The Highs and Lows of Being A Student Dietitian

June 21, 2019

This post has been super requested and something I’ve been wanting to write, but as I have *just* finished my final placement and about to start my first ever job, I wanted to share with you all the highs and lows over the last two years.

I don’t want to sugar glaze my experience, but I don’t want to turn it into a negative either. But I wanted to share my raw, honest time over my two years and how it’s got me where I am today. For those of you that haven’t came across me on my journey so far – hi! I’m Emma, I’m a 22 year old who has JUST finished my postgraduate diploma in Nutrition and Dietetics at the University of Chester and I am about to start my first ever position in Dietetics – I will be working as a Dietetic Assistant at my new company whilst waiting for my HCPC registration to come through, where after I will be a Home Enteral Feeding and Nutrition Support Community Dietitian – HOW EXCITING!! I will officially graduate for the second time this November (2019).

I started my course in 2017 as a postgraduate student. I entered the profession this way as before I started my Nutritional Sciences degree in 2014, I actually had no clue what Dietetics was. I knew I loved food and loved nutrition, and had a pretty decent interest in healthcare, but I didn’t know what job that was for me. During my first year at university, I was like, “aaaaah, so that’s Dietetics!” and it definitely spurred me on. I was a little hesitant to apply during my third year – I didn’t know if I was good enough or if it was the right time. But I did. And I’m so glad I did.

I would of loved to have spent a year travelling or working in the food industry, but how it landed meant that my year was the last year for postgraduate students to receive an NHS bursary (I believe undergraduates had stopped the year before). For me, there was no way I could have done the course without it – I’m not from the most well off background and I wasn’t entitled to other loans either.

First Term First Year

The first term of uni was pretty exciting, but it was tough. It was a bit of a shock to the system. To be honest, I found my undergrad a bit of a doddle. Whilst I worked hard, I didn’t have to push myself most of the time. I was able to achieve nothing less than a 2:1 or a first on assignments, whilst still working and volunteering, and going out a little toooo many times a week (I still made it to pretty much every lecture too – impressive).

But yep. Dietetics is a pretty competitive course to get on to, so you have to GRAFT. For one, I was shocked because everyone wanted to learn – my year in undergrad, well… at least 50% of the course were just there so they could go to uni and had little interest in the subject. For my group on Dietetics, everyone wanted to be there, so it was a nice change to be with likeminded individuals.

But yep, the course itself. Now I was on the old version of the course so the syllabus has now changed but the content is similar never the less. I was in uni around 4 days a week and lectures would be 3 hours long (with coffee breaks, thank goooodness). There was a LOT to learn. We studied 3 modules as well as professional placement prep, which involved several pieces of work to prepare for and lots of extra research and work. First term involves quite a few group projects, which is great for getting to know your cohort, but I also found it quite overwhelming as everyone was so much more knowledgeable than myself. You can catch up, but remember, everyone is unique and everybody has their own strengths and weaknesses.

For my first year of the course, I lived in Manchester and commuted into Chester. I love driving, but this pretty much killed me off. I didn’t have the best support network back where I lived. No family, only a handful of friends who I barely saw and a relationship where basically, I also got little support. It would of been lovely for someone to cook for me or help me with washing and things, but unfortunately I was pretty much going solo.

Because of this, I didn’t really have the opportunity to make secure friendships at uni or Chester. I didn’t really fit in to any of the groups and because I commuted and worked on top, I never really had the time.

Placement A

My first placement was at a specialist Oncology hospital. For A placement, you don’t really do too much. It’s like dipping your toes into the real dietetics for the first time. Lots of shadowing, LOTS of paperwork and a real eye opening experience.

For me, I was living in Manchester and the hospital was only 2 miles away – WHICH WAS SUCH A RELIEF. After commuting 80 mile trips 4-5 times a week, I was very thankful of no longer getting up at 5.30am every morning. My placement was brilliant: I thought working in a cancer hospital would be pretty daunting, but it was such a positive place to work. My team were super supportive and I also got my own desk which was pretty cool! However, I had absolutely no clue how to fill in the forms for evidence and neither did my team. They’re super confusing. But my opinion? Not only collect evidence from the very beginning, organise your folder too, it’ll save you an absolute mare in your last week or so of placement.

However, at this point my mental health was going pretty downhill. I just entered a relationship where as you know if you was a reader back in 2018, made me very stressed and tore me apart, I had issues with my friendships and I was still working 20 hours a week alongside.

