Hello my friends!
Many of my colleagues have been asking how I managed to get registered with the British Dietetic Association and be a registered dietitian in the United Kingdom. So, this is a post that has been created with all of the overseas dietitians in mind who have questions on how to become a registered dietitian in the United Kingdom. I will share my personal story and following this, I will share some of the other ways you can become a registered dietitian. This is a long post, but if you are interested to do this I am sure you will find it being worth it of your time.
I moved to Athens from Corfu in 1998 to study and complete a BSc in Dietetics & Nutritional Science at Harokopio University. It is a four-year degree that includes a clinical placement in different hospitals during the last year of studying. During this time, I got motivated to become fluent in English and sit the exam of Proficiency in English Language by Cambridge University. Following my graduation in 2002, I came to Glasgow as a student to complete the MMedSci in Human Nutrition with specialisation in Clinical Nutrition at the University of Glasgow. I became very interested during that time in protein metabolism and the systemic inflammatory response and worked with my wonderful supervisors in a research project that focused in B vitamin assessment during the systemic inflammatory response in patients with critical illness. During that time I became friendly with the staff of the Intensive Care Unit medics, physios, dietitians, nurses, secretaries, cleaners, etc.
Finishing my masters degree, I returned to Corfu for 2 years where I practiced my profession as a freelance dietitian. I saw mostly weight management and cardiovascular patients, but also patients with dyslipaediamias, type 2 diabetes, hypertension and metabolic syndrome. At the end of these 2 years I received a scholarship (by my wonderful supervisors) to return to Glasgow and work on my PhD where I focused on micronutrient assessment in patients with critical illness. The lovely people I had met in the intensive care unit some years ago where still around and remembered my smiley face. The dietitian of the unit was very kind, indeed kind enough to invite me to the surgical ward rounds and the nutrition support meeting that took place on a weekly basis at the surgical wards of the hospital. The consultants of the wards also liked my friendly attitude and welcomed me to the ward rounds. And I was in heaven as I was so keen and enthusiastic to learn as much as I could about my profession in a new clinical environment.
The beginning was hard. I could hear people talk about complications, operations and management of patients and could not understand much. But what I did was for every word, every situation that I did not know about I would go away and find out about it. So slowly slowly I became more and more able to communicate with the team at a better level. And of course this became highly appreciated. At the same time, I was working hard to finish my PhD.
My personal situation changed also. I decided to stay in Glasgow permanently and that meant that I had to apply for registration with the Health and Care Professions Council (previously Health Professions Council) if I wanted to work as a dietitian. This is the first step. If you become registered with HCPC then you are allowed to practice as a dietitian in the UK and apply for jobs within the National Health System (NHS). I created a portfolio with 1) all the information they asked in detail and 2) some more information that was not required like my degree of competency in english language, CV, achievements,letter of membership from the Hellenic Dietetic Assosiation, etc. I put everything in a folder with clear categories for the documentation they asked for an international registration and send it off with a £400 worth of cheque that it was required for applying for registration (I know, very pricey but if successful then it is absolutely worth it). My advice about this is first, make sure you include ALL the information the application for registration is asking for, second, get all the clinical experience you can by volunteering to be involved in every clinical situation (ward rounds, meetings, etc.) you are welcomed to (by politely asking the head dietitian if this is ok), and third, make sure you are a nice, honest person that people like to have around (this is not something you can actually make yourself do so just try your best!). From my experience, I believe that my clinical “experience” (called shadowing) despite informal it still counted for the success of my application.
So the response of my application arrived 10 days later and it was totally positive, meaning I became registered unconditionally (woohoo!). With the letter of registration, I received my registration number with the HCPC and I could register for a full membership with the British Dietetic Association. Applying for jobs in the National Health Systems brought a different complexity of issues. The jobs are advertised in bands (exactly….what is that?) and I had to understand at which level I should apply and which level was beyond my clinical experience. So to make things simple: Band 5 (basic) – no clinical experience, graduate dietitian. Band 5 specialist (specialist rotational) – at least 18 months of clinical experience, includes usually yearly posts in different specialisations. Band 6 specialist (specialist dietitian) – from what I remember at least 5 years of clinical experience in relevant posts, you become a specialist dietitian in a specific post. Band 7 – lead dietitian in specific specialisation (eg. lead surgical dietitian, lead cardiovascular dietitian, etc. or otherwise the manager leads of each specialisation team). I would say that most of the time people would be interested in the band 5 basic positions but that depends lots on your experience and the hospitals you apply for. I applied for at least 4 jobs (which rated from basic band 5 to band 6) before I got my first job (which was a band 5 specialist rotational) so it is about not giving up and making sure you tick all the boxes of this application also. Apart fro being competent, being a nice person that people would love to have in their team is absolutely crucial for your success. The process of getting a job if you are offered an interview after applying, is about people seeing who you are, what you can do for them and how you are going to fit in with the team. It is very different from the Greek system where it is how many years of experience you have and how many points you have gathered despite the fact that you may be a seriously unlikable person (for example!). So again, character is a massive asset although it will never save you if you are not up to scratch with your knowledge. It will give you the job though, if it is you against someone else with similar skills and experience! And bad character can actually destroy your chances of getting the job also even if you have the experience to support it (because who wants to work with a person who is not nice?).
Getting this job was not easy, and landing in a new working environment was hard in the beginning but I tried to adjust as fast as possible. There were two challenging areas because of the differences between a greek hospital and the NHS: 1) how to document your practice in a clinical setting and 2) differences between how dietitians work in the NHS compared to how greek dietitians have been trained to work with a patient. These are things you can only gain experience on and it is hard to explain outside the workplace.
The one thing that I would like to stress though is how welcomed I was in my job from all my colleagues and that there was never a hint by anyone that I may be different because I was Greek and not British. All my colleagues (and believe me I have now worked with many many people, from different disciplines also) have always embraced me as one of their own and this has been for me a great lesson of equality and diversity. I want to thank them all for being the people they are and for the life lessons they have given me.
I feel that working in the U.K. has made me a better person only because of the wonderful people I have met and their beautiful characters. As a Greek Girl I wish us Greeks learn to be better people first for ourselves, then for our loved ones and lastly for the rest of the society we share.
Please feel free to ask me any clarifications you may need about the processes above. I will be very happy to help