Dr Andrea McGrattan, RD – A Lecturer’s perspective
8th June 2021
Firstly, why did you choose dietetics?
At School, one of my favourite subjects was Home Economics and I loved to learn about how nutrition could influence health. I also loved learning to cook and try out new recipes. This inspired me to seek out a career that would allow me to continue to develop these interests, but I also wanted to study a degree that would lead to a profession. Hence, why I chose Dietetics!
Can you talk a little bit about your current role as a lecturer in dietetics while undertaking research?
I am Lecturer in Nutrition and Dietetics at Newcastle University, UK. This is a hugely rewarding position, as it allows me to share my knowledge and experiences in order to teach and support the dietitians of the future, but I can also continue my passion for nutrition and dietetic research. I primarily teach on the Masters of Dietetics (MDiet) programme, being module leader for Applied Therapeutic Diets. This is a new course at Newcastle University so it is really exciting to be a part of the first undergraduate dietetic programme (with integrated masters) in the North East of England. Being a lecturer who undertakes teaching and research is a busy, yet complementary role. Having an active research portfolio, allows me to be embedded within an evidence-base that can help to inform my teaching.
You are involved in many areas of research, including around diet and dementia prevention. Why these areas of research?
My main research interests include risk reduction of cardiovascular and neurocognitive diseases. I am interested in the design, development and testing of diet and lifestyle interventions to promote behaviour change among at-risk populations. It was my PhD studies at the Centre for Public Health, Queen’s University Belfast with Professor Jayne Woodside and colleagues where my passion for diet and dementia research evolved.
Dementia prevention is a really fascinating topic. Recently, researchers have found that up to 40% of dementia cases worldwide are linked to modifiable risk factors, many of which are nutrition and lifestyle dependent. As these risk factors can be prevented, it makes the possibility of therapeutic intervention for prevention extremely promising, especially when dementia has been historically viewed as an inevitable, and unavoidable, part of the ageing process. It is such an exciting time for dementia prevention research, and I am so privileged to be a part of that.
What led you to becoming a lecturer and researcher in dietetics after your studies?
I made the decision quite early on in my career that I wanted to pursue a career path outside of the clinical setting. I was very academic, and enjoyed being in an education environment so I could see myself being in a lectureship role at some point in the future. Completing a PhD in Public Health Nutrition allowed me to combine my passion for dietetics but also develop advanced research skills and undertake teaching experience that I could take forward as a career as a research dietitian. Before my appointment as lecturer, I worked in a research focused role within a large Global Health Dementia Prevention Project (DePEC) implementing a dietary intervention study targeted at middle-aged and older adults living with high blood pressure in Malaysia.
Are there any misconceptions about the role of a dietitian?
Yes! Many people who are not familiar with the role of a dietitian, might assume that their job is solely to help support people to lose weight and write up menu plans. And, it is so much more than that! Many dietitians actually work to support people to put on weight, particularly those who are chronically ill and malnourished. The role of a dietitian is complex, as they work to assess, diagnose and treat dietary and nutritional problems at an individual and wider public-health level.
Any advice for potential students that are looking to study dietetics?
I think it is important to research the role – look at the British Dietetic Association and Health and Care Professions Council websites as they have a range of online resources available. This will help to give you an insight into the work of dietitian (and the many exciting career paths!), but also about being a health professional. If you can, speak with a dietitian – it is a great way to find out about their typical working day and get a feel for the role. Don’t be afraid to ask questions!