Our Interviewer, Ava Cadee, is a second year student at the University of Western Australia. She is studying a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science and International Relations. Ava is currently undertaking a marketing internship with WHFS.

Carole Parker is our resident dietitian at Womens Health & Family Services (WHFS). I recently sat down with her to find out a bit more about what she does in our dietetics programme.

Can you tell us a bit about how you got into dietetics?
I came to Perth after I quit my job in Melbourne to join the police force. Unfortunately that didn’t work out, but that turned out to be a good thing. A girlfriend of mine asked me what my passion was, and I knew it was nutrition, so I enrolled in a course. I studied nutrition at Curtin and loved it but I didn’t feel like I was finished, there was some more to it. I decided to do a health promotion course, and whilst I was doing my health promotion course, ECU opened up the Dietitian Masters course so I enrolled in that part time. That’s how I ended up becoming a dietitian.

Do you think that your previous life experiences give you a different perspective?
I was a farmer initially, so I worked on a farm and was always making my own produce so I was really aware of nutrition. Right through my whole life I’ve been aware of nutrition. I was also a massage therapist for a while and I was always asking ‘How much water are you drinking?’, ‘What kind of diet are you eating?’ but back then I wasn’t really qualified to talk about nutrition. So, I guess they were the motivators behind me becoming a dietitian: my previous experience, my passion for cooking and sharing that with people.

What is the difference between a nutritionist and a dietitian?
There is quite a bit of difference within the degree. A nutrition degree is about community health, and the dietitian is more about the clinical side. You are more likely to see a clinical dietitian in hospitals. Both do research but dietitians tend to be more on the disease side of things or in private practice. You can see dietitians working in hospital kitchens for special diets or in food production, for example, companies producing muesli bars would have a dietitian on board to advise them. Dietitians can work in many different roles, in universities, in food policy, health promotion, childcare – anywhere food related you will probably see a dietitian involved.

What does a day in the life look like for you?
It could be many things. I might be seeing clients on one a one basis, running the programmes for the groups we have here, or going out to do presentations to other groups. It’s never boring. Depending on what’s going on internally, I get involved. It’s quite diverse and that’s why I like it.

Who can see a dietitian?
Anybody!

What are some of the common things people come to you for advice on?
It’s very varied. It could be to do with weight management, or the need to gain weight for whatever reason. It could be someone who has a child who is a fussy eater or is concerned about whether their child is eating the right things. Eating disorders is a big one. For a lot of my clients, after I do a nutrition assessment, it usually comes out that they’ve got an eating disorder and need guidance there. It’s not really obvious initially because they hide it, but we’ve got the counsellors and Body Esteem eating disorders program here so there is a supportive network to help those particular vulnerable clients.

What areas interest you?
I like it all. I have a keen interest in eating disorders. If I can help anybody with children, particularly fussy eaters, as that can often be the beginnings of an eating disorder. I have absolutely no issues with what anybody’s diet is, but it’s about making the right informed choices. There is a lot of confusing information out there that is not validated scientifically.

Where is the best place to go to get credible information?
It’s very, very hard to find out on Google. Journal articles can be a good place to start. Speaking to a professional is the best way to go. They have to keep up to date, so they sit in the best place with the most up to date research and are able to validate the research with a keen and critical eye.

What is the main thing you wish people knew about their health?
How much a dietitian can help people. A dietitian is a good place to go, if one doesn’t work for you don’t just give up – go and see somebody else because somebody will be able to help you at the right time.

How can someone get in touch if they’d like to see you?
All they need to do is just ring and Reception will either put you through or make an appointment for you. All it takes is a phone call.

If you’d like to book an appointment with Carole, please call us on 6330 5400 or email cparker@whfs.org.au to arrange an appointment at your convenience.