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Dr Denise Stapleton

APD: Senior Dietitian

I currently have roles that change daily including

  • a) Senior Dietitian, Fremantle Community Health Child Development Service, WA,
  • b) Paediatric Private Practice, Myaree, WA,
  • c) co-author and administrator of the SENSE-ational Mealtimes book  and
  • d) Senior Dietitian, Parkinson’s Service, Fremantle Hospital/South Metropolitan Health Service.

I’ve always been intrigued with why people behave the way they do. Dietetics has given me a way to connect with families, share information and help others explore numerous possibilities to achieve better health.

Being a dietitian is a stark contrast to my initial pursuit of becoming an air traffic control officer in the navy! I had to wait until I was over 18 years of age to apply for officer entry. So, the year after I finished high school in Bunbury, WA, I was filling in time studying nutrition and food science as I also liked studying chemistry ‘with a twist’. As I became more settled into my new life in Perth, I decided to finish my degree and study dietetics

I was keen to enroll in a course with tangible job prospects and Curtin Uni or W.A.I.T. as it was known as in the 1980’s offered this. W.A.I.T. and Curtin Uni have always had a good reputation. This became evident in the early years when I sent letters throughout Australia during my final months of the dietetics post-graduate degree. In my letters I indicated I would like to apply for any locum or permanent work on offer over the next 12 months. I was thrilled to receive letters indicating how highly regarded previous W.A.I.T. graduates were and that potential employers would be sure to keep me in mind. To my delight I was offered a job at the Royal Brisbane Hospital before I sat my final exams, as long as I graduated of course!

In 1995, 10 years after I graduated, I enrolled at Curtin Uni again, this time to complete my PhD. I had been working at Princess Margaret Hospital for Children, Perth, WA, for 5 years and had identified a potential intervention to help meet the nutritional needs of children with cystic fibrosis. The School of Public Health staff were amazingly supportive. My thesis and numerous publications are a testament to all the collaboration that was possible due to the guidance of those around me.

Stapleton D. Development, implementation and evaluation of a nutrition education and behaviour program for children with cystic fibrosis. 2002. PhD thesis available online.

Identifying a need, networking with others, creating an intervention and seeing the difference it makes to the lives of families was incredibly rewarding during my PhD project and again in the past decade.

When my children started school I set up my paediatric private practice from home and worked 1 day per week with an amazing mealtime difficulties team in community health. Additional collaboration with Gillian Griffiths, occupational therapist, has included researching the mealtime difficulties needs of a small community, co-authoring the SENSE-ational Mealtimes book for families with fussy/picky eating and feeding problems (2013) www.sense-ationalmealtimes.com.au and evaluating the effect of the book on the lives of families. Once again I was connecting with Curtin Uni and was wonderfully supported to complete another research project!

Stapleton DR, Griffiths, GL and Sherriff J. 2013. Development and Evaluation of SENSE-ational Mealtimes: a book for families with Mealtime Difficulties, International Journal of Health Promotion and Education

My biggest challenge now is reaching families early, before mealtime difficulties escalate. When parents understand sensory preferences, the nutritional intake of their child improves. There never seems to be enough time in the week to connect with the wide-range of people who support families and to help them as they share our wonderful insights.

The internet makes connecting with others across the globe possible and less sleep provides the time needed! E-mail, phone, professional development programs, research projects and websites provide avenues for me to collaborate with nurses, doctors, lactation consultants, allied health, teachers, child carers, clinical psychologists and social workers. Every week is full to the brim with opportunities to help more families. When dietitians collaborate with others from diverse backgrounds with a common passion the outcomes are inspirational.

I’m sure you will find that when dietitians are involved in holistic service provision to clients and patients it is often positively life changing for families. In 2012, I began helping people with Parkinson’s Disease to understand their nutritional needs. I am often blown away with how grateful they are when our shared insights help them feel so much better each day. I am reminded that as dietitians we can use our special knack for innovation and team work and enable others to achieve their nutrition goals when we consider the big picture.

Denise Stapleton