Jenna Perry – Journey into Dietetics

My name is Jenna Perry and I am a Graduate Accredited Practising Dietitian. I am originally from Lutriwata (Tasmania), where I have Aboriginal ancestry on my Dads side of the family. Although there was a disconnect with culture growing up, I was always passionate about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health and advocating for health care that was delivered by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in a way that strengthened cultural identity and cultural beliefs of health and wellbeing.

Towards the end of year 10, I decided not to complete tertiary year 11 and 12, as although I was interested in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health, I didn’t know which area of health I wanted to pursue a career in and had no interest in completing a university degree. Instead, I spent the next 5 years working in the fitness and tourism industry and saved money to backpack on and off around Europe, Thailand and Australia.

After spending time travelling and working, I became really interested in food and nutrition and decided to study a Bachelor of Dietetics, with the aim to work in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health at the end of my degree. A Bachelor of Dietetics wasn’t offered in my home state, so I decided to move away to the Sunshine Coast on Gubbi Gubbi/Kabi Kabi country. As I didn’t complete tertiary year 11 & 12, I didn’t have the ATAR score/OP required to enter directly into the Bachelor of Dietetics and instead I entered a Bachelor of Nutrition and was able to transfer over into the Bachelor of Dietetics through achieving good marks at the end of my first year. I loved studying a Bachelor of Dietetics, however, there was very minimal education on cultural humility or Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health through a strength-based lens, so I was very grateful to attend IAHA Health Fusion Challenge and complete a placement at the Institute for Urban Indigenous Health (IUIH). Before my final placement year, which included 21 weeks of unpaid placement located predominantly away from home, I was unable to afford the costs associated with placement, so instead I extended my degree by one year to pick up a second job and save some more money for my final year. I think it’s important to acknowledge that we may think we need to complete a degree within a certain timeframe or a certain way, but it’s important to remember that there are always options to adapt the degree to your needs and situation at the time and also other pathways into university that are outside of the traditional way of relying on your results from year 11 & 12.

After graduating I gained full time employment as a Dietitian in Brisbane. I was grateful to have a full time position that enabled me to save money during the uncertain time of Covid-19, but it wasn’t in the area I always aimed to work in – Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health and as a result the job did not feel very meaningful. During this time, I was offered a position with Gamilaroi woman and founder of Wattleseed Nutrition and Dietetics (100% Indigenous owned and operated business), Tracy Hardy. I met Tracy while studying at USC, where I volunteered for her at community events and she acted as a mentor throughout my degree. I always respected who Tracy was as a person and what she believed in and therefore happily accepted the position and now work for Wattleseed Nutrition and Dietetics on the Sunshine Coast. Additionally, I also work for The University of the Sunshine Coast (USC) on a research project exploring Food Systems in Fiji.

I am very grateful to be working two jobs that are both in the area of Indigenous Health (Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders and Itaukei/Fijians) and to have a mentor like Tracy Hardy to work with along the way. I continue to learn about culture and the resilience and strength among Aboriginal and Torres strait Islander peoples and plan to forever be learning in this space.