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Written By

Tianna Killoran


College of Healthcare Sciences

Publish Date

6 September 2022

Nourishing professional skills

JCU Alumni and dietitian Annabel Johnston says that after studying one of JCU’s graduate certificates, it gave her the boost in professional skills to launch into a new avenue of dietetics. Annabel now has her own practice, Nutrition for Living, which caters to a variety of clients including people with gut issues and diabetes.

Seeing first-hand the interaction between chronic disease and nutrition in her own family, Annabel says she always wanted to support peoples’ health and nutrition. “I’ve always been interested in health and fitness and I’m very conscious that food plays a major role,” she says. “I’ve always been fascinated with how I can support my friends and family to live a life where they can nourish and flourish.”

After studying to become a dietitian in Melbourne, Annabel moved to Townsville in search of work and landed a role as a Health Promotion Officer. In the midst of the 2020 lockdowns, Annabel says she was looking for a way to upskill. So, she decided to sign up for the Graduate Certificate of Diabetes Studies at JCU (currently available as a Graduate Certificate of Diabetes Education). “I signed up for the course because it aligned with my career objectives,” she says.

Annabel says the graduate certificate — a short postgraduate course ideal for upskilling — allowed her to build on her previous studies and gain skills she now uses day-to-day. “When I was studying, it felt like this course had been designed for use in practice,” she says. “I was able to implement the skills and knowledge straight into my dietetic work.”

“When I moved to Rockhampton, I found it easy to study flexibly online while working full time as a dietitian. It was a great experience because everything I learned could be taken directly into my practice,” she says.

“I learned more about diabetes, as well as the associated comorbidities that can come with the condition. I was able to understand the diabetes-specific medications, what happens with blood sugar levels and what I can do to support a client from a nutrition perspective,” Annabel says.

JCU Alumni and dietitian Annabel Johnston smiling and standing behind a kitchen bench with food in front of her and flowers and a mixer on the bench next to her.
A person holding out their hand while another person presses a blood sugar monitor against their index finger.
Left: JCU Alumni and dietitian Annabel Johnston. Supplied by Annabel Johnston.

Skills for everyday health services

Annabel says that a highlight of her studies was seeing how it applied to many areas of her practice, even when she wasn’t working with clients who had diabetes.

“A big standout of the course was learning about motivational interviewing, which completely changed the way I practice. It allowed me to give a client autonomy in what they want to do and achieve, whilst acting as a guide and providing evidence-based strategies to help them meet their goals,” Annabel says.

Motivational interviewing is a cornerstone of the unit, a key subject also included in the Graduate Certificate of Diabetes Education.

“This skill is all about allowing clients to determine what is achievable and providing a safe, non-judgmental space on the steps needed to achieve this,” she says. “Although this part of the course focused on diabetes-specific motivational interviewing, I use these strategies in all areas of my practice.”

“In another part of the course, we also focused on learning about different cultures, understanding diversity among clients and how to provide culturally appropriate care,” Annabel says. “For example, I learned how to work with clients who had diabetes and needed to fast for religious reasons. The course taught me how to safely manage a client’s condition while respecting their culture and religion.”

Providing Nutrition for Living

Moving to Brisbane in 2021, Annabel decided to open her own practice, .

Annabel says she’s been able to slowly build her practice using social media and word of mouth and now finds herself at full capacity. “I started out by meeting with doctors, discussing my service and renting a space to see clients,” she says. “I also started using to market myself. It was really interesting because I was able to use the knowledge of business development from the Graduate Certificate of Diabetes Studies.”

Annabel says that working as her own boss has been a game-changer for the care she provides her clients. “My business provides me with flexibility and autonomy over my work, so I can work smarter not harder,” she says. “It means I can give as much as I can towards helping my clients while also taking care of myself. My number one priority is making sure that I can provide the most effective advice for everybody.”

In her practice, Annabel supports a variety of clients. “I work with clients who have pre-diabetes, as well as Type 1 and Type 2 Diabetes. For many clients, there’s often an overlap with gut health issues, chronic disease and eating disorders,” she says.

“These clients have to do the tough work, but I get to support them and see their reactions and know they’ve potentially added years to their lives; that’s what gets me up in the morning and gives me the drive to keep doing what I’m doing.”

JCU Alumni Annabel Johnston

In the future, Annabel says she hopes to use her professional skills to assist more people to improve their health and wellbeing through nutrition. “I do a lot of one-on-one work with clients, but I’m currently in the process of developing a way to create a course to help more people. This would enable me to make more change on a larger scale,” she says.

Want to learn more about how you can upskill in your career as a health professional with a graduate certificate? You might find postgraduate studies in public health, rehabilitation, lifestyle medicine or diabetes education could be the next step in your health career.

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