I have wanted to write this blog for months, literally. I planned to so many times but when I got home I ran out of steam, needing to rest and recuperate. Right now I’m living in Albury, awaiting placement in Benalla… in other words, I’m on a break. I’ve actually already been on break for two weeks but it sure doesn’t feel like it! I’ve visited both Melbourne and Canberra as well as run a whole lot of errands you don’t have time to do while working full time. Benalla will be my fourth placement, leaving only my internship to go following this stint! I don’t know where that will be yet though. I have completed two clinical placements, one in Bendigo and one in Albury, and have also recently finished a placement in Wodonga for food service. So here’s a run down, as best as I can remember.
Bendigo: In the second week of April I started my first five week clinical placement. I lived with an amazingly sweet couple and their little girl. They provided me and my cat, Jibbles with the most comfortable home I could possibly imagine which I appreciated dearly. A safe and warm home allowed me to have a very relaxing home-life. Being a foodie, I was worried about what I’d be able to eat in rural towns, in particular, how much I would have to go without. I shouldn’t have worried about that with Bendigo! It’s an absolutely fantastic little town which is surprisingly vegan friendly. Budget meals provided by Crooked Kitchen were a lifesaver on days where I was too exhausted or in too much pain to cook, and the eccentrically gourmet food produced by Mr Beebe’s Eating House & Bar rivals anything I’ve ever had in Melbourne. I wish I had some good photos to share! Aside from providing a wide range of delicious food, the town is also just plain stunning. It’s as if every building is a castle. I didn’t get to do much sightseeing while there but what I did see was truly breathtaking. My placement was also a wonderful experience. For the first two weeks I was with the Rural Health Team. Days were spent travelling out to regional areas visiting people in their homes or local doctors clinic. I gained so much perspective about the types of issues that affect people in regional areas, especially how they’re affected by only being able to shop locally, not having access to specialty products which would make managing their conditions just that little bit easier. Immediately following my time with the rural health team I started at the hospital. Wowee! This hospital has only been built very recently and is ahead of the curve, chockablock full of state-of-the-art facilities. Having digital (typed) medical records, a computer system which put an abundance of resources at my fingertips, and the ability to effectively communicate with others using the online system allowed seamless transitions between researching a case, visiting a patient, documenting outcomes, and disseminating information. I was exceptionally impressed by the technological aspects of Bendigo Health, although it wasn’t entirely without drawbacks. In a hot desk situation there always seems to be more people needing computers, than computers available, that was the case here as well, and due to communication happening largely by email or paging I couldn’t often put a face to a name. Lastly, while not necessarily a bad thing, it’s a disappointment for me that catering is outsourced. While I didn’t field many complaints (and did get many compliments) about the quality of the food, when patients have complex nutritional requirements it can be challenging to meet their requirements. There is a lot more flexibility in a cook-fresh kitchen. I am sure over time I’d have found solutions to these areas of difficulty, in fact over the last week or two my colleague and I found a section of the hospital which reliably had free computers. I could have also attended more meetings held by the multi-disciplinary team which would have helped to build familiarity. On my last day I found myself wishing I had more time in Bendigo, both the town and the hospital. There was so much left to learn and explore! But it was half way through May and I had one week before I started my next clinical placement in Albury, so me and Jibbles packed up and hit the road again.
Albury: I had been through Albury several times on my way to and from Canberra so I had a vague idea of what foods and services would be available to me. I actually moved twice in the first few days of living in Albury. It wasn’t until I was already there that a friend of a friend offered me a deal I couldn’t refuse which included lots of cuddles from tiny baby chickens (omgggg so cute). The house I’m living in is so perfectly comfortable. A huge wardrobe, amazing cozy bed, fully decked out spacious kitchen, I have my own bathroom and to top it all off my housemate and I have the same heating goals which means I’m never too cold! I also have a mountain view from my bedroom window. Yes I know I am bragging. Living away from the creature comforts of home is very hard, especially because I can’t access as much physio as I need, but having a nice place to call home really does make a hugely positive impact.
