We sat down with Dr Jacqui Miller in her final days at Flinders for a brief Q&A.
When did you start to work in Nutrition and Dietetics at Flinders and what was it like back then?
I started work here as a junior lecturer in 2001. But I was involved in teaching the paediatric component of the course before then, as part of my role at WCH. In those days, paediatrics was a separate topic and students used to come to WCH for a month long block of lectures and tutorials.
What have you found most rewarding as an academic or from your career in academia?
Without a doubt the most rewarding thing is to watch students grow as they progress through the course. The difference between a first year student and a final year student who has completed placement is huge and it’s nice to think that we’ve shaped that journey.
What will you miss most about academia or working in the department? What will you miss the least?
Oh too much to pick one! I love the contact with the students, being part of their progression, the great bunch of people that I work with, the varied opportunities it has provided me. What will I miss the least – that’s easy – hours and hours of marking!
What changes have you seen in dietetic training over the years at Flinders? What has changed/remained the same since you were trained?
Well if you stay long enough, things come full circle! Of course there’s been lots of changes to technology and subsequently the pedagogical methods that we use. We’ve seen the course go from a Masters to a Bachelor than back to both Bachelor and Masters. I think definition of ‘entry level’ dietetics has changed over the years, particularly in the clinical setting. Students used to be able to cut their teeth on simple cases like diabetes and obesity but nowadays these patients are treated outside of hospital and the average patient is much more complex. Students have changed enormously – they are now much more savvy about their learning, they tend to have more complex lives (when I was at uni I lived at home with my Mum and all I did was go to uni) and so study needs to be more flexible to fit in with this. They’re much more forward in letting us know their needs. Overall I think this is a good thing – the hierarchy is less and lecturers are seen more as partners in their learning.
What hasn’t really changed is some of the basic skills needed to be a good dietitian – ie communication and food knowledge and cooking skills.
What challenges and opportunities do you see for the profession in Nutrition and Dietetics in the future?
I think there may be challenges in the job market and the profession will need to evolve into non-traditional jobs. However, the need for good nutrition is getting larger not smaller so I’m convinced that there will be plenty of work around. Graduates will need to be pioneers and open up new opportunities. On a global basis, there will be a much bigger need for nutrition to be integrated into agriculture so we can feed the population without damaging our planet.
What is the worst/weirdest excuse you’ve heard from a student?
I really can’t think of any! Our students are such good workers they tend to have only genuine excuses.
What is your favourite place that you’ve travelled to for work? Why?
Kupang in West Timor (Indonesia). Lynne Cobiac and I did a research project with health professionals from the local uni investigating childhood malnutrition in a subsistence farming community. It was my first real experience of people living without electricity and clean water and was just such an eye opener for me. It was a mixture of dismay at their living conditions and malnutrition, despair at the lack of ability of the local authorities to help and at the same time euphoric because I really felt I could help them and make a difference.
Why are you leaving and what will you be doing in 2018?
I’m not retiring just yet! I’ve taken a part time research only position at SAHMRI in the Healthy Mothers and Babies theme, based at the WCH. I’ll be mostly working on my favourite area – human milk and human milk banking but will also be helping out with some Clinical Practice Guideline work in the area of neonatal nutrition. Hopefully there will be lots of opportunities for Honours projects!