Merran Findlay is an Advanced Accredited Practising Dietitian who is the Senior Oncology Dietitian at the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital. She specialises in the nutritional care of patients with head and neck cancer. She is also a contributor to the University of Sydney dietetics learning program, and can be contacted via email: Merran.Findlay@sswahs.nsw.gov.au
“How did I get started?
I’m never quite sure whether I chose a career as an Oncology Specialist Dietitian or whether it, in fact, chose me. Losing my father to mesothelioma (a type of lung cancer related to asbestos exposure) in the final year of my Master of Science in Nutrition and Dietetics degree meant following a career path in cancer was always going to be personally challenging. That said, I think this experience allows me to approach my daily practice with empathy and compassion.
My early career years were spent in a smaller metropolitan hospital where I gained an excellent grounding in a wide variety of clinical areas. I also learned very quickly that being a generalist is a specialist skill!
It really began when a clinical rotation providing care to highly complex patients with head and neck cancer sparked my interest in oncology and I quickly realised I’d discovered a unique and rewarding marriage between nutrition support and helping people through what can be a very challenging time.
As the Senior Oncology Dietitian at Royal Prince Alfred Hospital since 2006, specialising in provision of nutritional careto people with cancer, I am very fortunate to work amongst some of the leading cancer clinicians in Australia.
What does an Oncology Dietitian do?
A typical day in my life as an Oncology Dietitian might involve anything from providing nutritional careto patients who are either in hospital or attending for chemotherapy or radiotherapy, teaching medical and nursing staff, trainingand supervising dietetics students or participating in quality and research activities.
People with cancer can experience significant problems with eating, whether related to the side-effects of treatment or the cancer itself. Because malnutrition rates are so high in this patient group, I spend a lot of time advising people how to optimise their nutrition and counselling their family or carer in assisting them. Sometimes people require nutrition support in the form of tube feeding or intravenous nutrition which requires careful monitoring. There is also growing interest in survivorship and increasingly, people are seeking advice in how to follow a healthy lifestyle after treatment.
Any career highlights?
Recently recognised as a national leader in cancer nutrition through achieving the Advanced Accredited Practicing Dietitian credential awarded by the Dietitians Association of Australia, some of my career highlights include developing internationally endorsed evidence-based practice guidelines and a successful overseas sabbatical to centres of excellence in the USA, Canada and the UK.
It has also been exciting to contribute to the redesign of patient-focussed care at The Chris O’Brien Lifehouse, a centre of excellence for cancer care combining treatment, research, integrated care and support delivered within a state-of-the-art facility.
As nutrition is vital in cancer prevention, improving outcomes during treatment and survivorship, I remain passionate about the essential role dietitians play as part of the multidisciplinary team. Through my involvement with University of Sydney dietetics training programs, I am committed to ensuring patients will have access to the next generation of skilled dietitians in delivery of high-quality, comprehensive cancer care.
Interested in a career as an Accredited Practicing Dietitian?
To become an Accredited Practicing Dietitian, you must complete a program of study at a university accredited by the Dietitians Association of Australia.
I’d encourage those either considering a career in dietetics or even early career dietitians to be open to new experiences and embrace opportunity for growth and development as nothing you ever learn is wasted. You just never know what’s out there that’s going to be the right thing for you, and it may just surprise you where the path may lead.
Dietitians Association of Australia (DAA)
Evidence-based practice guidelines for the nutritional management of adult patients with head and neck cancer – Cancer Guidelines Wiki
PEN: Practice-based Evidence in Nutrition”