Deanna McBride: Pursuing a Passion for Neonatal Nutrition

Deanna McBride (Messina, 1996) is a passionate and dedicated dietitian specialising in neonatal nutrition. Her journey to becoming a neonatal dietitian was filled with unexpected turns and a strong desire to help others. Below, discover how Deanna’s path shifted from psychology to nutrition, leading her to embark on a fulfilling career where she plays a vital role in supporting the health and development of premature infants and critically ill newborns.

What inspired you to become a dietitian, and what path did you take to pursue this career?

I didn’t really know what I wanted to do when I finished high school. However, I always knew I wanted a career that involved helping people on some level.

I actually didn’t become set on the dietetic path until I was already at university studying a Bachelor of Psychology. During this time, I had the opportunity to work alongside a dietitian. This is when I realised that dietetics encompassed all those facets I was looking for, something medical with a component of counselling and education. That’s when I realised this was the right career path for me.

So, after completing my Bachelor of Psychology, I went back to complete another four years of university in nutrition and food science. Many people thought I was crazy, but I am so glad I did because once I found something that interested me and I had a passion for, it was a really enjoyable time.

What does a typical day look like for you?

A typical workday for me begins with a medical ward round where the entire medical team including the senior doctors, pharmacists, and I assess every baby in the neonatal unit. During this time, I specifically focus on growth and nutrition status and calculate the nutrients they need depending on their medical condition or growth patterns. This can be very challenging at times, as these babies are too young to suck and can have fragile gastrointestinal systems, so often rely on feeding tubes and IVs to get all their nutrition.  

The other significant part of my day revolves around seeing our ex-prem babies in an outpatient setting, it is always so nice to see how our discharged babies are progressing and thriving, so this is always a favourite part of my day!

Tell us a little about your job and how it differs from working with adult clients

Neonates and adults have distinctly different nutritional needs and considerations. As a neonatal dietitian I focus on tailoring nutritional intake to the unique requirements of premature infants and critically ill newborns. This involves closely monitoring growth parameters, and adjusting nutrient intake based on gestational age and medical condition, all while providing the correct nutrients to support the development of their organ systems. Neonatal nutrition also needs to focus on ensuring we are providing nutrition that would match what they would have been receiving if they were still in utero.

With the many fad diets and conflicting information available, how do you help people navigate through the noise and make informed decisions about their diet?

It is really easy to feel confused by all the conflicting nutrition information thrown at us on a daily basis, there is an abundance of fad diets out there which can really make people confused and overwhelmed when it comes to making dietary choices.

When helping people make informed decisions, I firstly always suggest that they seek a specialist dietitian who works in that area and has a sound solid understanding of the latest evidence and recommendations.

When trying to make sense of it all, it is important to always look for evidence-based information from reputable sources such as, government health agencies, professional organisations, and peer-reviewed research articles. These sources undergo rigorous review processes to ensure accuracy and reliability.

As a dietitian, what do you find most rewarding about your career?

One of the most fulfilling aspects of being a neonatal dietitian is knowing that my work is helping positively impact the early development and wellbeing of critically ill infants. I really value being able to provide some support to families and be a resource for them during difficult times.

My favourite part of the job is getting to know the families of the patients I work with and witnessing the transformation of their ill premature infant to a thriving, happy baby and seeing them leave the hospital in good health.

Did your time at Santa Maria impact your future career?

When I was at Santa Maria, I was still deciding what career I wanted to pursue. The main subject I really enjoyed and found interesting was both the health and human biology classes. I also really enjoyed Mrs McFarlane’s Chemistry classes. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised I ended up in dietetics, as it has a heavy human biology and chemistry component.

What do you like to do when you are not at work?

I am a busy mum of two, Ella (10), who just started at Santa Maria in Year 5 and Luke (7). They love their sport, so if I am not at work, you will see me pool or courtside supporting my kids. Like most dietitians, I’m a bit of a foodie, so trying out new restaurants both locally and while travelling is a favourite pastime, and it allows me to explore different cuisines and discover new foods to eat!

Thank you for sharing your story, Deanna, and inspiring us with your dedication to neonatal nutrition.

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