Aside from DICAS, the dietetic internship may be one of the most stressful things any RD2BE has to go through. Biochemistry may be up there as well, but many can agree that the internship is one of the most exciting and terrifying experiences in their career path. Despite challenging and thorough coursework, sometimes it can feel like it is not enough for dietetic students. A lack of confidence and fear of failure can make the situation even worse. I am currently a junior in my nutrition and dietetics program with the future constantly on my mind. I think about my dietetic internship all the time, obviously, right now my main concern is getting into one! Either way, as a chronic over-planner, I need to know what to do before I step foot into my first rotation.
I asked some current and past dietetic interns, who I look up to, what they did to prepare and how they stayed sane. As nutrition students, we learn that maintaining good mental health is just as important as good physical health. Therefore, feeling overworked and beyond stressed out is something we all would like to avoid. It is also widely known that failures and small mistakes are learning experiences. That being said, it is sometimes hard to reframe a mistake into something tangible, so I also made sure to ask them about a mistake they made. What worked for them may not apply to others, as we have different personalities and learning styles. However, it may be helpful for overthinkers like me to receive a bit of insight.
I’d like to first introduce Laura Kurtz MS RDN, who told me about her virtual dietetic internship experience. She was a dietetic intern at Marywood University and completed her rotations at Al Beech food pantry, LifeGeisinger, Bridgewater Nursing Home, and Lourdes Hospital. Participating in a dietetic internship during the height of COVID-19 must have been incredibly difficult, but Laura overcame this challenge and still thrived, completed her internship and passed the RD exam!
What is something that you did to prepare for your internship that you recommend everyone try? She responded that she looked over all the internship material and asked her director any questions she had ahead of time. She also took time to organize everything before the year started. This answer resonated with me because I often don’t ask questions if I feel it is something I could eventually figure out myself.
How did you still make time for yourself and your mental health during your rotations?She replied by saying she made sure to have at least 30-60 minutes of active time during the day since it was online. Overall, this helped with her sleep schedule and her focus on schoolwork.
What is one mistake that you learned from during your internships? Retracing our steps to question-asking, she said her mistake was not asking enough questions at the start of her internship. She would later get to her work and would have many questions. After she began to ask what exactly was on her mind during the internship call, she had a much easier time.
I also spoke with Jaclyn Bendt, a current dietetic intern and personal trainer for a small business who has a large social media presence. She is an intern at Ohio State University and has so far completed her rotations at Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, The Chillicothe VA Medical Center, and Clem and Thyme Nutrition (private practice). Honestly, she is someone I have looked up to for many years, as she serves as a role model for establishing healthy relationships with food and exercise.
What is something that you did to prepare for your internship that you recommend everyone try? Interestingly, she also mentioned that she wrote down questions she had about each rotation and noted places where competencies were required. With those competencies in mind, she shared them with her preceptor and continually referenced them.
How did you still make time for yourself and your mental health during your rotations? She continually sets boundaries for herself by ensuring that she disconnects from school (as much as possible) on the weekends, which provides her time to socialize and rest. She said that setting those boundaries is essential for her!
What is one mistake that you learned from during your internships? She said that keeping an open mind for every rotation is important to her learning process. All preconceived notions about how the rotation will go should be pushed out of your mind. She said she ended up enjoying parts of nutrition that she never expected.
Overall, my take from these two interviews is to ask questions, ensure time to “step back” from your work, and go into everything with an open mind.
Edited by PreRD intern, Lauren Gatto
Written by Natalie Kerrigan: My name is Natalie Kerrigan and I am currently a junior in the DPD undergraduate program at Marywood University in PA. I am passionate about promoting evidence-based, sustainable, and accessible nutrition education. Also, I am a huge foodie and love strength training.
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