At My Health Career, we saw this profile about dietitian Jemma O’Hanlon first published on Dietitian Connection and couldn’t help but get permission to re-publish it on our site!! This atricle starts with how Jemma became interested in a career in dietetics, and progresses to a typical day in her role at Nutrition Australia, and on to tips for someone starting a career in dietetics!!
I think my upbringing had a lot to do with my current interest in food and nutrition. My mum was a member of Nutrition Australia, and having an interest in nutrition, she always provided healthy lunches for my brother and I, and on the odd occasion tried to sneak boiled eggs and cheese into my sandwiches (even though I didn’t like them at the time). I really owe it to my mum for teaching us kids healthy eating habits. We used to have super healthy lunches during the week (some days I would attempt to swap my banana with a friend’s rollup with little success) but on Fridays we would receive a little treat in our lunchbox – a muffin, a mini apple pie or a beesting from the local bakery. It kept us away from the tuckshop and taught us valuable lessons about the difference between everyday foods and sometimes foods. Mum also enforced the habit of having a glass of milk with our dinner every night, and we would always sit at the table as a family with the TV off. Mum also had me in the kitchen cooking from a young age, I loved to bake cakes, muffins and all sorts of desserts, and licking the bowl was by far the best part. As I grew older and started to understand the importance of nutrition, I started experimenting with different recipes and how I could make them healthier. Some days I would sit in front of the TV watching cooking shows and writing like crazy to take down all the notes. We were also very active children. We had trampolines, cubby houses, and one day back in grade 1 I even broke my arm running around the deck with my brother chasing me and slipping over the edge. I also remember going to our friend’s house as kids and for the first time trying ‘coke’. I must admit I wasn’t a bit fan of this brown sweet tasting drink that made me burp all the time, I much preferred my glass of milk! We were also treated to playing the Nintendo whilst snacking on a bowl of potato chips. Never were we allowed such things at home, we didn’t even own a Nintendo!
Tell me a little bit about your job and/or describe a typical day for you?
A typical day for me would be arriving at work, checking and responding to emails, attending meetings and appointments, and in between working on various tasks for my projects. My first major project at Nutrition Australia is managing our workplace health and wellbeing program, where we provide cooking demonstrations, nutrition presentations, one-on-one consultations and health displays to workplaces across Australia. My second major project is Business Development and Marketing, where my role is to drive new business opportunities by maintaining and growing new partnerships. I also manage budgets, report on finances, recruit and manage staff, so this certainly keeps me out of trouble and is a wonderful new challenge where I can build my skill set in many areas both within and outside of dietetics.
What do you most enjoy about your role?
Working at Nutrition Australia means that I am a member of a team of amazing nutritionists and dietitians, and it’s nice to be able to bounce ideas off one another and have a common shared interest. I really love that my role has many elements, which always keeps things interesting and there is never a dull moment for me in the office. I also love the balance between getting out there and conducting the cooking demonstrations, presentations etc. vs managing the program. I am also now seeing the forest for the trees in terms of business development and marketing, and really enjoy looking at the organisation from a new perspective in terms of improving our services, promoting the organisation and building brand awareness.
Tell me a little bit about your career in dietetics thus far and/or why did you choose dietetics as a career?
After finishing high school I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do career wise so I decided embark on an arts degree with a range of different electives. I majored in psychology and journalism, but it was one subject, Physical Activity and Nutrition, that I enjoyed the most, and at the end of that year I applied to study Nutrition and Dietetics at QUT. While I was studying at uni, I gave up my casual job of being a gymnastics coach and took on 2 nutrition-related jobs – working at Brisbane Private Hospital as a Diet Monitor (distributing, collecting and processing menus, talking to patients, working in the foodservice on the tray line) and at the Royal Childrens Hospital as a Nutrition Assistant (making up formula, stocking the wards, delivering and collecting menus). Once I graduated I was lucky enough to secure a full time role at Sodexo in Brisbane as the QLD Dietitian working with the aged care segment, and after 11 months I was asked to move to Melbourne to work as Sodexo’s national dietitian. Being a Brissie girl I was very fearful of Melbourne’s weather, but could not let go of such an amazing opportunity to progress my career with this global organisation. So I moved down to Melbourne, and before I knew it, I fell in love with the food and coffee culture that exists down here. I had to replenish my wardrobe (I now have over 20 scarfs) and purchased many sets of jeans, tights, boots and thick winter coats.
I worked for Sodexo for a year in Melbourne, and then decided I needed an extra challenge. After meeting Carolyn Creswell, Founder and Director of Carman’s Fine Foods at a networking event, I took the opportunity to arrange a time to meet with Carolyn and discuss the value that a dietitian could add the business. Luckily for me Carolyn saw the benefit and I started consulting to Carman’s on a casual basis, as well as continuing my role at Sodexo. Two years later I am still working for Carman’s and my role has extended from what was originally proposed as writing a nutrition blog and assisting with their social media channels, to now working on product development, nutrition and health claims, nutrition communications, marketing and public relations.
What would be your top 3 tips to someone starting their career in dietetics?
My number one tip would be to find a job in a nutrition-related area. Without working in the foodservice at the two hospitals I worked at in Brisbane, I doubt I would have landed my first job with foodservice company Sodexo. This was a big selling point for me and put me ahead of my peers. I also didn’t wait for those jobs to come up. Instead, I was proactive and sent my cv around to almost every hospital in Brisbane. I didn’t get many responses back, but those that did I grabbed onto. It was the same for my role at Carman’s. There was no job advertised, I created my own role. So my tip for students entering the world of dietetics is don’t wait for jobs to come up, go and seek out jobs before they are advertised. You never know who might be looking. If there is an availability and your resume is up to scratch, you have a good chance of getting the job as you won’t have the competition that you normally would have.
My second tip would be to make the most of every opportunity that comes along. And remember, some opportunities will only come along if you create them for yourself. Volunteer wherever you can, find nutrition-related work experience, and start talking to other dietitians to find out how they got to where they are today. Attend as many professional development sessions that you can and aim to meet at least one person at each event.
This brings me to my final tip. Having a strong network of peers is so important. Engage with a mentor that works in the area of your interest, and make lots of friends in the dietetic profession. Be friendly, kind and warm, and give back to your profession by being involved in its activities such as interest groups and advisory committees. The more you put yourself out there, the more people you will meet, and the more you’ll be able to build on your own personal brand. Social media channels such as LinkedIn and twitter are great ways to stay in touch with colleagues and maintain your relationships, but remember to also make time to catch up with colleagues in person – nothing can replace one-on-one contact.
What is one interesting fact about you?
I used to be a competitive gymnast, and when I ‘retired’ I coached for many years after. It taught me a lot about managing my time, pushing myself to my limits and motivating others. Plus I have never done so many push ups in all my life.