In 1998 Ingrid Hickman was one of the first graduates of Brisbane’s Queensland University of Technology’s undergraduate Bachelor of Health Science majoring in Nutrition & Dietetics. After graduating, Ingrid went on to work in a variety of clinical roles in both rural and metropolitan hospitals before getting a taste of research in a large tertiary hospital. Ingrid says that this is where her passion for expanding the evidence for nutrition practice was sparked. Ingrid went on to do a PhD in Medical Science at the University of Queensland investigating the role of obesity in the development and progression of chronic liver disease. Ingrid’s postdoctoral studies focused on metabolism and the role of nutrition as a therapy for obesity-related chronic diseases. Ingrid’s PhD also took her around the world with a fellowship in Italy where she was introduced to glorious Italian food, wine and her husband! On returning to Brisbane, Ingrid took up a position as the Director of Research at the Department of Nutrition and Dietetics at the Princess Alexandra Hospital in Brisbane.
Tell me a little bit about your job and/or describe a typical day for you?
Every day is different and everyday I leave work having learnt something new (sometimes I have to learn it the hard way but often it is fun!). One part of my role is to build research capacity in Dietitians which can involve supporting staff to interpret the literature of evidence, evaluate their own practice and implement evidence-based changes, undertake research projects that answer clinical questions and support them to disseminate their findings through conference presentations or publications. My role also involves providing high level nutritional expertise in our national and international multidisciplinary research projects. I love the challenge of sitting in a room of brilliant scientific minds and seeing how our dietetic practice will evolve and improve with the findings of our research studies. I am constantly advocating for the importance of nutrition research and so my role involves giving a lot of lectures, seminars and presentations to a broad range of health professionals in the field of metabolism and obesity-related disease and consulting with other research teams to improve their nutrition outcomes.
What do you most enjoy about your role?
Always learning, exploring and experiencing “light bulb moments”, not just with students and staff but with myself where my knowledge is constantly growing by asking questions, making mistakes and searching and persisting until I find the answer. I also get a thrill when I see the quality of our staff improve through their involvement in research – when I see Dietitians in the audience engaging with scientific speakers and feeling confident to critique the work and ask important questions I feel very proud!
Tell me a little bit about your career in dietetics thus far and/or why did you choose dietetics as a career?
I come from a family of CWA country cooks where filling ones table and plates with copious amounts of food for family and friends was a sign of love. So food has always been central in my life. I also saw very early on that not everyone in this world was as connected to their food as we were and I knew that food choices were often a simple answer to many of life’s problems! I never really planned my career until I took on more senior roles. I really just wanted to finish university and get a job and I worked my way up the ladder by always saying yes to any opportunity that came my way. There were many people who saw potential in me that I didn’t yet see and gave me great opportunities. In some ways I was lucky, but luck often comes to those who work hard and I’ve always been resilient and worked hard at being the best I could be (I think it’s those CWA genes).
What would be your number one tip to someone starting their career in dietetics?
Always take opportunities that are offered and learn from them (even if they are a disaster).
What is one interesting fact about you?
I once tap danced on the back of a float as part of the Bundaberg Sugar Festival dressed as sugar cane – sure I was a child, but interesting that I was an unwitting player in that early promotional propaganda given I now spend most of my time telling patients to stop eating so much sugar!