Gosh, it’s been less than a year since I was battling through my final university placements in order to qualify and now I coming to the end of my time as a Band 5 Dietitian!? Like, woah?! And what a (almost) year it’s been.. it’s safe to say that my time as a newly qualified RD hasn’t exactly been an easy one (but when ever is it, really?) and I’m always asked by future RDs and RD2Bs about what exactly it’s like.. so here you go. Welcome back to another episode of ‘Emma rambles on the internet’, we haven’t had one of these for a while have we?
Let me state before I go on… this is MY personal experience. Mine is definitely at bit different to how you expect your first year to be and most of the time, it’ll be a bit of a smoother road than this one. But again, everyone has different experiences, so it’s good to have a chat with a few different people, whether they be friends, placement supervisors or people you meet at CPD events to kind gather a bit of an idea from numerous stories.
Placements done, goodbye university!
After finishing my fabulous final community placement last July, I decided to literally go straight into employment. Like, zero holiday. I did this for a few reasons… actually no, one reason: money. It’s safe to safe my postgraduate degree broke me (in more ways than one) and I was very, very poor. I had to quit my part time jobs because it was just too much whilst working full time on placement, so yep, poor as fluff. To be fair, I wasn’t really that much better off as I decided to go away in September (oh my, but I never needed that holiday more! Such a break!!) so probably could of just dealt with another six weeks without pay. But never the less, I was SO glad to get employment so soon. Everyone else on my course did take a break and I was so god damn jealous. I remember one Wednesday distinctly when everyone was posting insta stories sitting in a beer garden or out for cocktails and I was lugging the HEAVIEST mother f-ing wheelchair scales around Central Manchester, got spoken to like shit from some very uninterested care home staff and then, of course when it was scorching hot everywhere else in the UK, the heavens opened and I then resembled a drowned rat with quite bad backache. That was definitely a ‘ffs’ moment.
So yeah, keeping that one simple, take time off after placements before you start work. By god you need it.
My First Job
I state first, as I’ve had an astounding three jobs in eleven months, but I’ll go on to talk about that later on. So yep, my first job was a bit different to most people. I opted to work for a private company, kinda because it was in a geographical area where I wanted to work, the pay was decent and I had no current loyalties to the NHS and its continuous employment, so I went for it. I have to say, if we subtracted one massive problem out of the equation, it wasn’t half bad. We were dubbed the ‘weird uncle’ of the company (as I’m pretty sure they had no clue what we actually did) and it was lots of chaotic fun. The team were brilliant (actually, I’ve been really lucky with all the teams I’ve worked with since qualifying, so yay!) and we all had the same attitude and same sense of humour. Working for a private company was a little bit of a shambles though, as there was lots of inconveniences and issues that we came across, like not being part of the NHS meant we couldn’t send emails securely and no one knew who we really were and all that. But yeah, we worked around it. We had no official database or system to work on, so we all shared outlook calendars, everything was documented on paper and best of all, only one person could get into the makeshift database at one time.. (“ANYONE IN THE DATABASE?” a phrase shouted across our very cramped, communal office approx every 8 minutes between 8am and 5pm.) Oh, that was the highlight, our lovely… erm nah, can’t even say that. The office. It was a shithole but it was our shithole. We had to sit with the lights off because the room was too hot and opening the windows any further would mean the delightful stench of cannabis from the community centre down below would then enter the already very small room, we had no water supply so had to fill our kettle up with a jug and at one point, there wasn’t even enough desks or chairs. But you know what, it was a right laugh and if I learnt anything from my short 10 weeks there, it was plenty of resilience, how to work under the pressure of a crumbling service and that Morrisons local reduce their fresh cakes and bakes around 2pm so that’s the best time to get office snacks.
Sadly the worst part about everything was that pretty much on my first day, I was told that the contract for the Dietetic service was under review and the NHS were most likely gonna get it. Which they did. I mean good on them, because the NHS really was the better option, so we went through something called a ‘TUPE’ (Transfer of Undertakings Protection of Employment) and honest to god, I hope none of you, especially myself, have to go through something like that, especially when you’re only two months into your career. To keep it short, it’s essentially shutting down one service and opening a new one, which we had to do in a matter of 4 weeks. Yep. Horrible. Honestly I’ve never felt more sorry for someone then my manager who had only been in the job six months herself. We lost most of our staff members, either because they weren’t carried over or they left because they couldn’t cope with it. So yeah, that was pretty much the end of that. One day we were private and then the next we were NHS. So crazy.
