course runs alongside the BDA and the HCPC in order to tick boxes so you can be registered (and pass of course!), so University sets up assignments and tasks in order to tick these boxes. Now for me, this was pretty all over the place. One minute we’d be writing meta-analyses on nut consumption and heart disease and the next, we’d be working out the nutritional analysis and cost of a multi-cultural dish. Some parts were relevant, some seem pretty far from it. And you literally cannot predict grades. I’ve always ranged between 65-75% solidly through uni, but this year I’ve ranged from 35%-92%!? It literally is crazy. Some lecturers were genuinely wonderful and so so helpful and others would simply lead you astray and concentrate more on grammar than content (seriously, disheartening). I think the key is to take everything into your stride here and find lecturers YOU can talk to well. I found two who were seriously super helpful and spoke a language I could understand.
Now the teaching itself. Well, compared to MMU where I previously studied, it is far more academic and thorougher, which as a studious pupil, I really appreciated. However, some lecturers are better than others, like any establishment really. Some are really quite stubborn, flaky or set in their ways, where you’re not really free to explore your interests and opinions. They weren’t very informative OR helpful which was extremely annoying. However, that can’t be said for all. There really is some good lecturers at UoC and if you’re not happy, say. We had things called ‘STARs’, where we nominated two course reps to attend meetings and give our feedback on the course. My highlight of the teaching course however definitely has to be the guest lecturers. All Dietitians currently practising, they give informative half days of lecturers, activities and practical knowledge in their specialism, which I loved and definitely found them the most informative and memorable!
And to the placements, definitely my favourite part of the course! To me, I really feel that this is where your talent really is judged and tested, but it also allows you to flourish and really fall in love with the profession. Placement is tough. You’re working full time for free with pretty ill people, with a bucket load of work, activities and reflections to do at the time. But I loved it. I worked at The Christie, Manchester, in an oncology hospital (cancer). I was emotionally exhausting. You didn’t really process it at the time, but giving the severity of the disease, some days you’d see patients and then the next day, they’d be gone. You’d see people in pain and tubes, scars, stomas and feeds. But, you’d see 10 smiles for every patient in there. The staff were all pretty amazing and positive, and there was support for not only patients, but families and the staff too. I distinctly remember one old gent, who was from Italy away from his family and couldn’t speak much English. But he remained in good spirits, singing away to his Mariah Carey Christmas Hits CD and honestly, it made me melt a little. Hospitals are wonderful places really and placement gets to let you experience every emotion in there. I’m so excited to go on my next placements in St. Helens and the Wirral!
All in all. Dietetics is hard. You won’t always succeed and you’ll probably need a good old cry. Some lecturers are a bit disappointing, some are your guardian angels in disguise. I don’t think training is for those who want an easy ride. You have to put 210% into it and then you’ll still probably get knocked down several times. Luckily for me, my coursemates are gems and it’s even better we all have the same passion for Dietetics. My family have been amazing and I’ve been working hard on self-care, changing my surrounds and building good relationships with friends to help me through. Despite the stress, I’m so excited to move to Chester in the next few weeks and to complete my final year of training.
Top tips for starting an NHS training course:
- Build a POSITIVE, emotional support network, you will need it. During assignments, placement and even day to day stress, you need to vent and have someone to give you a hug. Honestly, if that isn’t around you, change your circumstances if you can or go home – see your friends and your family and do something fun. I wish I had.
- Don’t exhaust yourself. It’s tricky I know, but try not to fill every second of your day. If you work part time, drop your hours down. Yes, money is needed especially whilst training but your health is so much more important. Ask family for support or even go to Uni if you can. I’m so lucky I was able to take a loan out from my Dad to help me with rent and petrol costs during the year, so on placement I only worked a few hours a week.
- Do things you enjoy. It’s hard to remove your interests and put your social life to the back of the to-do list when training. But don’t dismiss it completely! Go for a meal, go to the cinemas, self care days and even a good night out! You’re still young and your work isn’t your life – don’t forget that.
- Go to events and network. Now I didn’t do this at the beginning of the year and I seriously regret it. Don’t be ashamed of what you love doing, networking is a great way to meet other like minded people like yourself! You also learn more, open up opportunities and build your CV. Don’t forget to take advantage of free talks and events you can go to, hosted by both universities and the BDA.
I hope you enjoyed this post and it informed any of you starting your first year, or even considering applying.