Working with a Dietitian

Recently I had the pleasure of spending time at a veteran’s hospital as part of my service learning. I spent the majority of my time with the dietitian and her staff. Prior to volunteering there, I thought dietitians primarily dealt with meal planning and losing weight. There is so much more to their jobs especially in the hospital/residents’ home environment.
Upon first arrival, the public volunteer coordinator sent me to the cafeteria. The dietitian and her staff were discussing the previous months’ menus. They went over it thoroughly. She asked what foods were eaten well and which were not. The meals were checked for duplicate starches and alternatives, which would be offered. She explained they are were on a three month rotation and the food supplier had given them ideas for the next few months.
Over the next few weeks, I spent time working with the staff taking inventory, cooking, serving food to the residents and learning. There are regulations which state that food has to be approximately six inches off the floor, all containers are closed, and refrigerators & freezers are set to certain temperature. Even the food being served has to maintain a certain temperature.
We walked the floor talking to people, listening and observing how the staff worked with the residents. There are special eating utensils for people who have trouble eating. Depending on the resident’s need, the food was served. Some foods were mashed; others had a thickener in it to make it easier to swallow.
The dietitian works closely with the speech therapist, doctors, and nurses. They chart the residents’ vitals, meals, meds, and etcetera. If a resident wants to eat something, which increases their blood pressure, it is documented with patient’s signature. The speech therapist teaches the residents who have difficulty swallowing exercises that will help with swallowing. The doctor reviews the charts, and can agree or disagree to any suggestions.
The dietitian will work to create the healthiest diet possible. If residents refuse to eat, then she will create an alternative, which can provide the equivalent nutrients or something that they will eat. She said it was difficult because as a person ages the more likely they will not want to change their meals from already learned behaviors. It seems that we get set in our ways, as we get older.
I enjoyed my time working with the dietitian. I am looking forward to working with other staff members in the upcoming months. If you are interested in volunteering, just ask for the public volunteer coordinator at your local nursing, resident, or veterans’ home. There is a great need for help. Residents love to spend time listening to the young and old alike. They especially love sharing their experiences and being there for others. If you are looking for a sense of purpose, volunteering offers you a chance to grow, to share, to listen and to just be there for others. Don’t be afraid to give someone else a little img_2644of your time.


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