Published Tuesday 13 Sep 2022

Dietitian Dushanka Hettige receives the Dietitians NZ Young Achiever Award, Allied Professionals present, at the 2022 Australia and New Zealand Allied Health Summit


Dietitian Dushanka Hettige receives the Dietitians NZ Young Achiever Award, Allied Professionals present, at the 2022 Australia and New Zealand Allied Health Summit 

Capital, Coast and Hutt Valley was well represented at this year’s virtual Australia and New Zealand Allied Health Summit on 25–26 August. This two-day event brought together health professionals, professional bodies, researchers and policy makers to explore and understand the value and utility allied professions provides to patients and the health system. This year’s theme was demonstrating value and utility of allied health care.
Dushanka Hettige, Intensive Care Clinical Dietitian and Improvement & Innovation Advisor, submitted her poster presentation on the quality improvement project I See You (ICU) Referring to the Dietitian? to address the risk of overfeeding, optimise nutritional care and improve patient outcomes via early referral to the dietetics service. Taking place within Wellington Hospital’s ICU, the project identified a delay in dietitian referrals for patients commencing enteral feeding, which found 50% of Māori patients were overfed compared to 33% of non-Māori patients at initial dietetic assessment. Dushanka identified the adverse risk of overfeeding and therefore significant inequity within this patient group. 
After implementing change ideas, including feeding pump stickers, staff education, and daily referral screenings, there was a significant improvement in the number of patients being referred on day one of feeding. This meant timelier dietitian reviews, reduced overfeeding, and more equitable health outcomes for Maori/Pasifika patients. 
Dushanka recently  received the Young Achiever Award 2022 presented by Dietitians NZ and sponsored by 5+ a day at the annual Dietitians NZ conferenceheld in Christchurch NZ at the end of August 2022. 
 “Being a dietitian, you really see the pivotal role nutrition plays in a clinical setting, as well as a social setting. Food is a key part of our lives and brings people together. So, it’s nice to have a role where I can support and educate others to make significant changes. That’s really what I enjoy doing.”
“I think all dietitians have many skills that are transferable. We have such an ability to spread our knowledge and work with lots of different professions, in an  multidisciplinary and holistic  approach.” Says Dushanka.
It was a volunteer experience with Garden to Table that inspired a career as a dietitian. Dushanka’s role was to assist low-decile primary school children in cooking healthy meals and teach them food safety and hygiene practices. 
“This allowed me to educate and develop suitable relationships with children taking into consideration different cultural backgrounds, values and beliefs.”
“I have a passion for advocating and promoting a health service that is committed to reducing inequities and work safely and effectively to achieve service and patient centred goals.” says Dushanka. 
Dushanka is intensely proud of her Sri Lankan heritage and, in her new role, is an incredibly valued voice in ensuring that dietetic services are equitable for those of all cultural backgrounds.
With this passion for improvement and leadership, Dushanka has taken a new role as an improvement and Innovation Advisor, working alongside clinicians to guide health projects to improve system outcomes and help reduce the equity gap for Māori and Pasifika patients and whānau.
As an improvement and innovation advisor, Dushanka has equity at the top of their priorities and are encouraging and supporting others to do the same - because it is very easy to.

“We play a key role in educating others and liaise with other groups to ensure all information is accurate and evidence-based. We make sure that we're getting it right, so that we can use it to make a sustainable and equitable difference.” Says Dushanka.

Many more exciting projects were presented by CCHVD representatives at the Allied Health Summit.


Hem Devan, Pain Management Physiotherapist and Cheryl Davies (Ngati Raukawa, Ngāti Mutunga ki Te Wharekauri) of Tū Kotahi Māori Asthma & Research Trust presented their project: Māori community based solutions to addressing inequities in pain management on day two of the Summit. The video link is to whānau sharing their experiences: whānau focused pain management programme.




Barbara Saipe, Professional Leader for Physiotherapy, put forward the following poster for inclusion:  Development of an on-line group pain management programme in Aotearoa NZ: iSelf-Help iSelf-help was designed to be a culturally-responsive, online-delivered, group pain management programme for people with persistent pain that would provide education and support for participants.




Lizzie Waring, Advanced Social Worker for the Cancer Support Service highlighted her recent work as part of a broader multi-disciplinary team striving to increase focus on holistic healthcare, especially around psychosexual issues and equitable access to treatment:  Meeting People Where They Are: psychosexual cancer support



Advanced Orthopaedic Physiotherapists, Sarah Francis and Ryan Rodger submitted a poster of their Orthopaedic Triage Project -  We’ve Got Your Back! Which highlighted their work on supporting the utilisation of expert musculoskeletal physiotherapists in orthopaedic clinics to decrease waiting times, increase patient satisfaction & wellbeing while also saving resources.