Author: Kirsty Gaffigan, Dietetic Apprentice working for Norfolk Community Health and Care, and studying MSc Dietetics and Leadership at Coventry University.
Have you heard of the new dietetic apprenticeship course? This is a new course which started in January 2022 and was the first dietetic apprentice scheme to run in the UK. This route provides a way for dietetic assistants and assistant practitioners to build on the knowledge and skills used daily in our role and enables many of us an opportunity to achieve our dream of becoming a registered dietitian.
This route is available for those already working as a dietetic assistant or assistant practitioner. Currently the MSc at Coventry University is the only course running, with undergraduate and postgraduate courses in development. The British Dietetic Association have further information on their webpage for those interested.
Why did I choose an apprenticeship?
I have worked as a dietetic assistant practitioner since completing my Nutrition and Human Health undergraduate degree in 2016. I love my job and the patients I see but felt the urge to do more! I love learning and was keen to complete an accredited course to become a Dietitian. I had been accepted onto a traditional MSc programme but was worried about finances – losing my income and having to rely on student loans. When the opportunity to apply for an apprenticeship was offered, I was excited as this meant I could earn as I learn. I am now nine months into the course and have no regrets!
Is there a typical day?
The short answer is no! In my first term I was attending remote lectures over two days, and then working as an assistant practitioner for the other three. My work days remained the same – either visiting or calling patients, completing letters, liaising with other healthcare professionals, and attending meetings.
The university days are varied. There are some traditional taught lectures, and workshops. The course utilises an enquiry-based learning approach where we are given a case study or scenario and develop our own learning outcomes and goals. We have some time to do our own research and come together as a group to discuss and share our new knowledge. At first, I was apprehensive of this new way of learning, but have found it so helpful and am retaining so much more information than on my undergraduate course.
We do attend Coventry University for some sessions and assessments. This gives an opportunity to demonstrate the skills we have developed and utilise our knowledge in a practical way. Later this month I start my B placement in a local acute hospital which will take place over ten weeks.
Highlights and Challenges
I won’t lie… this is a challenging course. A postgraduate Dietitian course is usually a two-year full-time course and we’re having to cram it into part-time hours. There have been tears and thoughts that I cannot do this. The support and encouragement from my colleagues, fellow course mates and lecturers have helped with these setbacks. Another challenge has been the adjustments to writing masters-level assignments. The expectations are higher, and I was initially disappointed with my results as they were not as high as the marks I had been achieving on my undergraduate degree.
My main highlight has been the friends and connections I have made. I started an Instagram account to raise awareness about this course and the newest route into dietetics. Through this account I have spoken to dietitians from a variety of settings who have inspired me. One of them inspired my A2 leadership placement which I chose to do in a local prison.
I have also enjoyed learning about a variety of conditions and the nutritional management of these. My current role is working within a community dietetic team and supporting nutrition support patients. It’s been amazing to learn all the different ways we can support and help patients with a variety of health conditions and help with prevention of disease.
What are my dietetic career goals?
At the moment I am keeping an open mind. I love the community team I work in but have never experienced working within an acute hospital setting so my upcoming placement may change my mind. I loved my prison placement and could see myself working within this environment. I am looking forward to working with a larger variety of patients once qualified.
Advice for anyone interested in following this route
Explore the British Dietetic Association website for more information on the role of a dietitian, and the variety of routes, including the apprenticeship. Also look on providers websites. Coventry University offer a level 7 MSC apprenticeship and Teeside University will soon be starting an undergraduate apprenticeship.
Recommended reads and resources
There are so many books, magazines and webinars available which will help you on your learning journey. The British Dietetic Association have a variety of food facts information sheets. I enjoy reading CN magazines where complex information is condensed into a short, easy-to-read articles with guidance on further reading. The webinars provided by MyNutriWeb have also been a great source of information to help support my learning. I would also recommend purchasing a copy of The Manual of Dietetic Practice when starting your studies, along with the accompanying Case Studies book to aid your learning.
I highly recommend this route into a dietetic career, especially if the thought of relying on student loans fills you with fear! Having the additional support of my colleagues is a huge help and their ongoing encouragement and guidance is a lifeline.