Job Number Two (post TUPE)
So that was it, we were now a new service. New management, new structures, new offices, new contracts. Safe to say that on our first day a lot of chocolate was consumed. Now it may sound fabulous walking into an NHS job like that, but hear me out, it’s not. Essentially, whilst we carried over the patients, that was pretty much about it. The service DID NOT EXIST. Systems had to be set up, data needed to be transferred and added and we needed to meet our new teams and set ups. My team? Oh yeah. Just me 🙂 I was relocated to a south base with a colleague as we both lived quite far away and travelling to the new north base daily was not really an option (if you know Manchester, then it takes about an hour to drive about 2 miles in peak times… I lived 36 miles away). She very sadly left after 3 weeks for a job closer to home so it was just me. My manager visited me weekly and sometimes the DA would be sent down to help, but apart from that I was doing it alone. The whole caseload for the area was pretty much mine, which is really scary for someone who’s just their HCPC registration. You know what though, that built a lot of key skills. My organisation skills sky rocketed and now I can manage having a large, often neglected caseload quite well. Throwing you in at the deep end or what? But yeah, the worst for me was that I was alone. Even though as a Community Dietitian you work remotely a lot, it was different to that. Working remotely means you still see people, whether than be patients or a secondary team. Apart from seeing my patients, I would honestly sit in an empty office with no other beings and sit staring out onto a windy street. It was horrible and took such a toll on me mentally. I would come home crying most nights and whilst I did actually get a new job, I couldn’t start it for a while because if you know, you know, NHS employment is a long process and it usually takes around 3 months before you actually start. Thing is I couldn’t quit either because I was buying a house and ya know, that costs money and all that. So yeah, a crappy three months. I suppose I did gain so many independent management skills but I missed just chatting to my colleagues – you’d be surprised how much you actually learn from others from just chatting to each other. I left at Christmas and used some annual leave to have an extra long break (lol two weeks) before starting my next job… and by god I needed it.
So, things were a lot better here. It was an established(ish) service for one in a hospital, so we had lots of connections to acute and paediatrics too which I really like (makes handovers the dream). First two weeks we had an office move, so not much more different to my usual work but it was a little frustrating. I just wanted to get stuck in and see people. But changes are for a reason and I was happy to get involved and help! I’d also joined as a brand new position…. the services had expanded so had gone from literally one staff member to a whole team. So yeah, the job was kinda shaping it to how I wanted it to me, how I’d fit the team and improving service waiting times, efficiency and patient satisfaction. Which I really enjoyed and loved making it my own (and I really hope the new band 5 who replaces me loves it too!).
But then…. COVID happened. An absolute national tragedy and pandemic. To be honest, after what happened before Christmas, it’s the last thing I expected to happen during my first year as a RD. The acute team got up skilled, the community team got redeployed… me? Unfortunately because of my severe atopic dermatitis, I am going through lots of immunosuppressing treatments which meant I was in the ‘at risk’ group (not ‘shielding’ however as I have no other health risks) so I couldn’t help on the front line. At first, I was a mixture of relieved but frustrated. I wanted to help but I didn’t want to get ill. But safety first for both me and my patients. At the end of the day, you can’t help the health of others if you don’t look after your own health. But yeah, it was a strange time. I essentially finished my job without my whole team, but we kept going in the hard last 12 weeks of my employment with COVID. We learnt how to adapt, how to help in a crisis, we managed to improve services ready for the ‘new normality’. I personally found this time really hard, especially not being able to see my Mom and Dad (who are my besties), so dealing with my mental health (like most people) was hard. I’m very lucky to have had the best supervisors and managers which meant going to work was a relief, rather than a fear.
Sadly during this time too, I’ve had my own health issues. My atopic dermatitis developed a severe flare back in 2018 and this year its taken a turn for the worse (which I’ve been through countless and intense forms of treatment for). It’s really effected me, mainly as chronic illness wipes you out at the best of times, let alone in a pandemic. But I have to thank everyone involved whilst I’ve been working with them who have all been so understanding!! It’s hard for staff and employees during this time, so to be able to understand and make exceptions is not only caring but amazing of them and I really appreciate it.
Normality still isn’t completely resumed (and let’s be honest, will normal ever be the same?) but I’m so sad to say goodbye to my old team. I’m very excited to be joining a speciality I’m passionate about but also, nervous for the future of both my personal career and how dietetics will be shaped. But looking at the positives… this is the time to make noise, change old ways and make a huge difference.
So yes, my time as a band 5 has definitely been anything from normal, but my god I’ve definitely had a time to remember. All I want to say is, no journey is the same and it’s okay to feel all emotions of the spectrum. Whether you enjoy it, hate it, want to cry or want to smile until your face falls off, it’s okay! Each journey is individual and it’s your journey to make!
Suppose I should make this post and little useful for you anyway… so what advice and what have a learnt as a band 5, ey? Well I suppose, the learning definitely doesn’t stop when you qualify (although let me say, it’s a lot more fun that when you’re a student under deadline pressures) and it’s okay to go full steam ahead and do every form of CPD under the sun, or it’s okay to keep it up and dabble when you feel like it… enjoy the RD ride! And it’s okay to make mistakes or feel like you could of done better. We’re only human and we’re learning.
I also have some crucial take home facts for you too, just if you never learnt them on placement: check your pockets for pens before you wash them, establish the rules and regulations of the tea and coffee fund before you steal someone else’s and the admin team will become your best friends as you gain your independence as an RD… be nice to them.
My inbox is always open if you have any questions about my (rather strange) experience, studying or community life in general!
Emma is a Registered Dietitian and Registered Associate Nutritionist based in Cheshire, England. Emma works in community healthcare and writes freelance alongside her work: topics including Dietetic life, nutrition, mental health and lifestyle. Emma also writes and photographs recipes for the platform, as well as being the author of the ‘Mummy and Me’ series for SR Nutrition. Emma’s Food Stories is PR friendly brand.