Accredited Practising Dietitian – Lauren Atkins
NAME: Lauren Atkins (formerly Muir)
PROFESSIONAL TITLE: Accredited Practising Dietitian
HOW LONG HAVE YOU BEEN IN YOUR ROLE FOR? 6 years
WHERE DO YOU WORK? Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre (Victorian Comprehensive Cancer Centre- VCCC)
WHAT DOES YOUR ROLE INVOLVE?
As a dietitian working in cancer care, it is my role to optimise nutritional intake at all stages of the cancer journey. This involves:
– Population measures to assist in promoting healthy diets for chronic disease prevention
– Modifying diets based on altered nutritional requirements during a cancer diagnosis and
treatment. Remaining well nourished through cancer treatment has been found to improve
treatment tolerance, reduce hospital admissions, improve survival and quality of life.
– Optimising nutritional intake to promote rehabilitation and wellness after cancer
HOW DO YOU FIT INTO THE PATIENT’S CANCER TREATMENT TEAM?
Each individual’s nutritional needs will vary depending on their diagnosis, treatment plan, side effects, pre-existing health conditions and a range of other factors. It is the role of the dietitian to work in collaboration with the patient and multidisciplinary team to manage factors that impact an individual’s ability to ingest, digest or absorb nutrients. Preventing and managing malnutrition through dietary modification or use of oral or artificial nutrition support (e.g. tube or intravenous feeding) is an important role during cancer treatment.
WHAT DO YOU LOVE ABOUT YOUR ROLE?
I gain a lot of satisfaction from empowering individuals with the knowledge to take some control of their health and wellbeing. During cancer treatment, some feel a loss of control of their health due to the demands and challenges of prescribed therapies. Nutrition has the potential to significantly improve treatment tolerance, quality of life and cancer outcomes and is an element of care that individuals can take charge of to help themselves.
ARE THERE ANY CHALLENGES TO YOUR ROLE?
Certainly, I think we are all faced with challenges every day, but I see this as a positive element of my career and a motivator to keep learning everyday. Everybody eats and therefore most have an opinion on food and nutrition. Finding the balance between what science and best practice research stipulates is best, in combination with an individual’s goals and preferences is one of the most challenging and rewarding aspects of my role.
WHY DO YOU THINK YOUR ROLE IS IMPORTANT FOR CANCER PATIENTS?
Nutrition has the potential to play a huge role in cancer prevention, management, rehabilitation and survivorship. It is an aspect of care that individuals can self-manage and be empowered by. Working with individuals to understand their goals and preferences, educate and together tailor and optimise intake has the potential to improve health outcomes during and well beyond their cancer treatment.
ARE THERE ANY COMMON MISCONCEPTIONS ABOUT YOUR ROLE?
With a lot of interest and information about nutrition available to the public and many individuals and organisations promoting themselves as nutrition experts, the voice of the dietitian can be easily lost.
Our role is about providing tailored education, advice and suggestions to optimise nutritional intake for health. This involves consideration of someone’s nutritional requirements, the function of their body and digestive system and other health conditions that might impact their nutritional needs. There is certainly no ‘one size fits all’ and it is this well-educated, evidence-based and tailored approach in close collaboration with the patient and treating team that has the potential to significantly improve health outcomes.
Nutrition is also a highly evolving and growing area and it is therefore so important for health professionals to have the skills and expertise to source and critique emerging research, science and theories to ensure the best advice is provided to patients. This is a vital part of a dietitian’s education and training that ensures we have a sound and unbiased understanding about food for health.
HOW DO CANCER PATIENTS GET REFERRED TO A DIETITIAN?
A dietitian referral can be arranged in many ways, including:
– Through the treating hospital – speak to your doctor or nurse if you wish to arrange to
see a dietitian
– Through your local community health service
– Self-referral to a private dietitian. You can find a dietitian in your local area by
– Through your GP. Be sure to ask about your eligibility for a Chronic Disease Management
Plan for subsidised dietitian consults.
In some cases there are automatic referral criteria for patients to see a dietitian. This might be if you are having treatment to the head and neck region, or a stem cell transplant for instance.
In some settings, malnutrition screening tools can be used to explore your risk of malnutrition. The results of this screen may warrant referral to a dietitian. To perform this screen on yourself, visit: https://www.health.qld.gov.au/nutrition/resources/hphe_mst_pstr.pdf
WHAT IS THE BIGGEST LESSON YOU HAVE LEARNT IN YOUR CAREER?
You will never meet two individuals the same. This is what makes the world so special and it should always be respected.
IF YOU COULD GIVE ONE PIECE OF ADVICE TO CANCER PATIENTS, WHAT WOULD IT BE?
Put yourself first. Insist that you understand your options, your management plan and the services available to you.
ARE THERE ANY ORGANISATIONS OR USEFUL WEB LINKS THAT YOU RECOMMEND FOR PATIENTS?
Dietitians Association of Australia
For health professionals:
ANY OTHER ADDITIONAL INFORMATION YOU WOULD LIKE TO ADD?
Some may like to activate their nuts (and tell the whole world about it) but ‘super foods’ are just normal foods with a fancy label. It is possible to have too much of a good thing, particularly when undergoing cancer treatment. Fun fact: marketing of products as ‘super foods’ has been prohibited in the European Union since 2007 unless accompanied by sufficient credible scientific evidence. Do yourself a favour and if you’re concerned about your diet or nutritional status, seek advice from someone with a lot more tertiary training and understanding of your medical condition, and a lot less financial motive than Dr Google or the health food shop ….. an Accredited Practising Dietitian.