10 Jan 2022

In her thirties, Anna Costain decided that a marketing career wasn't for her and took the plunge to study dietetics. In this blog she explains what it's like to take on dietetics at a later stage in life.

I’m 44 years old and I’m nearing the end of my dietetics PGDip. It’s taken me over five years to get to this point, having taken a year-long access course and a three-year Nutrition BSc. Now I’m in touching distance of finishing I can’t wait to start my new career as a dietitian.

I’ve met other student dietitians along the way who, like me, don’t fit the traditional student demographic and it struck me this was a good opportunity to start a conversation.

Are you studying or working in dietetics having made a career change and if so what knowledge and experiences can we share?

Why a career change?

After graduating, I worked as a marketing executive in publishing and commercial property, ending up as a freelancer. I enjoyed the job, but I had fallen into marketing by accident and my heart wasn’t really in it.

So, with a third baby on the way, I decided to take a career break. During this time, I took up triathlon which sparked an interest in sports nutrition.

By the time my youngest child started school, I was more than ready to go back to work, but to a career that I was passionate about, nutrition felt like the perfect fit.

Why dietetics?

When I started my Nutrition BSc at King’s College, London I wasn’t sure where it would take me. But the course was taught alongside dietetics students and I found myself drawn to the modules they were doing, the communication and counselling skills, the food and catering management and diet therapy. I’d considered using my nutrition degree to go into teaching or health education.

I love connecting with people and being in a caring profession really appealed. Putting this all together, dietetics did seem like the perfect fit. I was lucky enough to work shadow my local community dietetics team. This really did cement my decision, particularly as one of the dietitians had made the transition from a different career which gave me the confidence to do the same. 

I know it’s so much harder in COVID times but getting work experience was such an important part of my decision to study dietetics. I also had a dietitian friend and I think that just speaking to someone about the ups and downs of their careers can be as valuable as actual physical work experience.

Placement

I continued at King’s for my post-graduate diploma in dietetics. It’s an intense course with all teaching and placement carried out within 18 months. In August I finally started my clinical placement, and this has completely confirmed that dietetics is the right career for me.

My supervisors have been encouraging and generous with their time, sharing their experience and knowledge.

Advantages

One of the things I’ve enjoyed most about placement is getting back to the rhythm of working. I was easily able to slot into a busy working environment and I think this is one of the major advantages of having a bit more work and life experience behind me.

There are so many other transferable skills that have helped me through my studies and placement, perhaps most of all time management. With competing commitments, I found that I had to be super organised, and planning was key to managing the workload and meeting deadlines. Communication and writing were key skills gained from my marketing career and both have been invaluable for assignments, presentations and even writing clinic notes.

Bringing life experience to dietetics has been very rewarding; I’ve found that I can interact with patients of all ages from all walks of life; this came in very helpful during my paediatric placement weeks!

A dietetics undergraduate friend recently shared her experience of starting dietetics as a new career. Having worked before she had a clearer idea of what she really wanted from a career. With many valuable years of work ahead, doing something she was passionate about gave her more purpose and determination.

Difficulties

The same friend also shared some of the difficulties of going back to study, she said If you’ve not studied for a while it takes time to get your ‘mind-muscle’ back to full fitness! Dietetics is a challenging degree; it is competitive to get a place therefore the expected academic standard is high. My year-long access course was a good stepping stone, but I completely agree, the rigour of going back to study was a real challenge.

Having other commitments meant that I was often unable to attend extra-curricular activities or take on volunteering that might have enhanced my CV; but my tutor assured me that my previous life and working experience could fill this gap.

One of my greatest fears about returning to study was feeling ‘out of place’ or not belonging in an environment dominated by a much younger demographic. I can honestly say I have never been made to feel like this by my coursemates, tutors or colleagues on placement.

I think this is testament to dietetics as a profession. I’m not naïve to think that this would be the same for everyone, this is honestly my own experience. As I said, I’d love to start a conversation - so join me in the BDA student discussion forum.

Article

Author

Anna Costain