Louise Wilkinson – BSc (Hons) Dietetics graduate

Current employer: Plymouth Hospitals NHS Trust

Current job title: Dietitian

Current location: Plymouth

"Get in touch with your local dietetic department and secure some shadowing. Most trusts support this, although make sure you plan it well in advance. This will give you an insight into the role of a dietitian, and also some exposure to a hospital environment."

Tell us about your career path since graduation.

Shortly after I registered as a dietitian with the Health & Care Professions Council, I joined Torbay and South Devon NHS Foundation Trust as a community dietitian, working three days a week seeing patients in community hospitals, care homes, and their own homes. Soon after, I also joined Plymouth Hospitals NHS trust as an acute dietitian working two days a week, providing nutritional support advice on medical wards at Derriford Hospital. In January 2016, I joined Plymouth Hospitals NHS trust as a permanent acute dietitian.
I am also just about to return to Plymouth University on the National Institute of Health Research (NIHR) Dementia Care Programme as an MPhil/PhD student. I will be continuing to practise as a dietitian alongside this.

What is the most difficult thing which you have faced in your career?

Working in two different NHS Trusts at the same time was challenging, especially as I was carrying out different roles in each. However, it also provided me with invaluable experience of the entire patient journey from home to hospital and home again.

What is the best, most exciting or fun thing that you have done in your career?

I have had the opportunity to deliver training to a variety of healthcare professionals, from care homes and hospital-based nursing staff, identifying and preventing malnutrition. I really enjoy these sessions, there are always great discussions and it is such an important area of dietetics. I am also very excited about entering the world of research!

What, if anything, would you do differently if you could?

I wish I had discovered my passion for food and nutrition earlier on! Returning to Plymouth University as a mature student had its advantages and disadvantages. I knew what to expect, having graduated from my first degree at Plymouth University in 2005, as well as having skills that I developed from my first career. It was, however, financially tight at times!

What advice would you give to anyone wanting to get in to the same line of work?

Get in touch with your local dietetic department and secure some shadowing. Most trusts support this, although make sure you plan it well in advance. This will give you an insight into the role of a dietitian, and also some exposure to a hospital environment (which is important, as the mandatory clinical placements are mostly at hospitals!). Volunteering is also a good way of learning more about the field of nutrition and dietetics, and is something great to talk about at your interview!

How did studying at Plymouth help you?

I was already familiar with Plymouth after my first degree, and was excited to study there again. I am from Plymouth, and throughout my degree I lived in the South West, therefore the location suited me well. Plymouth University is also very supportive of mature students returning to study and one of only a few universities to offer my undergraduate course in three years rather than four, which was also important to me. When it came to my research role, and I was able to choose my academic institution, of course I chose Plymouth University again!

Do you stay in touch with other Plymouth University alumni or lecturers?

Yes, I live in Plymouth so I am in touch with the lecturers and a few fellow alumni from my cohort. I am involved with the British Dietetic Association local committee, and therefore get the opportunity to catch up with others from my cohort at branch events. It is always so nice to see everyone and find out what they are up to.

Would you recommend undertaking a course with Plymouth University, and why?

Absolutely! I think that Plymouth University is forward-thinking and really supports mature students. I also think that Plymouth University is innovative in its approach to entry requirements, such as the Access to Higher Education courses rather than just traditional AS levels.  

Is there anything else which you would like to share with our current students?

Consider volunteering whilst you are studying; not only does it give you great experience, but you are also providing invaluable support to local organisations.

Inspired by this story?

For more information about studying dietetics please visit our BSc (Hons) Dietetics page. For more information about our range of courses within the School of Health Professions, please visit the school page.

Want to find similar alumni?

If you would like to find out what other relevant alumni from the School of Health Professions are currently doing, please visit the health and social work interest area.