By Reon Janse van Rensburg
Solidarity’s Guild for Health Practitioners is a professional community that stands together and works together. It provides a space for all the health professions where everyone can feel at home, work together and also learn together in his or her particular discipline.
It is important for every Solidarity Guild to inform people, and especially young people, about different professions that enable them to broaden their horizons. However, guilds also fulfill the important function of acting as a watchdog on behalf of each profession in the specific professional community in order to create a healthy and sustainable future for everyone.
Solidarity’s Guild for Health Practitioners spoke to Gerlia Venter, a dietician at Woodhill Dieticians in Pretoria, to find out more about her profession.
Gerlia is passionate about people, food and the role that nutrition plays in every person’s life. The role dieticians play in the well-being of their patients’ lives is often underestimated. Please read the interview below to find out why this profession is so unique and why it can make a difference in people’s lives.
Most people have heard of a dietician but do not really know what the job entails. What does a dietician actually do and how can it play a role in people’s lives and also make a difference?
A dietician is a qualified healthcare worker who is registered with the Health Professions Council of South Africa (HPCSA) and who plays an important role in improving the health of individuals, groups of people or communities. Dieticians are qualified to practice in all fields of nutrition. They can practice privately and give people advice on nutrition and teach them how to make better decisions leading to a healthier lifestyle.
Clinical dieticians work in hospitals and treat patients by determining what form of therapy they should receive; whether it will require a special diet, tube feeding or intravenous feeding. Dieticians can also be active in the community. This will be mainly for non-profit organisations, clinics or community projects.
Dieticians also act as food service managers where healthy and specialised diets are provided to homes, residences, welfare centers, prisons and health facilities. This sometimes involves menu planning and its implementation. A dietician can focus on several areas, for example food allergies and intolerances, child nutrition or eating disorders. Other medical conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure, cholesterol, digestive challenges and sports nutrition also serve as focus areas. A dietician is an important role player in the medical care team.
Why did you study in this particular field? What inspired you?
I grew up in a family where we really enjoyed and experienced the value of food and nutrition. My father was the inspiration for my career in Dietetics. At a young age he was already diagnosed as a type 1 diabetes (insulin dependent) and therefore healthy eating habits have been cultivated in our house from the beginning. Dietetics is based on the science of nutrition. With my father’s condition, I realised how important food is in our lives. I realised how big a difference it can make in our daily lives and that there are ways to turn the science of food into food we can still enjoy.
Tell me a little more about yourself? What are you passionate about in life?
I have a great passion for people and to truly make a difference in their lives. I see wellbeing not only as a healthy weight or a life without disease, but as a life of abundance and to achieve excellence in all facets of our lives.
Gerlia Venter Foto: Woodhill Dieticians
Would you advise young people to pursue the profession?
Dietetics is a satisfying field as food and proper nutrition play a major role in people’s lives, especially in today’s hectic times. It is also a versatile field that allows you to truly thrive in a place where your passion lies.
What skills do you need to be successful in the profession?
Human relationships, perseverance, discipline, hard work, creativity and business acumen.
You deal with people on a daily basis and each person is unique and has unique challenges. For what reason do patients see you the most?
As a dietitian in private practice, I usually see patients with the following medical conditions: type 1 and type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and cholesterol, allergies and intolerances, autoimmune diseases, various digestive challenges, and pregnancy and weight loss.
Tell me more about your best experience with a patient? Why was it so special?
It is the most wonderful and satisfying feeling to be working with someone and see how they learn, through small victories, that eating healthy is not a “diet” but a lifestyle and that the greatest blessing is good health.
What challenges do you experience on a daily basis in your profession and how can these challenges be overcome?
The internet is one of our biggest challenges because people tend to believe everything they read there. It is essential that we use the right resources so that wrong or mixed messages do not reach people.
How do you keep up with the latest trends in your profession?
I regularly attend seminars or webinars and do additional research by reading articles.
New diet programmes or gimmicks are regularly available to lose weight. Some of them can possibly work, but it can also be dangerous. Is it wise for each person to follow any diet or is it better to talk to a dietitian? Why do you say so?
Unfortunately, there is no one-size-fits-all diet or quick fix. Each patient’s specific needs are unique and therefore it is important that you visit a dietitian so that he or she can draw up an eating plan according to your needs.
People and the world are constantly changing. To what extent does it force you to constantly do new research?
It is very important to be adaptable and on the forefront with what is going on in the world around us. We need to keep up with what affects people’s lives and how nutrition plays a role in it. In this way we can support people and their needs so much better.
Does the latest technology play a role in your work and how can technology be used by health practitioners to make their work easier and more effective?
The medical field is a sector in which daily progress is made with new technology. It is important to use it to your advantage to provide the best service to your patients.
How do you feel about the future of South Africa’s health system in terms of the proposed National Health Insurance and the government’s plans to nationalise the health system? Can it work or are there simply too many challenges standing in the way?
I believe that the wellbeing of patients is the most important consideration and that this should be the compass guiding the government in the decision.