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 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people delivered 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 Years 11 and 12. 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. So instead, I spent the next five years working in the fitness and tourism industry and saved money to backpack on and off around Europe, Thailand and Australia.

After travelling and working, I became really interested in food and nutrition. I 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. Unfortunately, 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 Years 11 & 12, I didn’t have the ATAR score/OP required to enter directly into the Bachelor of Dietetics. Instead, I joined 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 for a Bachelor of Dietetics. However, there was minimal education on cultural humility or Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health through a strength-based lens, so I was very grateful to attend the 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 could not afford the costs associated with placement. 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 specific timeframe or a certain way. Still, it’s important to remember that there are always options to adapt the degree to your needs and situation and other pathways into a university outside of the traditional way of relying on your results from Years 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. Still, 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. Therefore, I happily accepted the position and now work for Wattleseed Nutrition and Dietetics on the Sunshine Coast. Additionally, I 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 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 the culture, resilience, and strength among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and plan to forever learn in this space.