ACEN student scholarship
Nutrition and Dietetics in Cape York
2017 ACEN Student Scholarship Work Integrated Learning: Reflection
I had been encouraged to “go rural”, to experience a different way of life and expand my networks outside of urban Brisbane. However I had no idea the truly life changing experience a remote placement would be, opening my eyes to an unfamiliar Australia and leading me into opportunities to build both my professional and personal self.
I had the privilege of working as a student dietitian in western Cape York this year on an integrated WIL placement. My 10 weeks at Weipa Hospital involved a clinical role working both in the inpatient and outpatient setting as well as a foodservice project that focused on improving the quality of the hospital meal service. In this way I got to experience the challenges and benefits of being a true “rural generalist”, each day demanding a new set of responsibilities. The diversity of the placement experience presented me with the opportunity to build the diverse and highly transferable skill set required to begin a career as competent and uniquely qualified dietitian.
In my role as a generalist my clinical knowledge grew significantly as I was challenged to provide dietetic care to a diverse range of patients. My experiences ranged from treating patients in a limited acute care facility to outreach in the surrounding Indigenous communities. I needed to be as proficient in paediatric-feeding issues as I was in managing malnutrition in aged care residents. I became well versed in a wide range of standards and best practice guidelines and learned to be resourceful when access to evidence and resources were lacking.
Prior to this placement I could not have imagined independently completing nutrition assessments of 32 children in a single day of annual school health checks!
As one of the sole (student) dietitians working in the very remote region I developed the effective communication and cultural competency skills needed to provide care to patients who vary in age, gender, socio-economic status, cultures and treatment plans. I learned to be creative and resourceful as I provided nutrition education to individuals, groups and via telehealth services. The ability to adapt and tailor nutrition information to suit the needs, preferences and perspectives of others is an essential competency for all graduate dietitians.
In addition to expanding knowledge and practice, I developed leadership and project management skills as I worked establish an implementation plan for continuous meal quality improvement with the hospital food service. Given the region’s restricted access to supplies and resources, this task required critical thinking and problem solving in order to overcome barriers to maintaining quality in a remote service. I developed the negotiation and decision-making skills necessary to work collaboratively with a multidisciplinary team and consult with relevant stakeholders. I learned that building strong relationships is foundational to successful change management.
I could have elected to complete my placements locally where I could return each night to the comfort of home. However my experiences in Weipa were not restricted to 9-5pm but continued throughout my time there, as I became part of the remote community. In this way my growth was both professional and personal.
Self- confidence, independence and authenticity
During this placement I developed the self-confidence needed to work independently and authentically. Over the course of the 10 weeks I was continuously challenged to step out of my comfort zone and take on all that was presented. Prior to this placement I could not have imagined independently completing nutrition assessments of 32 children in a single day of annual school health checks! Reflective practice and constructive supervisory feedback will helped me to feel comfortable with my strengths and make progress towards competence, allowing me to recognise and utilise my own unique abilities in practice.
Cultural competence: questioning biases and assumptions
While on placement in Weipa I built valuable cultural competence skills through exposure to a range of patients and experiences. From home visits to patients in Napranum and Mapoon to my own Welcome to Country ceremony, I developed a deep understanding and appreciation of culture and the impact of history on current practices. In immersing myself in the life and culture of remote Australia I gained the empathy and compassion necessary to adopt an approach to practice that recognizes the multi-factorial and interconnected determinants that affect nutrition and health of all individuals and communities.
Although a rural/remote placement is a valuable and rewarding experience, it is not without drawbacks and sacrifices. Leaving home, work, family and friends for 10 weeks undeniably came with some financial and emotional stress. Being awarded a 2017 ACEN Scholarship was an honour and allowed me worry less about these practicalities and focus more on enjoying this unique opportunity. Thank you to ACEN for your support and for encouraging students like myself to “go rural”.