Interview with NHS dietitian Sarah Fuller

As part of our partnership with the NHS this year on its annual workforce recruitment campaign, ‘We are the NHS’, we are sharing stories of women working in healthcare in the UK. Women like dietitian Sarah Fuller.

Read on to discover why Sarah loves her job, and what it’s like working in the NHS.

What does a typical day at work look like for you?

I don’t think there is a ‘normal’ day anymore!  Sometimes my days are very clinical where I see a number of families and help support them and their child’s eating disorder. 

During these sessions I would predominantly deliver a treatment called ‘Family Based Therapy’. Every week we meet as a team to discuss complex cases that need more support and this can involve liaison with paediatric wards, schools and other teams that we work with.

I also am a researcher for the other part of my week, at the moment I am conducting interviews with ex-patients and their families regarding their experience in treatment. Alongside this, we are also collecting case study data and doing a nationwide audit. All of these arms of the project will come together to develop some guidelines for the NHS! Research can change our day-to-day practice this way!

How old were you when you decided to become a dietitian and what were the events that led up to you taking that decision?

When I was at university, I really enjoyed learning about the human body and nutrition, so the natural next step was to become a dietitian!  It was my University tutor who suggested I look up what a dietitian was and how to study to be one – I had never heard of it before.

Had you always planned to be a dietitian?

No! I was happily going through university sure that something would ‘come up’ but nothing did, it was my tutor that suggested dietetics to me.

Have you always worked in the NHS? If not, what did you do before and why did you decide to change?

I have always worked for the NHS, but I did reduce my hours once in order to take a part time job in the private sector. Even though this job was interesting and helped me further my career – there was no progression for me. I returned to the NHS as so many doors can open within this organisation.

What’s the best part of your job?

Without doubt working with the young people and see them recover from their eating disorder. At times they really don’t like the advice you give, but as they get better their personality shines through and they are more able to listen to advice. When they are ready for discharge it is the best feeling ever. I have a box of thank you cards and keepsakes from over the years that I still keep.

Have you had or do you have any opportunities for progression?

When I first started in mental health, there was little progression for dietitians. I am now trained in delivering therapies, won a research contract and am now the team leader!

Do you need any qualifications for your role? If so, what? 

Yes. You have to go to university and either do an undergraduate degree or a post-graduate conversion course. Once you pass this and your clinical placements you will be able to register with the HCPC and British Dietetic Association.

What skills and attributes do you think someone needs to become a dietitian?

I think all dietitians are kind, hardworking and want  to help their patients. There are so many different opportunities to specialise within dietetics that everyone will find their niche, their place where their passion is their job.

How do you feel about working for the NHS?

I am so proud to say I work for the NHS. To be able to offer everyone the same treatment regardless of their background is really a privilege. To see how the NHS has adapted during the pandemic has made me even more proud, it truly is a special employer. 

What advice would you give to people considering a career switch into becoming a dietitian?

Do it!! Don’t start your career thinking I want to work in X specialty, as there are so many options for you – it’s always good to look behind every door.

Do you have any tips about eating disorders for parents worried about their children?

Yes, early intervention is so, so, so important. CAMHS eating disorders teams should be taking self-referrals now so you don’t even have to go to your GP!  We would much rather do more assessments and get people when they are just starting to get ill than when their illness is becoming entrenched. 

We know that eating family meals together is a protective factor against developing an eating disorder, so those family meals are really important. 

Please can you share five reasons people should pursue a career as a dietitian 

  1. You will end up helping so many people, it’s a very rewarding job.
  2. There are so many different career paths to choose from within dietetics, you may well be surprised where you end up!
  3. Dietitians work with all ethnic and age groups, and some choose to specialise. For example, working with older people or babies, or minority ethnic groups.
  4. It is a very flexible career, you can change specialities – before working in eating disorders I was a paediatric and neonatal dietitian.
  5. You will always have something to talk about at dinner parties.

And if you want to find out more about working for this NHS, you can download your free guide to an NHS career here.