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Iasha Hussain: Studying dietetics and nutrition to advance public health in Maldives

Posted: 21 March 2024

Maldives, Experience, Linkages, Scholar,

Iasha Hussain from Maldives is studying a Master of Dietetics at Deakin University with the support of an Australia Awards Scholarship.

Iasha was featured as ‘the face of’ the Australia Awards promotions in Maldives for study commencing in 2025. We recently caught up with her to ask about her Scholarship journey, how it has affected her personal and career growth, and what advice she has for prospective applicants.

Why did you apply for an Australia Awards Scholarship?

The decision to apply for an Australia Awards Scholarship stemmed from my first-hand experience as a dietitian in Maldives, where nutrition and dietetics is an emerging field. I have observed that there is very little understanding and awareness of the role of a dietitian within healthcare institutions, and among the public as well. Dietitians are often only thought of as those who help people lose weight. This underscored the importance of professional credibility to gain trust and create meaningful change within the healthcare landscape. Completing a dietetics degree in Australia, where the field is prominent and revered, grants me the opportunity to achieve the credential of an Accredited Practising Dietitian. It would also make me a member of a robust professional network, Dietitians Australia, that enables continued professional development and lifelong learning.

Furthermore, my experience working in early childhood and maternal nutrition projects sparked a desire to broaden my understanding of public health nutrition and the policy landscape. The Australia Awards Scholarship presented itself as the ideal platform for me to achieve these goals. This opportunity has helped me realise a long-cherished dream of studying dietetics in Australia, which would have otherwise been beyond my reach.

Iasha with other Maldivian scholars in Melbourne.

How has your Australia Awards Scholarship contributed to your personal and professional growth?

This Scholarship has provided me with a breadth of experiences and opportunities that have surpassed my expectations. Learning from seasoned dietitians from leading hospitals and organisations in Victoria has added so much value to my education. My hands-on experiences working in a food service kitchen, providing nutrition therapy for patients in a rehabilitation facility and engaging in impactful dietetic research have been instrumental in my professional development and have expanded my clinical expertise. Collaborating with multidisciplinary teams has not only strengthened my communication skills, it has also instilled in me the importance of holistic, patient-centred care. The guidance and feedback I have received have helped me identify my strengths, boosted my confidence and fostered a sense of resilience. The supportive framework of the Scholarship has created a nurturing environment that has served as a catalyst for my personal and professional development.

How has life been in Australia so far outside of university?

My experiences in Australia beyond my studies have been incredible, despite the demanding nature of my course. Although it has been difficult to be away from my loved ones, the connections and lifelong friendships I have made have provided me with a sense of community. Learning from the lived experiences of people growing up in different cultures and circumstances has changed my worldview in ways my studies alone could not.

Additionally, the food in Melbourne has been an amazing adventure, with the cultural diversity mirrored in the cuisines. Exploring and trying new food from different cuisines has become a delightful hobby, further enriching my cultural experience.

Finally, it has been a privilege to see the beauty of Australia, with Melbourne alone offering breathtaking and diverse landscapes. The flora and fauna are so unique and are a stark contrast to Maldives and anywhere else in the world. It often leaves me feeling like I am on another planet.

Iasha with other South Asian female scholars in Melbourne.

What do you hope to do once you return to your home country?

I look forward to leveraging the knowledge and expertise I have gained to make a substantial impact in the healthcare sector of Maldives by advancing clinical and public health nutrition. My primary focus is to collaborate with other dietitians to translate evidence-based nutrition information into practical guidance that is culturally appropriate and contextualised to Maldives’ population. I also aim to work towards policy reforms that can help create an environment that enables healthy eating behaviours and movement patterns. Furthermore, I plan to advocate for access to dietetic services and medical nutrition support products to be covered by the universal health scheme. This not only improves patient outcomes but also has the potential to reduce healthcare costs. Additionally, engaging in research initiatives that could inform population nutrition interventions is also a priority for me. Finally, I would love to continue my clinical practice working one-on-one with patients and clients to improve their health.

What advice would you give to anyone thinking of applying for an Australia Awards Scholarship?

If I could share one insight with aspiring applicants from my own experience, it would be to approach this process as if you are a confident person, especially if it does not come to you naturally. I would also recommend attending the information sessions organised by the Australia Awards team before completing the application. Furthermore, when crafting the Development Impact and Linkages Plan, no matter how grand your ambitions are, make sure you are proposing something feasible and achievable. Go the extra mile and reach out to people in your field and ask for feedback on how you can further strengthen your plan. And finally, if this is something you really want, be persistent. Many scholars, including myself, did not secure the Scholarship on their first attempt.