Second Term First Year

Well, I don’t think I have ever experienced a term as hard as this one! After placement A, this was when the work really started. Numerous exams and coursework all of the time – we had 4 deadlines in two weeks and it didn’t help that I also had a break up during this time, causing me have a mental breakdown and being put on antidepressants – cool beans there. All I can say there is just prioritise and prepare – you can’t fight all those deadlines and if you want to complete the course, you’ve got to push through. A pass is a pass and that’s okay. Nearer the end of the term, I actually failed a piece of work (I wrote all about it here), but it was actually very beneficial to myself and my development. Failure isn’t the end, just an extra chance to gain knowledge, skills and build on your weaknesses. Term was finished with another exam and then a looooooong summer holiday which was SO needed.

First Term Second Year

For my second year, I moved to Chester. This was for a number of reasons really. One – it would benefit me financially. Living in Manchester meant I was unable to claim back ANY moneys from placement expenses due to by 80 mile round trip, so by moving to Chester it allowed me to do that which boy, it really helps when you’re a poor, barely funded student. The last of my friends had also moved from Manchester and the guys I knew, I wasn’t really that close to. I really wanted a fresh start after the year I had too, so moving to Chester would be ideal for that – I absolutely loved Manchester but there was still too much association with events there for me. But the tipping point, one of my best friends from my undergraduate degree had got on to a Masters at Chester, so we decided to move together.

This term, educationally was easier. My revision style is “if I’m not pressured it won’t go in”. My general knowledge was pretty much sound, but exam revision. Ew. I literally can’t let it sink in unless its a week before. Because of my mental state, I try to keep as relaxed as possible, because last time it happened I didn’t leave my room for 3 weeks a lost about half a stone from not eating and tears most likely (can’t be having that again, FOOD IS LYF). What stressed me out during this time was social media. Everyone snapping pics of their revision from my course and others across the UK. It made me feel guilty for not doing anything, but also making me think, wtf how can you do that all day everyday?! In hindsight, that’s just how other people work, but it’s not for me. It’s hard to be to keep of social media due to my writing and blogging work, but if you can, avoid it. I wish I had because I was more stressed about seeing other people revise than my actual revision.

This term I also picked up extra work and was applying for writing positions. This has been so great for me in the long term, but as well as uni, a writing job and 30 hours waitressing a week in a restaurant who wouldn’t even let me have a break…. too much kids, too much. I also participated in blogmas… don’t participate in blogmas unless you’ve actually got the time, kids. Luckily during this time I met my boyfriend, David, who pretty much acted as my carer during this time, picking me up at 2am from work and feeding me when I had 67p in my account. I really struggled to make any friends in Chester, so it was good I had his support and well as my family too.

Placement B

Now, placement B. Oh placement B.

Let’s just say, this was my least favourite, hardest and most mentally challenging placements. I remember my supervisor telling me “you’ll usually would have cried by week 6” – I cried by week 2. I actually can’t even think of a week after that when I didn’t cry. Week 9 I think I blubbed every day. It was so hard.

It can often be hard when comparing your experience to other people’s experience. Due to HCPC rules and placement providers rules and expectations, you’re not really allowed to say anything negative about your experiences or the profession. Which is hard. Whilst I love the career path I’m embarking on, not every day is a joy. Sometimes you do feel like throwing everything in the air, storming out the door and catching the first flight to the furthest destination. It can be due to stress, tiredness, people, your mental health – ANYTHING. And that’s okay. It’s okay to feel like that. During my B placement, they were extra strict and I had to be super careful about putting things on the internet. I found this HARD, as I use my social media accounts as a platform to express myself and share my experiences. I was always confidential, kept my location closed and worded things in an appropriate manner but this still was too risky for them. It’s hard. I shared things minimally on that placement – I wrote things down and stored them away for only myself to see.

