This year, ION celebrated its first BSc (Hons) graduates, who had taken the fast-track option for qualified nutritional therapy practitioners. Before their graduation ceremony, Mary Struger and Kerry Aldridge told us why they had decided to study nutrition and what they would say to those considering a similar career path

ION Fellow Mary Strugar completed her DipION in 1997

“I graduated from ION back in 1997, and I've been [an ION] Fellow for many years. I decided to do the degree top-up course and be within the first cohort because I thought we ought to feel what it's like to go through this course. 

“What made me make the switch [from my previous career] to nutrition was that…I actually became very unwell, and it was through really trying to find ways to get better. Nutrition in my view is a foundation for health, so it was something that just came naturally. Then I thought, ‘why don't [I] just it do it? Why don’t I just learn about this’ – as a hobby, which it was initially. So I did the ION diploma course…and I did [it] whilst working full-time.  

“…I was finishing off the diploma and [had] helped a lot of different people – [including] the families of some of the directors of the company that I worked with at that time; they said to me, ‘do you actually want to use this training that you've done?’ And I said, ‘why not?’…[so I ] went into private practice, and never looked back! 

I found private practice very interesting. It gave me an incredible flexibility. My husband at that time was in the film industry and so we lived in many different countries, so I was always able to work with clients in London, and then work online in one form or another, because that was the very beginning of Skype, for example, with clients, and it just worked. And so I had a client base from all over the world from very early on. 

“In terms of working as a nutritionist, I have always found it very, very interesting, because people are so individual. You never get bored; people have incredible life stories and you're not trying to just fix them…you're trying to be a support, be a guide… 

“I think the nutritional therapy field has changed – it has become much more professional. And I think ION is leading the way with the training that's required. 

What I'd say to somebody who would really like to [study] nutrition…is just go for it. It's great being your own boss. I really enjoy that flexibility of being self-employed. And I would say, you're never going to get bored; it's very interesting. And I think the profession will develop; you only have to look at [the number of people accessing] food banks – what is the nutritional value of what [they’re getting]? And how is that going to affect their physical and mental health? It’s really serious – there is so much work to do.” 

Completing her DipION in 2020, Kerry Aldridge decided to continue straight onto the degree course 

“I didn't have any previous science background, so I started [with the science access course] in 2017, and then...the diploma course; I qualified in 2020. By that time, [there was an] opportunity to do…the degree top-up, and I just thought I'd carry on!  

“The reason I made the switch to nutrition: I previously worked as a PA, but I'd done that for quite some time and was looking for a new challenge. I wasn't that happy in my life at that point, and I [was] introduced to nutrition by a nutritional therapist who I saw as part of a retreat I attended, and I just thought it was fascinating…I already had an interest in health and wellness, and I love to exercise…Initially I just thought, ‘Oh, this looks interesting, I'm just going to look at this science access course’, not realising that, five years later, I'd actually have a degree!  

“[Now I have my degree], I’m still working [out] which direction I want to go in. I would like to see clients one-on-one, but the research element of the degree, which is the final part of the degree, was [something] that I really enjoyed, and I'd quite like to get involved in another [nutrition or lifestyle-based] research project. 

“I chose ION because of [their evidence-based approach], and that was important to me. They stood out from other colleges that I went to view.  

“If someone was interested in studying nutrition, I think I would suggest that they really look at the different courses that are available…and the different colleges…And I would say, if they feel like it's a passion that they have, that they should just go for it and see where it leads. I don't think we're ever too old to learn. 

Going [back to studying] after such a long time is quite challenging, and you have to keep motivated, but I really love the learning and I think when you're learning because you want to, it’s easier – not to say it isn't tough, and can be stressful – but I'm glad I'm where I am today.  

“The teaching has been great at ION, and the support as well…I can remember [ION dean] Heather [Rosa] coming to talk to us about the top -up degree when I was still doing the diploma in the final year, and the thought of a research project just frightened me. I thought, ‘oh gosh, I don't think I can do that.. But actually, I think with the support and the guidance of ION and the tutors, you can do it…so [I] feel like it's a real sense of achievement. 

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