Being a dietitian is a vital role which synergises scientific information from research papers, conferences and up-to-date studies on chronic disease and health and transforms this information into language-friendly advice and action plans for patients. The name ‘dietitian’ is protected by the HCPC (health and care professions council) and thus may only be obtained through a validated pathway, normally through university. Another key part to this role is the diagnosis, treatment and management of certain nutritional issues such as deficiencies, disease and intolerances. Most dietitians work within hospital settings and also in outpatient centres and as community visitors, helping to support vulnerable patients and aid care teams in circumstances which require care outside of a hospital, such as in a hospice. Nutrition and getting a good intake of energy are fundamental to human life, yet barriers to this including diseases, psychological conditions and social factors ensure that certain populations lack the basic nutrition. The role of dietitians is to make informed, evidence-based decisions to support these populations towards longevity, health and vitality.
The assumption around dietitians is often that there is a common practice in treating intolerances such as lactose intolerance and allergies. In fact, these are just some of the more fundamental issues that are seen by dietitians, who in fact have a breadth and depth of scope far greater than the knowledge of the general public. Dietitians work with a variety of health topics and issues, not limited to;
Each of these topics/issues has their own intricate niches and treatment pathways, thus it is pivotal that the dietitian in practice has an excellent grasp of these areas. Whilst all NHS dietitians are certified and trained to deal with most of these conditions, there will inevitably be areas that play to certain individuals’ strengths – for example, those who have a wealth of knowledge around sports performance may have worked alongside a sports team, and thus deal less with clinical patients. A large role of dietitians is the prevention of disease and illness, something which cannot be stressed enough in the current health climate.
The dietitian will carefully plan the macronutrients and micronutrients in a persons diet, referring to the food groups (fat, carbohydrate, protein) and the minerals and vitamins (B12, Vitamin C). Nowadays, this information can be stored and scanned easily with smartphones and devices using applications which track the nutritional intake. Specialist physiology knowledge obtained during study and experience such as the sites, enzymes and conditions needed for optimal absorption of certain micronutrients is key to the treatment of disease, and often too nuanced for those without a knowledge of the area. For example, those with severe inflammatory disease of the gastrointestinal tract may be unable to absorb vitamin b12 orally due to surgery or resection, yet a simple sublingual (under the tongue) tablet of B12 may be perfect to ensure the daily requirements are being met.
Working with a dietitian as a part of a care team can really aid in the management, recovery and prognosis for individual suffering from a range of conditions. To the unenlightened, nutrition may be as simple as food in, food out. But really, there is a massive array of factors to take into account, particularly in relation to medication, individual differences and genetics, all of which are factored in by the dietitian. Most medical professionals keep relatively up to date with handbooks and practices, yet dietitians really immerse themselves in scientific research, studies and knowledge to give a evidence based approach to treatment. Finally, a lot of dietitians also play roles in universities and research projects, and it is through access to patients in these populations that more robust dietary plans and guidance can be formulated through experience.