Career Outlook

Ally Bongard

Ally Bongard

Clinical Nutritionist and Project Coordinator

How did you get your current job?

I grew up in Tasmania and was looking to relocate back. I was looking around to see if there were many nutrition clinics, from my searches there were a few naturopathy clinics but none really in the nutrition field. So rather than jumping into a role elsewhere I decided it would be the perfect place to build my own practice.

I began practicing at home, starting with one to two clients per week which meant I could rent a beautiful house. I originally chose to set up a home clinic because my partner is also a nutritionist and for the two of us to rent a separate space, we were looking at a fair bit of money and I guess there is always that uncertainty starting up a new practice. Setting up a home clinic meant we were paying our rent no matter what with the bonus of a clinic space. It also gave us flexibility, when we didn’t have clients, we could be doing other things and we could personalise the space. It also meant we could advertise how we wanted and choose what programs and supplements we wanted to use. You can also plan your clinic times. For us we had a lot of people who worked during the day and could see people after work and reach a greater market.

The other role I’m currently working in is the Wellness 360 Co-ordinator at the West Moonah community house in Hobart. Initially I didn’t think I would have the right skill set to be a project co-ordinator. I knew from reading the job had I had the skills, but I had no previous experience as a project co-ordinator. It was quite amazing how many transferable skills I had from my nutrition degree. Tasmania is a very word of mouth place and I had started running a lot of workshops including at the West Moonah community house because they have a hire space, the manager had taken an interest in my workshops and she actually approached me about the role and said ‘I think you’d be perfect for this role and would bring a different aspect with your nutrition’.

Working in the community house has opened a lot more nutrition roles for me because it is associated with government organisations and I have made a lot of connections which has led to my private business Learn to Nourish being hired for lots of other projects, which is really exciting.

I’m now running nutrition workshops at local youth centres, garden to plate projects with MONA (the museum in Hobart) and the Glenorchy Library. And all that stems from working at the community house.

What’s a typical working day like?

It all depends. When I am in clinic it can be a relaxing day. I put a lot of time into my clients, so I tend to see a maximum of four a day. It means it is easier for me to get bookings but also a good work life balance for me, so I don’t get burnt out. Those days I can have a healthy lunch at home which is nice.

I’m at the community house 15-20 hours a week and those days are hugely varied. One day I can be on my computer planning programming for the next month, reaching out to cooking instructors, health care professionals – seeing what they can offer the community. Some days I am in the community house kitchen teaching cooking skills, there might also be people coming in who need food supplies and I will educate them on how to use certain items of foods we give them. Sometimes I have meetings with stakeholders such as schools, government organisations to connect the community to the community house. It really does vary!

What do you enjoy most about your job?

Variety! As much as a love clinic, I think if I only saw patients, I would be missing the other aspects of my passion. I love that I can help people from all walks of life and all socioeconomic statuses. For people who can’t afford to come and see me in clinic, I’m still able to provide them with government funded cooking classes or low-cost classes.

I also love that I am outside, inside, here and there.

What are the challenges?

Within both my roles, it needs constant motivation. I am a highly motived person and I really want to succeed, but sometimes you just want to come home and not think about how to make ends meet. I knew that this would be part of it. I knew that there was a need to be highly driven and reach out and find the right connections. Even with my community role, a lot of projects are grant funded and it means always thinking about being innovative.

How relevant is your degree in Nutrition?

Hugely! Without my degree I would be nowhere near where I am and all the things I am doing. It’s surprising how many of my nutrition skills I use daily without even noticing. For example, when people come in for food, I’m often assessing their wellbeing so that I can refer them to our other services like counselling.

What did you love about studying at Endeavour?

Lots of things, for me it was forming a bit of a community. I met so many like-minded people, my first day at Endeavour meeting all those people was something really special. Those people I met are life-long friends.

I left school early so all the science was difficult for me, but I loved the challenge and the learning and knew eventually I would need that information.

How has your career developed and what are your career ambitions?

My career has definitely developed through networking. Now every time someone offers me to try something new, I generally jump in and do it.

When I finished my degree, I was working as a sales rep for a company in Queensland which gave me great exposure to different products and how different practitioners operate. I also worked for the Jamie Oliver Ministry of Food which involved us going into schools and teaching cooking skills and food education. That gave me a great foundation for developing and running workshops.

Having a supportive mentor really helped me to believe in myself and push myself. But it has been people hearing about me and contacting me that has been the real push factor in my career.

Long term I have always had plans to run a health retreat in Tasmania, bringing practitioners together as a sort of one-stop wellness location. However, originally that business plan was always targeting the wealthier population. After working in community, I would love to support people who can’t really afford those kinds of things but really need it.

What are your top tips for those wanting to study?

Expect it to be hard but stick with it. The first year of biochemistry and chemistry may be hard but if you stick with it you will love it and have a really rewarding career.

Doing talks and workshops is one of the best ways to develop yourself as a practitioner, boost your confidence and get your name out there. 80% of my current business comes from workshops in the community.

If you are finding the course too overwhelming and you’re not retaining the information, don’t be scared to slow down and do a lighter trimester. It’s important to take in what you’re learning.