LHSC learner nurtures patient health through nutrition

Registered Dietitian Christine Balsillie stands in the Health Sciences Library at Victoria Hospital. She's resting her left arm on a bookshelf holding a textbook called "Nutrition in Clinical Practice" and a colourful floral painting is behind her.

November 15, 2023

Growing up in London, Christine Balsillie would frequently drive by London Health Sciences Centre’s (LHSC) Victoria and University hospitals. Little did she know that one day she’d be working there helping to bolster patients’ wellbeing through a fundamental building block of health: nutrition.

Balsillie completed a five-month placement with LHSC this past year as part of the Master of Science in Food and Nutrition Practicum-Based Program at Brescia University College at Western University. Her experience with LHSC was so successful that she’s since been hired on as a permanent part-time Registered Dietitian and currently works with the Inpatient Thoracic Surgery team.

“I’ve always been interested in nutrition,” she said. “We’ve all probably had experiences where we’ve had to put a little more thought into what we’re eating, whether it’s for ourselves or a loved one who’s not feeling well or struggling with something. It really piqued my interest, it was something that I wanted to learn more about.”

For Balsillie, her placement was a critical part of her education. She enjoyed her time in the classroom, but her hands-on experience with LHSC helped her develop important skills for her professional toolkit.

“There's only so much you can get from the classroom even with Brescia’s focus on experiential learning and simulated patients,” she said. “So being able to come in, shadow our preceptor throughout the day and see how would they would complete a task was helpful.”

Balsillie said preceptors would also step back and give learners an opportunity to engage in interprofessional team discussions in order to hone their communication skills. 

“Towards the end of my placement I was encouraged to do that independently so that I did have those skills, but I also felt supported while I was developing those abilities,” Balsillie said. “That approach was huge here at LHSC.” 

Balsillie’s placement also allowed her to work in a number of units including paediatric oncology and the Critical Care Trauma Centre. Witnessing how different interprofessional teams collaborate to provide the best patient care was a highlight for Balsillie. 

“That was one of the best takeaways from my time here at LHSC.”

Bethany Staubitz, Registered Dietitian with LHSC’s Inpatient Medicine Program, was one of Balsillie’s preceptors and agreed the hands-on experience the placement provides is invaluable. 

“Engaging with and helping patients make changes in real life is where your learning starts to stick,” she said noting it’s not always easy for people to alter their diets. Personal preference, finances and cultural considerations all play a role in what someone chooses to eat. 

The work takes a solid understanding of the science behind the field, as well as compassion and understanding so patients feel supported and not judged. This is something Staubitz said Balsillie excelled at. 

“She’s a gentle soul, patients just naturally trust and listen to her,” Staubitz said. “I’ve seen her in action and her approach is very effective.”

When Staubitz learned Balsillie was joining Team LHSC as a permanent part time staff member, she knew she’d be able to do the job. 

“I was confident that she would have no issues transitioning from a student.” 

Balsillie’s role within the Clinical Nutrition Team has allowed her to continue learning about how her field applies to a number of different areas of patient care and she’s appreciative of the ongoing support she’s had. 

“The training and assistance I've received from my colleagues and their openness has helped me grow within these different areas,” she said.

Continuing along that path of development is something Balsillie is focused on.

“LHSC is definitely a place where I feel there's opportunity to grow in your profession,” she said. 

For more information about learning opportunities at LHSC, visit the Learner Affairs webpage.