Placement Year – so far so good

Hello! Hope everyone’s had a good semester and taking a well-deserved break before finals. I am also taking a break now, on my way home after a tough 12 weeks of my first placement.

Third year for me is looking quite different from other students as I am doing my Placement Year for my course in Nutrition and Dietetics. As part of training to become a Registered Dietitian, we have to complete a full year of hands-on training during our third year in hospital and/or community setting. The year is separated into two 12-weeks long placements at different locations, one for each semester. Placement location is arranged by our course, and can be anywhere south of London, as far East as Kent and West as Winchester.

In my case, I was placed in Jersey, which is part of the Channel Islands and closer to France than the UK. It was an hour plane ride away from Heathrow. It basically felt like I did a semester abroad, since Jersey technically isn’t exactly part of the UK (Jersey has its own government, is not part of NHS, and even mobile data plans don’t count Jersey as UK or EU). Sadly, there also wasn’t a Tesco’s or a Sainsbury’s (but there was M&S) so I had to get familiar with what food products were available to advise patients. Other than that, Jersey had amazing food and incredible beaches, was incredibly safe, and the people there were mostly very friendly. I felt very lucky to have visited there, as I would probably never in my lifetime had gone there (especially since I didn’t even know about Jersey until I was allocated placement there!)

I have mixed feelings about placement year. Placement has been a tough and interesting experience. This year feels very different because although I’m used to living on my own abroad by now after 2 years at Surrey, being away from friends in uni is a very different experience. It felt quite isolating being so far removed from friends and the comfort of uni, but also that it was hard to make friends in Jersey when I was only there temporarily. It also doesn’t feel like I am in uni, as I am very much removed from everything and everyone I’ve been familiar with for the past 2 years. It’s very strange to think that my friends in other courses are in third year doing their dissertation and much closer to finishing their degree, and they won’t be around when I go back to Surrey for my final year.  

Nonetheless, I’ve been enjoying the learning experience so far and appreciating all that Jersey has to offer. It feels like I’m doing a semester abroad, which enriched my university degree experience. I’m very grateful to be able to do it, to be able to use what I’ve learnt in the past 2 years to practice and to hone my skills as a student dietitian. I get to do what I love, help people, use my brain to come up with strategies and talk about food all the time.

Placement has been a mixture of work experience with mandatory learning objectives to meet each week. In my case, working at the Jersey General Hospital means I spend half the time doing in-patient caseloads and half the time doing out-patient consultations for different patient groups such as general (for those at risk of malnutrition), oncology, gastro, renal, diabetes, and home enteral feeding.

For those of you wondering what placement is like, here’s an example of what a typical week looked like:

Monday: Hospital wards all day.

Tuesday: General clinic in the morning, clinic admin in the afternoon.

Wednesday: Hospital wards all day.

Thursday: Gastro clinic all day.

Friday: Hospital wards all day.

On hospital ward days I typically saw 3-4 patients a day, depending on complexity of cases and supervisor availability. On clinic days, I could get up to 8 patients per session depending on if they all show up.

Placement was very draining, both physically and emotionally. If you don’t want to be a dietitian, you won’t be able to commit to it fully and you will give up. Placement experience will determine if you continue with this degree. Although I still want to be a dietitian and I still love the profession, I certainly was challenged on a few occasions especially on days when nothing seemed to have gone well.

The biggest learning point from my experience so far is the role and remit of a dietitian. The major role for dietitians in hospital is to help people who are or are at risk of malnutrition, and a lot of them are very unwell. Dietitians are there to advise on providing adequate nutrition, and we must know how to do this because that is literally our job. We need to consider people’s swallowing and risk of aspiration, different clinical conditions, medications, biochemistry, as well as personal preference to food and mealtimes. This experience also reinforced how important it is to prevent malnutrition and dehydration, because without being able to take in food and fluids people don’t make it very long. And we must also consider if it’s appropriate to provide supplements to help people, or if more drastic measures are required such as tube feeding, or when to stop all intervention altogether.

Placement has been the biggest learning experience I’ve ever had. After two years of learning theories, sometimes you don’t know what you don’t know until you’re put on the spot, either being asked by your supervisor or when you’re sat opposite to a patient. You really need to have your theories and information known by heart before going into placement. Placement is not for you to learn theories, it’s for you to pick up and practice skills of being a dietitian such as communication. After a long day of work, I spent a lot of time studying in the evening to brush up on my knowledge. It’s even tougher than simply just working a job, especially since we are evaluated by supervisors for everything we do. But at the end of the day, it’s all worth it.

So that’s half my year done. Placement B passed! Time for some down time!