The Interviews: Placements during COVID with Ashleigh McKee

Hi my name is Ashleigh and I am a final year dietetic student from just outside Belfast in Northern Ireland who is currently on placement. I have two main loves in life and they are coffee and the gym! Coffee is both a love and a necessity to be honest on placement haha but I love nothing more than a cold brew from starbucks or even better a freshly made coffee from my aeropress. The gym on the other hand is my therapy. It is sooooooo important to have a place you can go and just be 100% present and have an hour a day where you can just take care of yourself and your mind and for me the gym is that place, I absolutely love it! So now you know a bit about me let’s get started…

How has your journey been studying dietetics so far?

My journey studying dietetics so far has been a bit of a rollercoaster! No one really prepares you for the amount of biochemistry, anatomy and physiology and chemistry you have to do in first and second year, like you’d think you were doing a biomed degree! But once I got past that and started into the actual nutrition parts I knew it was for me! Especially in third year when we had the more clinical nutrition modules. I really enjoyed learning about conditions I wouldn’t even have thought for one minute diet could help with before my degree e.g. cystic fibrosis, burns and Crohn’s disease.

What have you found the most rewarding aspect of Dietetics during your studies?

I’d say the most rewarding part of Dietetics has definitely been getting out on placement and starting to put everything I’ve learned into practice! With the structure of my degree you do all three years of teaching first and don’t get out on placement until fourth year so it’s sometimes so easy to lose sight of why you are actually learning certain things but then when you get out on placement it ties everything together and everything starts to fall in place.

How has COVID impacted your learning and placements?

Unfortunately COVID has had a massive effect on our placement this year! As we don’t get placement until final year on our degree course it is usually two 14 week blocks of 5 days per week! However, due to COVID they have had to change things massively this year and we are working a lot more from home. At the minute on Mondays we have online learning 9-4:30, Tuesdays we go into uni and do role plays and case studies and some practical stuff we can’t do online 9:30-4:30, Wednesday and Thursday we are in our clinical setting 8:30-4:30 for two very intensive clinical days and then on a Friday we do self-directed learning in the form of a project!

For me I started off my two clinical days in a hospital but 4 weeks in, it became a covid hospital which meant I couldn’t see patients or complete my competencies so I have been here, there and everywhere ever since haha. In fact one week I was in three different hospitals so it has all been a bit mad. However, every single dietitian I have been with has been an absolute star and so understanding! Plus I’ve got experience in sooooo many different areas so though it’s mad I am completely loving it! I have been in nutrition support, diabetes foot patients, newly diagnosed diabetes inpatients, community diabetes, community nutrition support, community general team, COPD patients, a few renal and IBD patients and some cardiology patients and honestly there has not been one area I haven’t enjoyed yet!

On a Friday my project is also sooooo interesting and something I am super passionate about! I have been tasked with designing health promotion materials to promote the hospital snack menu to patients who have a MUST of more than 1 and could be at risk of malnutrition! It is honestly amazing how adding two simple snacks could have such a massive benefits to these patients so I have loved making materials to educate ward staff about malnutrition and the importance of the snack menu!

Do you feel students will be at a disadvantage from their placements this year?

I would be lying if I said I didn’t feel at a slight disadvantage! Having only 2 days in a clinical setting is TOUGH, it feels like you are there and gone in no time and aren’t making progress as quickly as you would if you were there 5 days a week! However it has to be said that the uni has been doing everything in their power to ensure we meet all our competencies and have honestly done an amazing job at facilitating a placement at all during COVID!

Plus the Tuesdays in uni have turned out to be quite helpful! Dietitians from a different speciality come each week and do practical work with us like case studies so it has been nice to get a taste of everything! It’s also allowed us to learn practical skills we might not have learnt in the hospital e.g. how to set up a tube feed, how to thicken foods, how to take alternative anthropometric measurements e.g. ulna length and mid upper arm circumference and also make fortified food recipes we could suggest to nutrition support patients!

Getting there this year may take slower than normal but I am determined to get there!

What advice would you give to anybody studying and/or struggling with placements right now?

The advice I’d give to anyone struggling with placement at the moment is:

No 1. YOU CAN DO IT!!!!! I am so flipping hard on myself like I am my own worst critic and such a perfectionist BUT you gotta realise that you didn’t get this far to give up! So if you make a mistake don’t beat yourself up. You are called a STUDENT dietitian for a reason because you are LEARNING, and its so easy to forget that and be hard on yourself every time you make a tiny mistake but mistakes make you grow so as Jess Glynne would say “don’t be too hard on yourself.”

No 2. DON’T COMPARE YOURSELF TO OTHERS…It’s so easy to look at where someone else is on placement and think they are so far ahead of me, they are seeing more patients than me, they are doing more than me etc. BUT every placement is different! And as cliché as it sounds we will all get there in the end so worrying yourself by looking at what everyone else is doing and thinking why can’t I do that yet causes unnecessary stress and trust me you need to conserve all the energy you can get! You are you, that is your super power so believe in yourself!

No 3. ASK ALL THE QUESTIONS! Questions don’t make you stupid they make you seem interested and enthusiastic to your supervising dietitian so ask them alllll no matter how small! Your supervising dietitian is here to help and they would much prefer you to ask a question than sit there and not know what your doing. Plus you learn sooooo much by questioning someone working in that field because its their speciality so they know all the tricks and things to make your life easier, you just gotta ask. However sidenote…if you ask a question write down the answer somewhere and try and learn from it, people tend to not take too well to be asked the same question 6000 times haha!

No 4. Finally WRITE NOTES! Ok maybe I’m biased because I’m a stationary freak but you can’t have enough notebooks! I have a rough one I use to write diet histories etc. in so I don’t forget but I also have one with my checklists, and dietary advice in if I need a recap and an A-Z notebook which I write the names of all the new drugs I come across in so I can go and research them when I get home.

Hope this helps and if you are COVID placement student I know it’s hard at the moment but keep pushing we are nearly there.

Thanks so much for your amazing story and tips Ashleigh! I really do hope this helps a lot of RD2Bs out!

Emma x

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