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Trail-blazer returns to her roots

Dietetics and Nutrition Director Rhonda Anderson
Dietetics and Nutrition Director Rhonda Anderson (left) with Sarah Ley.

20 August, 2015

At the tender age of 22, Sarah Ley did not intend to become a trail-blazer.

But after taking on the newly created role of dietitian at Cairns Hospital back in 1969, that is exactly what the young New-Zealand national did.

“It was such a major learning curve, not just for me, but for my fellow staff as well,” Ms Ley said.

“This wasn’t a role that had ever existed and suddenly I was trying to work alongside cooks who were very much set in their ways. Needless to say I had my fair share of challenges.”

These included an aging kitchen with coal and wood-fired ovens as well as sharing cooking duties when staff numbers were low.

“Back then the hospital catered for about 270 patients plus nurses and other staff,” she said.

“There was a seven-day menu with the same meals served on the same day of the week, for example Mondays was always corned beef, mashed potatoes and mushy peas.”

Ms Ley took it upon herself to develop simple nutritional information sheets and meal plans that could be used by cooks, clinicians and patients.

“I was determined to improve not just diets but food service as I strongly believed, and still do, that good health goes hand in hand with good nutrition,” she said.

“But it was a different time. I recall having to take part in a cook off with the head cook because he didn’t believe my scrambled egg recipe would work.”

While the travel bug saw Ms Ley exit the role seven months later, she had certainly made her mark.

“As well as establishing a new and improved menu and helped to develop a plan for a new hospital kitchen, I, hopefully, I taught some people a thing or two,” she said.

“I always look back on that time as pivotal for me, it made me more determined to make people realise the importance of nutrition.”

Nutrition and Dietetics Director Rhonda Anderson said the hospital had come “leaps and bounds” over the past 45 years.

“We now have 13 full time dietitians at Cairns Hospital as well as our colleagues out at our regional centres,” she said.

“We are also blessed with a new state of the art kitchen and we have introduced an electronic management system.

“There is no doubt that malnutrition is a significant challenge within our health system and our staff work hard to ensure we provide a comprehensive clinical service for both inpatients and outpatients.”

Ms Ley took the opportunity to take a tour of her old stomping ground and meet some of the current team while on holiday from New Zealand this week.

“It is surreal to be back after all this time, it certainly is a fantastic facility,” she said.

Last updated: 21 August 2015