Luise Marino is a Clinical Academic Paediatric Dietitian at University Hospital Southampton (UHS) and R&D Clinical Lead for Division C (Women and Newborn, Child Health and Support Services).
After completing her undergraduate degree, she spent 15 years in South Africa training and practicing as a dietitian, where her interest in research first began following a Master’s degree. After moving back to the UK and completing her PhD at Imperial College London, she came to Southampton as Paediatric Dietetic Lead for the department.
SoAR were especially helpful during her early postdoctoral career in supporting applications for early career research internships that enabled her to d pilot projects. This allowed her to successfully apply for an NIHR Integrated Clinical Academic (ICA) Lectureship, which she completed in 2020.
Improving the nutrition of infants
Luise’s NIHR Clinical Lectureship looked to develop and implement a nutrition pathway to increase help with feeding for parents of infants with congenital heart disease, as well as improving their growth before cardiac surgery. Following the use of the pathway parents felt more supported and growth at the time of surgery and at 12 months of age was significantly improved. Infants also spent less time in paediatric intensive care following their heart operation.
However, not all infants gained weight as expected and her future work will consider how best to personalise the type of nutrition support given to these vulnerable infants.
Doing research as a dietitian
While clinicians have a well-defined pathway to pursue a career in research, the route for dietitians and other non-medical researchers can appear more challenging.
Luise says there have been lots of improvements in the last five years with more funding streams opening up for non-medical researchers. Within UHS, support from SoAR and R&D has really helped her to progress in her career as a clinical academic.
“SoAR has been instrumental,” she explains, “particularly from a dietitian’s perspective, but also for other allied health professionals, at facilitating research opportunities, support, mentorship and signposting - it’s a conduit, a really successful conduit for aspiring researchers.”
Life as a researcher
Luise is clear that following a research career is not always easy, but it can be extremely rewarding if you are passionate about it. She says it can come with some personal sacrifice and that it may not always be possible to fit it into a 9 to 5 job.
“I think it’s a really difficult road. You have to have a remarkably thick skin and not take the ‘no’s personally, because there are many. You have to understand that it’s not an attack on you; you might be the right person, but the project is not quite right for now,” she explains.
“But if you are willing to go down that road it can be really rewarding. Obviously we’re in healthcare because we want to make people’s lives better, and I just want to make every child’s life better. If there’s some small way something I do can improve how a parent feels about their journey through hospital, or their child’s outcome means they have a better life because of it, that’s the reward you’re looking for.”