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Emotional Challenges as a Dietitian

Ashleigh is one of my favourite people, she is such an inspiration to me, so I wanted to share with you all the amazing work she does and the challenges she faces.

“I’m Ashleigh and I’m a Specialist Oncology and Stroke Dietitian. I work in a hospital to support patients to maintain good nutritional status during cancer treatments and for those who have had a stroke. I have always wanted to be a Dietitian since having my own Dietitian when I was younger due to some of my own health conditions. They really inspired me through how supportive and kind they were.

Some days I work on the wards in the hospital. I will see patients who require tube feeding and calculate their nutritional requirements (with a lot of other considerations) and choose an appropriate feed for them to have. I will see patients who are having difficulty with reduced appetite, nausea, taste changes and fatigue etc. due to cancer treatments and I work closely with them to create a plan which they feel is achievable to make sure they are able to maintain good nutritional intake. I work closely with the Consultants and Speech and Language Therapists too, along with nurses and HCAs. I also have a telephone clinic in which I support outpatients with the above difficulties due to cancer treatment too.

My job is amazing but can be emotionally challenging at times as unfortunately I often have patients who pass away. I recently had one patient who stood out a little more than others. I’d been seeing him for about 3 months and we’d built a good relationship. Aside from talking about diet, we would speak about his family and friends, his job and things he was looking forward to once he got out of the hospital. He would always ask me how I am and we’d always have a laugh about one thing or another. He was straight-talking and would tell you when he was having a bad day but regardless we’d still have a good conversation and he’d be laughing by the end. Unfortunately, he passed away due to a severe infection. He made a difference to everyone working on the oncology ward through his charm and his honesty.

Although I don’t break bad news personally, I can often have the aftermath of patients receiving bad news. You need to remain calm, give them a chance to talk about it and mostly just listen. They know you can’t fix the situation and they are not looking for you to fix it, they are just looking for someone to listen. Nothing you say will make them feel better at that moment and listening is the most important part. Asking them questions can often help to encourage them to open up more. I found this very hard at first as I would worry I wouldn’t know how to respond, but the more you do it, the more you gain confidence in having these difficult conversations. Often in the end they will make a joke and turn the conversation around once they’ve let out what they needed too.

My colleagues and I are very good at discussing sad situations with each other so there is always someone to talk to. I find running helps which I often do with colleagues from work too (or alone) as this clears your mind and leaves the workday behind. A good work-life balance is essential.

Since starting my job I have definitely noticed I feel differently about life. I appreciate the little moments much more and I find it much easier to focus on all the positive aspects of my life rather than dwell on the negatives. Working in a hospital makes you realise life is too short and to make the most of what you have. It’s helped me to become more confident in talking about how I feel as I’ve watched patients open up to me about their fears and concerns, even when it has not been easy for them. I don’t find talking about death difficult and I feel I can approach difficult conversations in my personal life better now, as I’ve been through having difficult conversations with patients.

I can clearly see how a unique service like Spiritual Designs offers such a comfort to those who have lost a relative & would bring comfort and a special memory to many of the families I meet who have unfortunately lost their loved one. Ruth is a dedicated and respectful person who can create beautiful artwork to remember loved ones.”

Are you a Dietitian or have had a Dietitian help you? Or are you a professional who's working is emotionally challenging? Get in touch and share your story, we would love to hear from you.

Head over to our social media pages to follow our journey, find more inspiring stories and amazing people.

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