The Interviews: Transitioning Roles with Donna Maher

Hi Emma thanks so much for having me. What a fantastic idea!

My Name is Donna (@donnathedietitian). I am from Ireland but have been living in the UK since 2017. I am currently an acute dietitian, which I have been doing so for the last ~4 months. Here I am mainly based on wards as well as clinics and group education (pre-covid). Previously working as a community dietitian for the same trust (alongside your great self for a short time 😊)

How did you get into dietetics?

I have always wanted to become a dietitian for as long we I can remember. During the time I was completing my Leaving Certificate (A Levels in UK) there was high demand for dietetics with only one university in the Republic of Ireland teaching it at the time. Unfortunately, I did not get enough points for the course. However, with every cloud there is a silver lining. I went on to study BSc Ordinary in Health Science & Physiology and BSc Honours in Public Health and Health Promotion. From here I was able to complete a 12-week work placement within a dietetics department which I feel greatly helped when applying for the post graduate course in 2017. I qualified as a Dietitian from Glasgow Caledonian University in July 2019. So, it wasn’t the most straight- forward and simple way to getting into dietetics but in its own way was more beneficial as it allowed me to mature as a person as well as get a deeper understanding of the foundations needed for dietetics.

After working in both, how does acute and community dietetics both relate and differ?

Working both acute and community has a lot of similar and different elements. With any dietetic job, once you know the basics of communication, nutritional assessment, treatment plans etc. these skills can be quite easily transferrable. With both acute and community, you have the responsibility of not only communicating with patients but staff, other health professionals, relatives, carers etc. this does not change. Both acute and community have elements of group education and clinics.

What differs would have been the sheer quantity of patients you see in a day. With community, especially if you are travelling to a patient’s home or care home setting this may be time consuming therefore you need to adjust and organise your time well to fit your patients in. As for the acute setting, you are given you X amounts of patients for the day and you can walk to the wards and see the patients as and when. Like it says, in acute patients as acutely unwell. Therefore, an intervention plan that will aid their recovery whatever that may be during a short period. Whereas, in community dietitians will follow patients up with long term conditions for generally a longer period of time.

Did you find the transition hard?

For me, the transition was quite unusual in the sense that I was redeployed to the palliative care team for 2 months between transitioning from community to acute. So it was hard in the sense that I had not been doing any dietetic related work throughout my redeployment. I was lucky that it was with the same trust therefore, I knew those that were in the acute team from working in the same offices which made settling in the much easier. We use the same electronic medical records databases which made the transition a lot smoother. However, the change from working mainly in care home settings and clinics to wards was a big jump which took a while to get used to – especially as I hadn’t been on wards since my dietetic placements!

What was your experience of redeployment like?

To be honest, it was a roller-coaster of emotions. I was completely out of my comfort zone as this role was very hands-on patient contact i.e. positioning patients, personal care, mouth care etc. whereas this is quite limited in dietetics (other than weighing patients and the odd tube related responsibilities for some). Working with patients that were palliative from covid, as well as other conditions was trying at times in terms of my emotions but I did feel honoured to be able to sit with patients during this time even if it was just to have a chat or make them a cup of tea – especially as no family members are allowed into hospitals at the minutes (only in special circumstances). Overall, it was an invaluable experience, that I will take with me throughout my career as a dietitian and my life personally.

Did you learn any additional skills during your time in Palliative care that have enhanced your practice as a dietitian?

I think I enhanced my communication skills in situations that one may find uncomfortable, upsetting, or difficult. Throughout my time as a palliative care support worker I had many conversations with patients and relatives about end of life, patients’ future plans/ wishes, relaying information to family members and so on. Previously, I honestly would have dreaded having to speak with family members about patients that were palliative and so on. So, this experience has made me more comfortable with the fact it is normal and in a lot of cases palliative doesn’t mean end of life.

I came to really appreciate the importance of person-centred approach. We are taught this as dietitians however, I feel I got to see a different side of this as a PCSW. It makes such a difference to a patient’s experience by taking the time to talk to them, ask them how they are feeling and really listening to their responses. Offering them a hand if they want something done (it’s not all about doing the assessment- although obviously important). Since returning to work as a dietitian, I have noticed that I take more time with patients for example fix a blanket for them, adjust their pillow, switch on the television. It is these things that the patient will appreciate – not whether you’ve told them to have a glass of milk at each mealtime or not lol 😊.

Thanks so much for taking part Donna! Brilliant to hear your experiences of transitioning roles during the pandemic and I hope this is really helpful for people transitioning from community to acute and vice versa!

Emma x

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