From this point onwards (week 2), I don’t feel like I had the best relationship with the team. To be honest, most of them CLEARLY didn’t like me – which is okay, sometimes it just works out this way. We don’t always fit in. This placement taught me a lot. The real learning happens on placement B. It’s so mentally exhausting and you have to do SO much work and research out of work hours. Don’t understand a condition? Let’s spend 6 hours after work crying over it and reading research papers. Oh let’s read up on that and completely forget it the next morning because you’re running on 3 hours sleep and ARGH. I even got told off in the early weeks for being so exhausted (and it went on my portfolio – cool (: ). I ended up quitting my job which meant losing all my income and then came the added stress of being poor. I mean, I was poor before, but this, this was horrible. One week I went to the shop and couldn’t even afford a bottle of milk. Luckily I got accepted for exceptional funding from uni, but this doesn’t cover much. I have no savings whatsoever so god know how much debt I’m in to other people right now.

But yep. B. I passed (I didn’t think I was going to get through) and the relief was unreal. It also raised some disagreements with myself and acute practise. I didn’t agree with lots of things going on and I often got frustrated with the minimal help I could provide to many individuals. I highlighted to me new loves and interests (I LOVE dementia patients) and things I wasn’t so passionate about (felt like I needed a bottle of gin after each paeds clinic). A learning experience definitely, but I’m so glad that’s done with now.

That weird one week we had in the middle

Like, what was the point in it? Inbetween our B and C placements, we had to go back to uni for a week for a catch up and professional development systems. snoooooooooze. Whilst it was nice to see my coursemates, believe you me I so would have preferred to be back at home having one final chill before C.

I believe this has now been scrapped for the new cohort. Lucky yous.

Placement C

And my absolute favourite – my community placement.

The team and the trust made me feel SO welcome from the moment I started. They’re genuinely one of the nicest teams I’ve ever worked with and if I ever got the chance, I would love to work with them again.

Now, let’s talk about community. For me, I felt community wasn’t really talked about enough – in university, the focus is all on acute. This almost made me feel like community wasn’t as important and that I would absolutely dread it. But as my B placement went on, there was more and more frustrations with acute that really made me look forward to community life. And oh boy, I LOVED it and so happy I picked it for my first job (I got the job before I’d even experienced community. A risk which paid off!).

C placement to me FELT like I was a real Dietitian. From the start you’re given the go ahead. I was delivering full care plans by the halfway point, but it was hard NOT to look back at your supervisor like, “Is that okay?”. I mastered nutrition support pretty early on and I’m definitely SO much better at gut health problems. I got to experience tube feeding too, which was so interesting but I definitely want to have more practise in complex cases, which is good as I will be covering it as a DA in my new position. Unfortunately for me too, I basically have had the smallest amount of Diabetes experience, due to situations out of mine and my workplaces control, so this is something I definitely want to work on more while I’m a band 5. Diabetes is such a huge issue today and I really want to be confident in the condition. I can now do consultations, but I do want to strengthen this area.

Please don’t feel that community is just a background option. If you get to experience it, then please jump at the chance.  It may not be for you but it was definitely for me.

How things have changed

Things have changed a lot since I started. I am no longer the tanned, long haired brunette who wears dresses and heels, goes out and has friends. I feel like I’m a shadow of my former self, but at the same time, I no longer care about things such as personal appearance half as much as I did when I was 20 (even 21 infact). I spend my life in tunics and pyjamas. I rarely wear makeup. I’m a little bit out of shape because whilst I still go to the gym, I no longer walk 20,000-30,000 steps a day and I drive everywhere. Can’t remember the last time I did my hair properly (but just got it coloured so HALLELUJAH). I’m also a bit of a social wreck. My social anxiety is high and I struggle. I have to literally talk myself into going places. If you have also tried to message me in the last few months, I apologise but there is a 3-4 week wait for replies. But I’m trying to improve, I’m trying to get better at this. Getting up earlier and pushing myself. I feel I’m almost a different character when I’m a Dietitian (eeeeeek, can I say that now?!) – I’m confident on the outside but inside I still have anxiety: the initial conversation, making telephone calls. But it’s all practice and it’s getting better. I’m more confident in my Dietetic knowledge, in my people skills and how to be a good healthcare professional and provide the best personalised care.

I’m so glad I did Dietetics, but I won’t sugar coat it for you – these have been the worst and most stressful years of my life. Dietetics, like any healthcare course requires dedication and you’ve got to prepared for the storm that is ahead. I know a lot of this was influenced by factors outside the dietetics world, but now I’m free and it feels so bloody good. I’m so excited to start the next chapter of my career.. hopefully great things lie ahead.

Any other queries or things I haven’t covered in this post? Feel free to drop me a message or an email at and I’ll be happy to help.

Emma x

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