Ekta Agarwal is an Assistant Professor in the Master of Nutrition and Dietetic Practice Program at Bond University. She is also an Honorary Research Fellow at the Nutrition and Dietetics Department, Princess Alexandra Hospital. Prior to joining Bond University Ekta was recruited as a Lecturer into the coveted ECARD Program at the Queensland University of Technology (2013-2016).
Ekta is an Accredited Practicing Dietitian and completed her PhD titled “Nutritional issues, patient outcomes and the management of nutritional risk in hospitals: Results from the Australasian Nutrition Care Day Survey 2010” at the University of Queensland in 2013. With over 3100 acute participants from 370 wards across 56 hospitals in Australia and New Zealand, the Australasian Nutrition Care Day Survey is the largest and most comprehensive insight into nutritional issues in acute care hospitals in the two countries. Ekta has presented her research at several national and international conferences, published in top quartile nutrition and dietetics journals, attracted over AUD130,000 in research funding, and done several media interviews. The Dean’s Award for Research Higher Degree Excellence (UQ 2014), Research in Practice Award (DAA 2013), Best Abstract Award (ESPEN 2012) are a few of many awards that Ekta has received in recognition of her research.
Tell me a little bit about your job and/or describe a typical day for you?
Each day is quite different but consistently keeps me enthused and excited about my new role, which spans across three main domains: Teaching, Research and Service. I teach Food, Nutrition and Health and Human Nutrition to undergraduate students; and Nutrition Assessment and Diagnosis and Clinical Dietetics to Master of Nutrition and Dietetic Practice students at Bond University. I spend one day a week at Princess Alexandra Hospital where you will find me writing papers and working with students, clinicians and researchers on various projects. I also volunteer my time to mentor graduate dietitians in their provisional APD year.
What do you most enjoy about your role?
Research is by far the most enjoyable aspect of my role. This includes hands on data collection and analyses, supervising student projects and higher degree research programs, writing papers, and presenting at conferences. Abbott Nutrition recently invited Professor Liz Isenring and me to deliver a series of educational seminars on malnutrition in the aged care setting in five major cities across Australia. The sessions were collectively attended by over 500 very passionate healthcare professionals and I came back feeling energised to do more research!
Tell me why you chose dietetics as a career?
Dietetics chose me! I was unable to secure admission into a medical degree after grade 12 in India and a close family friend suggested dietetics as a potential option. Back in the late 90s dietetics was not a widely-known profession in India. I contacted the handful of dietitians listed in the yellow pages to understand what their job entailed. Their passion captured my interest and dietetics it was! The last two decades have been very fulfilling as I have learnt and practiced dietetics in two diverse cultures, enjoyed a range of roles, been mentored by some of the best in the industry, and made many friends along the way.
I find it fascinating that although food is required for sustenance it often receives very little priority in the acute care setting- from both, patients and healthcare professionals. I would like to continue with my research in this area.
How did you get into research?
During my private practice in India my clientele mainly included an ethnic community that had a high prevalence of type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease. In theory, these clients should have been older individuals, overweight or obese, with high intake of meat and alcohol, and a sedentary lifestyle. On the contrary, most were in their early 40s, within the healthy weight range, strict vegetarians, and abstaining from alcohol and cigarette smoking for religious reasons. I was immediately curious to investigate these discrepancies but had no idea on how to proceed without access to research databases, scientific journals, and a research mentor. It was logical for me to take advantage of the pro-research environment in Australia and explore research as a potential career pathway.
Why do you undertake research?
I believe that research is the key link between theory and best practice and is important to improve healthcare and patient outcomes.
Personally, I continue to be mentored by very energetic and inspiring researchers, which is incentive enough for me to continue along my research journey. Publishing papers and travelling the world to present at conferences are additional perks of the job!
What would be your number one tip to someone starting their career in dietetics?
I believe that the range of opportunities dietetics offers are limited by one’s imagination and networks! Be proactive by networking with dietitians working in different domains- you could do this at conferences, professional development events, and by becoming involved with DAA branch activities.
What is one interesting fact about you?
I learnt cooking from my husband after arriving in Australia! He ate some of the worst meals I cooked, and with much praise and appreciation!