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Posted on: Feb 21, 2014     Publication: Nutricia News Winter 2013 print page

A Day in the Life: Community Dietitian Manager Margaret O’Neill

We are delighted to introduce you to a day in the life of the INDI Dietitian of the Year Margaret O'Neill.

I fall out of bed at 7am, or maybe quarter past, and have a large pot of coffee. I also make sure all the lunches are sorted. I have four children: Seán, who is 13, Anna, who is 11, Ciara, who is 9 and Rory, who is 5. As a Community Dietitian I do a lot of training with schools and I have to watch what I send the kids in with as the teachers will comment!
Margaret O'Neill - Community Dietitian
Three days a week I do the school run and two days a week my husband Kieran does it. We’ve been married for 17 years now. I enjoy dropping the kids at school; it’s an important part of my day.

I’m into the office for 9.30. I’ve been based in Ballyfermot for the last six months because we’ve moved into the Primary Care Team. Previously, community dietitians were under health promotion. I’ve done a lot of work in the last year to get us into Primary Care because our work has become more clinical. It’s an important move. Now I sit at Heads of Service meetings with other heads of service. A multidisciplinary team isn’t multidisciplinary without a dietitian.

There’s no such thing as a typical day. I cover Dublin South City, Dublin West, Kildare and West Wicklow. There are lots of meetings, especially over the last year. They might be directly related to service delivery. I might meet Primary Care Managers to discuss the development of centres. Or I might meet my own manager, who is the general manager, as we’re trying to get bedded into primary care. Over the last year I have delivered training to other health professionals and I was doing a lot of lobbying to improve the profile of dietetics within the community. My next challenge is to get a champion for dietetics within the HSE who is not a
dietitian.

There are also a lot of phone calls. They could be from one of the dietitians on my team needing a decision on a referral, or from one of our partnership organisations. We’re very much a cradle-to-grave service and anything can come in the door. I get a lot of peer support from the eight other Community Dietitian Managers in Ireland. They’re a great support group.

For lunch, in the winter I’m very good at making soup but it’s usually a sandwich. I always have fruit and yoghurt with me, and because I’m often travelling, sometimes I‘ll skip lunch and have a piece of fruit around 2pm; those are the days that I’m cranky. With diet it’s often a case of do what I say, not what I do.

So how did I get into dietetics?
I’ve always been interested in food and nutrition. It was a toss up between this and becoming a teacher. I trained at Kevin Street and then worked in industry, which was quite unusual for the time. My job was to sell the benefits of the Mediterranean lifestyle for Golden Vale. In 1995 I moved to St James’s Hospital where I took over the HIV clinic. We then started providing services to Mountjoy Prison so I spent one day a week there.

I joined the HSE in 1998 and became Community Manager in 2001. I’m particularly interested in nutrition in low-income groups. When you work in the community you see where people live and their access to shops: it changes the advice you give. I love helping people; that’s what drives me.

I have lots of priorities for next year: malnutrition, home tube feeding, diabetes, paediatrics and obesity. But if I could focus on anything, it would be child health. We can have a huge impact on people’s lives when they have good access to nutrition, particularly in the early years.

I usually get home by 6.15pm. Our childminder is a saint: the children have generally had their dinner and done their homework by then, so I can focus on them. There’s lots of stuff on in the evenings: football, cubs, beavers. I used to go to Pilates one night a week and walk with a friend two nights a week. I haven’t been doing my exercise recently though and I miss it. That’s one of my New Years’ Resolutions.

If I want to relax, I cook. I love entertaining and feeding people. Most weekends I have people over for lunch or dinner and I always do a roast dinner on a Saturday. I also love cooking with the kids; it’s brilliant to get them involved.

I am organised. You can’t have four children and a full-time job and not be organised. But I can’t do everything. I need to stand back and work out what I want to achieve. That’s my focus for 2014!

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