Dietetics is a career predominately dominated by women, but at North Mid we are lucky enough to have 3 male dietitians. As part of our celebrations for Dietitians Week 2021, we spoke with Peter Heald, Long Li and Kostas Eleftheriadis about their careers and experiences working in a female-dominated profession.
Can you tell us what inspired you to become a dietitian?
Pete: I was always interested in science, health and the human body and enjoyed communicating with lots of different people, so dietetics ticked all the boxes. Coming from New Zealand, which has huge issues with diet and lifestyle-related diseases like the UK, I saw that nutrition was a growing area that would allow me to make a difference in people's lives.
Long: I have to say initially my thought towards a dietitian was the same as most people – to help people lose weight!! I successfully managed my own weight 13 years ago, so I wanted to become a dietitian to help lose weight. Obviously after I started studying dietetics I realised that to help people lose weight is just a tiny piece of work of what a dietitian does. In fact, now I am doing the opposite to what I wanted to do – to help people not lose weight!
Kostas: I used to be a semi-pro football player prior to studying in university and I always had an interest in nutrition. I initially thought I would become a sports dietitian for athletes, however, during my clinical placements and training in university, I became highly interested in helping people improve their clinical condition with dietary advice and the expanding area of nutrition and dietetics science. Thus, I became a dietitian (not a magician).
What are the highs and lows of working within a female dominated profession?
Pete: I once went to the annual Dietitian's NZ conference, where I was the only male out of around 150 people. Not sure if that was a high or a low but they had a good laugh at me and I met a lot more dietitians because of it - must be a high then.
There aren't many lows to speak of; I don't really notice that I'm usually the only male in the room anymore. There are also not many industries where a straight, white male would be targeted to answer questions about diversity!
Long: Highs include working with many amazing women and genuinely appreciating their talent and great work, and I don’t think I have had any lows.
Kostas: Diversity within the NHS is one of the reasons why I love being part of it. Men in dietetics reflect ~4-5% of the workforce in the UK. I have had outstanding colleagues from different backgrounds which made working with them a pleasure.
One of the aspects which I would change if I could, is uniform; unfortunately, male/female uniforms for dietitians are very different, and very often I am being mistaken for a physiotherapist by wearing a white polo T-shirt. This sometimes may reflect and highlight the low awareness of what dietitians do and that it is usually perceived as a feminine/female-oriented profession by nature. Regardless, these cases are rare and overall, I don’t believe my gender has greatly (if at all) affected any aspect of being a dietitian.
How can we encourage more men to get into dietetics?
Pete: I think it's something that will happen, and already is happening, over time as the profession gets more exposure and more people realise how nutrition plays such a massive role in the health of our population. Men have historically tended to care less about their health, but that's changing now, and I think that will guide more men towards health professional careers including dietetics. I think things like Dietitian's Week are a big part of improving exposure and helping men to see dietetics as a great career option.
Long: An ongoing PR campaign where we get all male dietitians on social media and showcase the very diverse clinical areas of what dietitians do and break down the prejudices that dietitians only tell people how to lose weight!
Kostas: There is no magic answer for this question, however, advertising of our role within the clinical and non-clinical environment, alongside the varied roles and pathways within dietetics (not only NHS), may promote the recruitment of more men in dietetics. In previous years, unfortunately, literature and books would describe a dietitian as a "she" rather than they or she/he. Therefore, inclusive language within the written literature and advertising campaigns such as infographics highlighting male/female and people from minority ethnic groups featured within the infographics would likely start having some impact over the next years in the public perception of dietitians. Additionally, perhaps male dietitians could be part of outreach educational programmes aimed for students considering careers and university applications in college, promoting the role of dietitians