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Rachael V. Nickerson

Food services worker brings food and joy to patients

“I think every patient is my patient,” she says. “I may not be their doctor, but food is a big part of a patient’s recovery.”

Story by Nadia Hinds

Her patients call her the flower girl.

Every day at work Rachael Nickerson wears flowers in her hair. A black and white striped apron wraps around her, a communicator hangs from her neck, and a Hello Kitty lanyard holds her Alberta Health Services ID. She pushes her desk on wheels, which holds her laptop and water bottle. Nickerson goes from room to room on the sixth floor at South Health Campus, helping patients select their breakfast, lunch and supper for the following day.

The 26-year-old from Cold Lake began her job two years ago as a food services worker. She works Tuesday to Saturday, eight hours a day. Nickerson takes menu orders, delivers lunch and supper, prepares cutlery, stocks the fridge with snacks, and picks up any leftovers from over 75 patients.

Knock, knock, knock.

Nickerson stands in the doorway of a patient’s room.

“Food service,” she says, cheerfully. “I’m here to help you select your meals for tomorrow.”

“OK,” says the patient, weakly.

“Do you like bananas?”

“Yes.”

“Oatmeal or Shreddies?”

“Oatmeal, with brown sugar.”

“Toast?”

“Yes, with margarine.”

“Yogurt? We have key lime and raspberry.”

“Doesn’t matter.”

“The raspberry is delicious; let’s try that. Coffee or tea?”

“OK. Coffee with extra brown sugar.”

“For sure,” says Nickerson. “And finally, would you like orange or apple juice?

“Apple juice! That was a good meal. The best I had,” says the patient, enthusiastically.

Nickerson continues to review the list of options for the next day’s lunch and supper. Each selection is saved on her laptop and is automatically sent to the kitchen.

It’s almost like room service at a hotel.

“Family members will often tease me by asking for steak and lobster,” she says, laughing. “I haven’t heard a request for caviar yet.”

Although Nickerson likes to joke with staff and patients, she admits there is a serious side to her job.

“I think every patient is my patient,” she says. “I may not be their doctor, but food is a big part of a patient’s recovery.”

Food services workers need to have completed Grade 10 or equivalent. They must be able to speak, read, write and comprehend the English language well enough to follow directions and communicate effectively with their team members. Training for this position is done on the job, so previous instruction or experience in a kitchen setting is not required. Food services workers are generally required to complete a safe food handling course.