1. Your research on “Service-wide management of healthy gestational weight gain following an implementation science approach” was recently published in MATERNAL AND CHILD NUTRITION. What led you to focus on this topic?
The origin of this work goes back to a survey we ran in our service in 2008. Our new Mater Mothers’ Hospitals (Brisbane) were about to open and we had received increased funding for more positions in dietetics (up to 1.0FTE!). We had to decide where we would allocate this time and I’d wanted it to be a very purposeful and evidence-based decision (as you’d hope this would be…). We surveyed antenatal and postnatal women from our service, we reviewed the literature, and we surveyed other Queensland, as well as nation-wide maternal health dietetic services to put together a picture of what was, should, and could be done in this space. This survey, and subsequent follow up surveys, identified priority areas and have informed the body of research around nutrition and maternal health we have undertaken since this time – with the overarching goal being to develop and provide evidence-based, effective nutritional care to women from preconception to the postnatal/interconception care in our tertiary maternity service that delivers around 10,000 babies a year.
This particular research recognises that while we need effective programs to assist women manage their gestational weight gain, if consistent messages aren’t provided by staff and if structures aren’t in place to allow the delivery of evidence-based care even the most effective programs will fail our women. I have also undertaken an NHMRC TRIP (translating research into practice) Fellowship which gave me the grounding and training in implementation science. This methodology specifically looks at how to effect change through using evidence based approaches to influence staff, teams, and organisations/systems (in a similar way to the way behaviour change strategies can be used to assist patients to change behaviours – by targeting known barriers to change rather than something being done because it’s worked for someone or somewhere else). It’s a messy type of research, but ultimately very rewarding as it’s real-world services and real-time changes.
2. You lead a team at the Maters’ Mothers Hospitals, Brisbane. How would you describe your leadership style?
I strive to lead by example but/and “lead from behind”. I value the collaborative and consultative approach. I am lucky in that my position (clinician-researcher) has me embedded in a clinical department “doing research”. I feel this allows me to participate in the day to day clinical work, overlaying it with a research/quality lens. While I have a vision of how I would like our service to look and develop (informed by the work described above) encourage strong participation in decision making from the members of our team.
3. What advice would you give to a newly graduated dietetics professional?
I often think of the advice Professor Sandra Capra gave to our graduating year (who came out in a similar economic climate with few jobs, but for different reasons than nowadays). Go anywhere and take any work – this meant taking more rural or regional work, perhaps as a locum, not always full time, rather than waiting for that perfect, tertiary hospital job. This is the best way to build your experience and a true network. It also helps you consolidate your skills, to decide/refine where you eventually will work, and opens doors you didn’t even know existed.
4.You’ve recently become mum to a daughter who’s now seven months old. Congratulations! Given your specialty in maternal health, did you gain any new insights on nutrition while undergoing a pregnancy yourself?
The main insights I gleaned were the actual application of the practical tips we give. I had a fairly uneventful pregnancy in that I was lucky to not experience the levels of morning sickness I see in patients and friends, although there were a few nights where I definitely understood the “don’t be in the kitchen when meat is cooking” tip. Of course, as a dietitian I “went for 2 & 5” (and while breastfeeding, “2 & 7” (which has been more of a challenge). I have been very reliant on meals I’d portioned and frozen and was grateful for my big cook-ups in the third trimester. I also experienced overwhelming generosity from friends and family – people always want to help but sometimes don’t know what to do. I found people very forthcoming after asking for a few meals from each of my friends – this was very useful (and delicious!). I found trying to even think of preparing meals when you’re sleep-deprived and baby-wrangling to be close to impossible. It’s still hard later on – I’m still doing a lot of bulk cooking and freezing, often during my baby’s morning sleep. I’m using a lot of legumes as meat extenders. I don’t think I’ve ever eaten pulses so regularly!
5. You have a knack for sewing and in your [impossible to believe you have any!] spare time, make fabric wristlets, coin purses and more. What benefits does this hobby deliver for you in terms of work-life balance?
I like to think of it as my left-right brain balance; the analytical and the creative. I’ve been sewing from a young age thanks to a resourceful mother who sent me to lessons when I was young and it’s served me well for making clothes, and more recently the bags and purses. These initially started as gifts for friends when I was doing my PhD and had very little disposable income. I soon realised that it was a nice foil to the PhD with a faraway-end-date and constant “constructive criticism”. Each item I made was often done in a day or so, was under my complete “artistic direction” (without revisions required, unless *I* decided) and resulted in a sense of pride and accomplishment in a much shorter time frame than that from my studies. I also found the process of fabric selection, design, and sewing to be a very mindful process (I’m not one for sitting and meditating, but I find a number of activities, including sewing and hiking to take me to the “zone”). The online shops soon followed and when I had more time I would regularly attend and sell at the (BrisStyle) markets which also gave a nice balance to my life, engaging with a supportive, creative community. I’ve said it before in a DC interview – early advice I gleaned from an early career workshop at a conference was to have a number of interests beyond “work” or “research”; generally each will have peaks and troughs at different times and it’s a great way to help maintain a balance to your energies.