The foodie situation is much like what I expected from a rural town, however there are a few restaurants with excellent vegan options. Zambrero and Crust are always life savers, but the local cafe Green Zebra also has their hands in the delicious vegan food bowl. By far the best restaurant I’ve been to locally (if you can call it that) is Saint Monday in Yakandandah. Wholesome, delicious, incredible food and service! YUM
There’s also other foodie perks of rural living, such as farmers markets where you can access produce which was picked from the ground mere hours ago. You can really taste the difference. There’s also a fantastic bulk foods store, Boarder Just Foods which provides me with all the nuts and seeds I want with none of the waste! Bring down a jar, fill her up and pay a fair price. Fruit Shack in Lavington sometimes has 19 cent avocados. Let me say that again, NINETEEN CENT AVOCADOS. Today they were 39 cents. Unbelievable. My big beautiful kitchen also inspires me to cook so I haven’t really felt a huge longing for good takeaway options.
Enough about food? Let’s talk placement! Walking into Albury Campus from Bendigo Health was like stepping into the past. This hospital has scanned copies of old patient files but does everything by hand while the patients are still active. Pathology results are available online, but there is not often a computer available. I struggled immensely with the physical demands of this job. Writing everything by hand when you have extensive nerve damage right down to your fingertips isn’t easy. Nor is standing for 8 hours a day with sciatic pain. There were points where I thought I wouldn’t be able to complete this placement but I pushed on, taking every day as it came. A new pair of shoes made a pretty significant difference to my foot pain, so consider that a worthwhile investment. Most importantly though was the support of the dietitians who supervised me. They cared deeply and their kindness and warmth pushed me further than I’d have been able to go if it was only myself backing me. There are a few challenges when current patient files are not digital, specific to me there is a lot of pain involved, but the frustration of spending a day trying to nab a patient file, and going cross-eyed trying to understand someones handwriting are pretty universal. However, there were also advantages to a non-digital system. Communication was largely face-to-face which meant I knew all members of the multi-disciplinary team, fostering both professional communication and friendships. Coworkers talked often and even overhearing conversations gave an excellent opportunity to improve patient care. AWH also provided weekly inter-professional learning (IPL) sessions which were absolutely invaluable to me. IPL is like a meeting group for all of the allied health/nursing etc students to come together and discuss their roles in the hospital. It builds an exceptionally strong understanding of other professions which greatly improved my ability to refer onto others when necessary. I was given a wide range of experiences throughout this placement, from care of acute patients within the hospital, and outpatients in the community, to working alongside the nutrition assistants to gain a deeper understanding of how food service works in this cook-fresh facility. I learned a huge amount in my five weeks at Albury campus but still had so much trouble saying goodbye! But time had come, it was the end of June and I had two weeks before I started my next placement in Wodonga (still with AWH). Being the kind of person I am though I didn’t really give myself a break. The next two weeks took me from Albury to Melbourne to Tasmania to Melbourne to Albury to Sydney to Canberra to Albury. Phew.
Wodonga: I started this food service placement on July 10th. Being food service, it was hugely different to my clinical placements. I joined back up with the student I did placement with in Bendigo and we commenced the project assigned to us by out supervising dietitian at Wodonga Campus. I wont go into detail about the project or it’s findings but I will say it was exceptionally fun and eye opening! We were in the kitchen learning from the chefs, building relationships and making recommendations to improve the food service. It was an incredible feeling to be able to connect people in ways they hadn’t been before and I feel exceptionally proud to have build a report which included the needs and perspectives of a diverse population, providing solutions which all stakeholders were happy with. Food service feels like an area where I could really shine. With my background in cheffing and my passion for cooking I can really relate to the needs of the catering department, and my deep understanding of nutrition and patient outcomes provides me with the knowledge I need to ensure healthful menu items. With 40% of hospital patients being malnourished, and only 30% of malnourished patients ever being referred to a dietitian, the importance of food service cannot be understated. Malnutrition is both prevented and treated primarily by nourishing foods, this has to be a priority. With more time and money dedicated to improving the food service system we could be curing malnutrition while treating a persons ailments. There is no time in a persons life where it is more important to have adequate nutrition than when you’re sick. You cannot rehab properly if you are malnourished, nor can your wounds heal, nor can you fight infection and so on. I am extremely passionate about this area… but unfortunately there are very few if any jobs in the field. Instead, many facilities choose to outsource food service, which ensures nutritionally complete meals are provided within standard limitations, but leaves complicated cases out in the lurch. You can see now why I mentioned outsourced catering as a con earlier…
Anyway, that’s all for now! This entry went for MUCH longer than I expected. I suppose a lot has happened over the last few months. I have experienced so much. While I’m not looking forward to moving away from this perfect little home I have here I am excited to see what the next chapter brings. I have been posting a lot on instagram recently so follow me if you want to stay updated on my food adventures.
Until next time, make sure you rest when you need to,
Take care, Ebony.