Case study

Nutritionist — Seóna Dunne

Seóna has gone from working as a nutritionist in industry to working in public health. Find out how her work helps improve the health and wellbeing of children

How did you get your job as a nutritionist?

I got my first job working for the food ingredient company I did my summer placement with, before my final year at university. I kept in touch, and when a colleague left I was invited to apply. I spent two years working in industry but began to realise that I'd rather work in public health.

While I was studying for my Masters in public health nutrition, I volunteered with Healthbox CIC. After a few months, they offered me some paid work. By the time I graduated I was doing a day or two a week with them and am now a member of staff, working as a health promotion adviser and public health nutritionist.

Which parts of your degree helped you most?

I gained the basic scientific knowledge, which I need every day on my degree course. More unexpectedly, the presentations I had to do on my course have turned out to be good preparation for this job. As well as the workshops I deliver and community groups I present to, I also have to present to senior commissioning staff when we're bidding for funding.

Also, the work placements I completed during my course helped develop my practical skills, including how to fit into an organisation.

What's a working day like for you?

I specialise in early years' nutrition and lead workshops in schools to help young people think about what they eat. I spend a lot of my time out of the office leading groups and workshops.

For primary schools, one of the workshops we run is 'Don't skip breakfast', which covers the food groups and good breakfast foods. This workshop emphasises sugar awareness and ends up with a practical session where the pupils create their own breakfast.

I also run weaning and toddler nutrition programmes.

What do you enjoy about being a nutritionist?

One of the most enjoyable aspects of my work is helping young people see the link between food choices and their health. It's satisfying to see them start to make choices about what they eat.

What are the challenges?

We have to compete for funding and every project has to stick to its budget. Personally, I feel that I'm constantly balancing my time. I have to make sure I keep up to date with best practice.

What are your plans for the future?

I'd like to do a PhD focusing on early years. Eventually, I'd be interested in commissioning work, perhaps with a local authority.

What advice would you give to someone starting out?

  • Become registered. This gives you credibility when applying for jobs and, once in employment, it adds weight to any project you're involved in. Be sure that any courses you do are accredited by the Association for Nutrition (AfN).
  • Get some experience. If you know which area of nutrition you want to work in, try and get relevant experience. Even if you don't know, just do something: you'll build up contacts, confidence and skills to use later. It also helps to have experience across different parts of the profession.
  • When approaching organisations for a job or volunteering opportunities, think about what you can offer them, as well as what you hope to gain.
  • Enjoy university life. Your extracurricular activities can be just as important as your course. Analyse your skills and experience and choose activities which fill the gaps.

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