14 Oct 2021

I’ve been a registered dietitian for 13 years following a career in finance. I recently moved jobs from Danone Nutricia to Oviva, a digital health provider. I am now a Senior Partnerships Manager, after five years in sales at Nutricia. Some may think that sales is an odd choice for a dietitian, however, it’s a fantastic opportunity to lead and influence. I relish the challenge of convincing anyone (CCG leads, transformation leads, medics, pharmacists, commissioners) of the importance of good nutritional status and what can be done to improve services, make better use of money and improve patient outcomes and experience. 

Since September, I am now the deputy chair of the England Board, under the trusty helm of Julie Aboyomi (Edge Hill University). Soon after I took on this role, the Home-Grown Dietitian project began to develop. Much of the background came from initial discussions around problems with finding placements with Avni Vyas and her colleagues at Manchester Metropolitan University (MMU). 

The current aims of Home-Grown Dietitian project are:

  • Support existing placement expansion projects.
  • Improve the student placement experience.
  • Support HEIs with placement provision from another perspective.
  • Identify opportunities to support growth of new opportunities for early career dietitians.
  • Explore the concept of peer assisted learning for placements.
  • Develop an employment platform for early career dietitians.

We wanted to get started with something tangible with this work, so adopted the existing Health Education England (HEE), Allied Health Professionals' (AHPs) practice-based learning programme under our wing. The objectives of this programme tie in well with some of our Home-Grown Dietitian aims, including improving student experience in placements and employability, and widening the reach of the dietetics profession from the very start of the professional journey. The programme promotes role-emerging or contemporary placements.  These placements are in non-traditional settings where there is not an established relevant AHP in role, with a hybrid supervision element via off-site educators.  Occupational therapists have been following this approach for over 15 years and the University of Salford is a great example of best practice in this regard. 

As a project team we hope to achieve full buy-in from the BDA, and then build engagement across HEIs and students using resources from HEE and developing dietetic specific resources. We are borrowing best practice and learnings across our AHP family; the University of Salford has kindly offered to share many of their resources such as providing promotional materials, handbooks, training and lessons learnt.  

Taking a fresh approach to placements benefits the whole profession and the provider. To quote Rachel Russell, OT: “there are places out there that need my profession they just don’t realise it yet!” Role emerging placements help prepare students for the real world of contemporary practice, and recognise that practice occurs outside of the NHS where much of health and social care is delivered now. Students get the chance to develop leadership skills (one of the four pillars of professional development) early in their career and tackle real issues including public health.  Students often achieve a deeper level of learning, and get an early awareness of the occupation in which they will work. For the profession, it provides a pipeline for new roles and explores and demonstrates impact. Importantly, stereotypes of AHPs can be broken, and a deeper understanding of the value of the profession can be achieved.

The Home-Grown Dietitian project aims to seek out ways to improve the whole experience for this really important collective. Our current and future students will be driving the profession forward, innovating, leading, teaching and practising. It is up to qualified dietitians to help prepare students and early career dietitians for jobs that do not even exist yet, ready for a new world of work where few people rely on a job for life. New dietitians will need to be flexible and bring different sets of skills including entrepreneurship and digital skills.

I was delighted to read the new BDA Student Rep, Reema Rabheru’s recent article in Dietetics Today. Her aims in her role include “enhancing communication between student members and full members.” This project will link in with Reema to really understand the student story across placements in particular, and see where we can also support in further elements like first role recruitment.

This AHPs’ Day, I ask that anyone who has examples of role-emerging placements already happening in dietetics to send their example to David Marsden at Health Education England or to the BDA England Board. The HEE website also has a wealth of information about the project.

For more information on the work mentioned in this article you can contact James Sandy, Policy Officer (England).

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Belinda Mortell