Since their secondary school years, Shanice Lim Wei En, 23 and Lee Xuan Ying, 25, have had a profound fascination with nutrition and its influence on individual well-being. In 2019, when the Singapore Institute of Technology (SIT) introduced its Bachelor of Science with Honours in Dietetics and Nutrition, they seized the opportunity to pursue their passion in the field.
They both opted for the SIT programme because it is the first degree course of its kind offered by an autonomous university in Singapore. As the pioneer graduates in the programme, both found employment as dietitians at hospitals, where they now play a vital role in promoting health and well-being through personalised nutritional guidance and managing diet-related health issues for patients. Shanice now works at Ng Teng Fong General Hospital, while Xuan Ying is currently with the Singapore General Hospital.
As dietitians, their role extends beyond simply advising individuals to consume more greens and stay adequately hydrated – they play a crucial role in helping people manage chronic health conditions like diabetes. So, what goes on in the daily life of a dietitian?
A day in the life of a dietitian
As a dietitian’s role at a hospital involves assessing and managing patients’ nutritional needs, Shanice and Xuan Ying would spend their mornings reviewing patients’ records and blood test results. This is usually followed by bedside visits, enabling them to engage with patients and build trust and confidence.
“As a dietitian, I’ve honed the ability to convey scientific terms in a way that is easily understandable for my patients. It helps them grasp and follow dietary guidance more easily,” said Xuan Ying. For Shanice, the challenge lies in balancing hands-on patient care and fostering personal development.
Both Xuan Ying and Shanice see a diverse range of patients. Their typical day involves providing dietary counselling to patients with chronic diseases, especially diabetes, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and kidney disease. Dietary intervention is increasingly important, given Singapore’s escalating prevalence of these diet-related conditions.
“The most common issue is the overconsumption of salt. National surveys report that 90% of Singaporeans consume too much salt,” said Xuan Ying. The problem is exacerbated by the excessive consumption of preserved foods, canned items, cured meats, and seasonings like soy sauce.
In addition to dietary counselling, Xuan Ying mainly works with patients requiring nutrition support, like oral nutrition supplements and nasogastric (nose to stomach) tube feeding for patients who cannot get nutrition by mouth.
By the end of the day, Xuan Ying and Shanice would make the time to stay informed about the latest research and nutritional guidelines. After all, a crucial part of a dietitian’s role is to keep up with the latest developments.
With such busy careers, what keeps them continuously motivated and passionate are the success stories of their patients. Xuan Ying recently received heartfelt appreciation from a female diabetic patient for her nutrition advice that alleviated her stress from managing the condition. “The patient initially embraced a restrictive diet, avoiding starchy foods, sugar, salty, and oily items, which resulted in a 10kg weight loss within two months. However, she also suffered from depression and fatigue,” said Xuan Ying. Guided by the dietitian’s three principles — embracing balanced meals, choosing the right carbohydrates such as whole grains, and slowly reintegrating favourite foods and drinks in moderation — the patient gradually improved her mental and physical well-being.
For Shanice, one particular patient has left a deep impression on her. She once helped a post-stroke patient with swallowing difficulties, ensuring nutritional needs were met despite the need for tube feeding. Her subtle dietary interventions meant adjusting to the patient’s changing capacity to consume food and liquids.
“The ultimate reward came when he was discharged, fully capable of eating normally again. The heartfelt gratitude from the patient and his family highlighted my role in his recovery,” Shanice reminisced.
The journey to nutrition
Shanice and Xuan Ying initially embarked on their educational journey at SIT with very different motivations.
Xuan Ying’s passion was fuelled by her desire to enhance the nutritional well-being of the elderly population. “I feel a greater sense of fulfilment in serving those in their most vulnerable state,” said Xuan Ying. It was an interest she pursued through her honours thesis, which found that more could be done to address undernourishment issues among elderly residents in Toa Payoh.
Her clinical placement at the Singapore General Hospital further fortified her commitment to the field of nutrition. Her dedication earned her a spot on the provost’s list twice. She also hopes to pursue a Masters in Diabetes one day. “This would enable me to contribute towards improving the way diabetes is managed and stem the high prevalence of diabetes in Singapore.”
For Shanice, her journey began with the goal of enhancing her athletic performance through nutrition. As a national softball athlete, she envisioned pursuing a career in helping others optimise their health through diet. However, her educational pursuit hasn’t been easy.
She contemplated withdrawing from the degree programme due to difficulties adapting to a different learning style. Her academic struggles also resulted in her losing focus on sports and failing to qualify for the 2019 Southeast Asian Games. However, through the guidance of her professors and her clinical placement at Ng Teng Fong Hospital, she discovered fulfilment and gained much-needed clarity about her future path.
“I continued to train with the team 4 to 5 times a week after classes and clinical placements. I would rush to training at night, train for 3 hours and rush back home to complete the coursework,” said Shanice. She not only achieved a mid-term sponsorship from Ng Teng Fong Hospital, but she also made the provost’s list and even represented Singapore in the 2023 Asian Games in Hangzhou.
Though Shanice and Xuan Ying embarked on their distinctly different journeys driven by unique ambitions, a shared goal unites them – to advocate for plant-based diets.
To overcome the perception that a plant-based diet is “unappealing in terms of flavour and variety,” Xuan Ying aspires to promote plant-based eating that is effective and feasible in clinical practice. Shanice, on the other hand, tackled the issue through research. Her honours thesis focused on how the type of plate material used might affect one’s liking towards fungal protein, a type of meat alternative product. Through her research, she discovered that a natural plate material like a banana leaf would significantly enhance consumers’ perceptions of fungal protein, as compared to a synthetic plate material like stainless steel.
Discover the recipe for success
While Shanice and Xuan Ying discovered career fulfilment, the avenues for dietitians extend far beyond medical settings. That’s because nutrition knowledge not only empowers individuals to make informed choices for lifelong wellness, but also opens doors to a wide range of career paths.
“If you’re interested in becoming a dietitian, my advice is to keep an open mind and be curious about the nutrition information out there. It’s important that we stay informed and critically evaluate its reliability and applicability,” said Xuan Ying.
Opportunities abound in diverse fields such as food services, private practice, rehabilitation centres, health retreats, and beyond. Beyond just personal benefits, a strong grasp of nutrition can also inspire personal growth, culinary creativity, and community impact.
As Shanice puts it: “Ultimately, being a dietitian is not just a profession; it is a rewarding journey of making a positive impact on an individual’s life through science and the art of nutrition.”
As the only autonomous university in Singapore providing a degree programme in Dietetics and Nutrition, SIT presents students with an opportunity for a transformative personal journey in health and nutritional science. More information can be found here: https://www.singaporetech.edu.sg/undergraduate-programmes/dietetics-and-nutrition