It has been a difficult, yet rewarding journey for Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University’s (NMMU) first ever intake of BSc Dietetics students, who graduated yesterday afternoon.
PATH FINDERS… Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University’s first group of BSc Dietetics students were capped this afternoon. The group, from left, Aleche Lotter, Saskia Cressy, Lynn Gardner, Prof Gresse, Felicity Raw, Tsholofelo Mohloane, Zintle Phekana, Teresa Wilson and Michelle Galloway, began their studies at the programme’s inception in 2013. The programme has since grown from an initial intake of 11 students to 74 currently, and this year also saw the graduation of its second Masters student, Shawn McLaren.
Excited and proud to have made history, the group of eight young women beamed as they crossed the stage at the capacity-filled South Campus Indoor Sports Centre, having travelled from various parts of the country where they are currently doing their community service.
The BSc Dietetics qualification is one of the many steps towards the realisation of South Africa’s 10th medical school at NMMU by 2020, aimed at addressing the critical shortage of qualified and registered dietitians in South Africa and, in particular, the Eastern Cape. The programme has since its inception in 2013 seen a growth from the initial intake of 11 students to 72 currently.
Graduate Lynn Gardner, for whom dietetics was not a first choice, said she decided to do the course for a year as she tried to get into her desired programme.
“I literally stumbled upon this and being exposed to so much in that first year, I was astonished at what I saw and what one can do with dietetics. That is when I fell in love with Dietetics,” she said.
“Being the first group of dietetics to qualify from NMMU makes me feel special. It is not every day that you get to be part of history in the making.”
Gardner is doing her community service at the Port Elizabeth base of the South African National Defence Force – an experience she describes as “amazing”.
“I have been exposed to so many things and so many awesome people that have taught me a lot about dietetics. I’m really enjoying it as I have an opportunity to make a difference.”
Tsholofelo Mohloane was drawn to dietetics by a keenness to learn about the impact of food on people’s lives.
“As soon as I got into it, I started being exposed to information on the nutrition part of it, so knowing how much nutrients play a role in all the therapeutic diets that we learned about was what deepened my interest in the course,” she said.
She said being part of the first intake was challenging because, as path finders, there was nobody who had done the course that they could get advice from.
“That actually helped to keep us on our toes and encouraged us to learn hard and as we went along. With the help of our lecturers, we managed and did not feel so isolated with their guidance.”
Mohloane is doing her community service at a Potchefstroom hospital as a therapeutic clinical dietitian.
“It is an amazing experience working at a hospital different to what you are used to. You learn a lot from the people there and also get to share skills, so it is a teaching and learning experience.”
Saskia Cressey said she decided to study dietetics as a means to indulge her love for food and that of helping people.
“It has been an amazing journey and I have learned a lot during the programme. Even now as we do our community service at various hospitals across the country, I’m confident that I’m well equipped and can make a meaningful contribution,” she said.
Doing her community service at a hospital in the Free State, Cressey said the overall experience has been rewarding.
“This has been and continues to be a great learning experience and I cannot wait to go into the profession and make a contribution.”
Senior Dietetics lecturer Prof Annelie Gresse said it was an extremely proud moment to see the students, who had become the department’s children, graduate.
“This is a proud moment for our Department and it was wonderful to share the moment with the students. After four years of working very closely together, these graduates feel like our children and the staff of the Department will always be ‘a second mother’ to them,” she said.
“I can see that they are also all very happy in the positions that they are in for Community Service and that makes me very humble, as I can see that they have received the necessary education from us here at NMMU. However, it did not stop there for them as they now do not hesitate to take the opportunity to show what they can do.
“I am sure that these graduates will be good ambassadors for us and that their good work will help our department to grow further.”
The graduates will go on to join the limited number of qualified dietitians in the country and the Eastern Cape, where malnutrition remains a major challenge amid a shortage of professional dietitians.
South Africa has a little more than 2000 registered dietitians, with very few of those in the Eastern Cape.
The graduates have been equipped to explore vocations in therapeutic and community nutrition (including sports), food service management and research.
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