By Emily Dawson
March 26, 2020 – It’s Nutrition Month and we’re celebrating Unity Health Toronto’s 58 dietitians with a closer look at what they do to support the care and experience of our patients, residents and families.
A dietitian is a regulated health professional passionate about the potential of food to enhance lives and improve health. Dietitians translate the science of nutrition into terms people can understand, without fads or gimmicks. They collaborate with patients and residents to embrace food, to understand it, and to enjoy it. We spoke to dietitians at Unity Health’s three sites about their roles.
Evita Basilio, St. Michael’s Hospital – Inpatient Acute Mental Health Unit and Outpatient areas of HIV Positive Care, Kidney Stone Prevention and Lipid clinics
What do you most enjoy about the work you do to promote recovery and dietary changes?
I enjoy understanding and empowering patients to take control of their health and lifestyle. Food choices are exceptionally personal and often entwined with one or many of our value and belief systems. I listen and connect with patients to learn about what they believe and value, and who they trust – trust and a strong rapport between the patient and dietitian are necessary to ensure that the patient’s dietary needs are being met.
How do you contribute to a better patient experience?
Particularly within mental health, dietitians are in a good position to educate, facilitate communication and support patients and staff to offer powerful and effective ways to reduce the incidence of malnutrition, harmful eating behaviours or eating disorders, and to implement early intervention strategies. Early identification and treatment improves patient outcomes and creates awareness that food is an effective first-line of defense to prevent and treat malnutrition.
Diana Savic, Providence Healthcare – Stroke and Neuro Rehab program and Professional Practice Leader (PPL)
What’s involved in the PPL role?
I need to make decisions and plan strategies to promote excellence in care and to build a strong, effective team of Dietitians. Collectively, our group has vast experience to draw on and I look to each team member to provide input and generate options from their work with specific patient groups. When we analyze all the angles together and value each other’s opinions, we formulate the best solutions for our patients and residents.
How does nutrition help in a rehab setting?
For rehab success, there has to be good nutrition to provide energy and stamina. If a patient isn’t eating well, it will set them back and that’s where I come in. I determine food preferences, cultural and religious adherences and I try to cater to these as much as possible to promote good intake. Sometimes medical issues, social issues or food beliefs prevent a patient from eating well so I look at strategies to help manage those. It helps to have a detective hat on to pay attention and interpret non-verbal cues as well.
Ashley Mendes, St. Joseph’s Health Centre – General Medicine, Cardiac Care Unit & Congestive Heart Failure Clinic
What does a ‘typical’ day look like in your role?
My day consists of developing nutrition care plans for inpatients that are at nutrition risk. Some patients are not always aware that their medical conditions require additional nutritional needs. Together with the patient and their family members, we develop a nutrition care plan to help patients optimize their nutritional intake. It is exciting working on a medicine floor as your caseload can change rapidly and you are involved in the nutrition care of a variety of complex medical diagnoses!
What do you most enjoy about your work?
The most rewarding part is interacting with patients and their families and being able to play a role in their road to recovery – and that can be anything from simply offering patients a pureed texture diet or something more complex like helping someone transition to a feeding tube. Nutrition is always a critical component to recovery and that makes the role of a registered dietitian so important to their overall care plan.
Offering diet education can be empowering to our patients as they can help themselves manage their condition and prevent hospitalization. Having a client approach me to review a nutrition label with them so that they can make better food choices makes me feel like I am making a difference in helping them achieve their nutrition goals.