April is National Preceptor Month! Preceptors make a difference in the lives of students who are learning to become registered dietitian nutritionists or dietetic technicians, registered by acting as mentors and training the dietetic professionals of the future. Learn how to get involved in the future of the profession.
When I think about my experience being a preceptor, the words that come to mind are "mutually beneficial." Each preceptor-intern relationship I have been in has been just that. I have had interns for two to eight weeks, some fresh out of college, and some second careerists who were checking the internship box to become registered dietitian nutritionists. I have had interns from public and private college internship programs and some from distance internships.
4 Reasons I Am a Preceptor
1. To Give Back
The best part of my internship was when I had the opportunity to travel from Virginia to Germany and work with U.S. Army dietitians. They even housed and fed me. In the hospitable nature of our profession, I choose to do the same. Similarly, I am always glad to have interns from my alma mater.
2. Keeping Up Appearances
Interns help me stay current. This Baby Boomer dietitian has learned some tech tricks — from Excel to Twitter — from each successive Generation X, Y and Z intern. We also talk about new things in undergraduate dietetics programs, clinical settings and other areas I have not been around for decades.
3. My Maternal Instincts
I have children in similar stages of life, spreading their wings into new educational tracks and new careers. I think I have something to offer these young ladies (yes, my interns have all been females).
4. Project Overload
Interns have helped me get to some of the back-burner projects I just never quite have time for. Examples from my school food service/community nutrition rotation include creating new nutrition education kits on current topics like SOFAs, surveying our school gardens and their potential for providing produce for our school cafeterias, identifying barriers to school breakfast program participation, creating fresh recipe ideas and developing after-school cooking club handouts for parents.
If you're thinking of becoming a preceptor, keep the following lessons I've learned in mind.
- It does take some time to organize an intern's schedule and to supervise their work, ensuring they meet their competencies. Longer rotations are preferred, because we can get past the bare minimum to a working relationship wherein they are truly helpful to me and they get to execute some real work.
- After receiving an initial inquiry from an intern, I always request a resume. There are certain things I am looking for like paid work experience and food service experience. If we initially appear to have a good fit, then we schedule an interview.
- If the "Find-a-Preceptor-Database Request" or an inquiry email is full of grammatical errors or typos, it is a red flag.
And here are my final two cents on being a preceptor. First, do I wish we were paid for our time? Of course, especially by the universities collecting thousands of dollars from interns who do most of the work to set up a distance internship and who have volunteer preceptors doing the field supervision. Or, perhaps the Academy could consider a membership rebate for preceptors who serve a certain number of weeks.
Second, for the RDNs out there, remember from your own experience the stress these applicants have about being matched with an internship and try to offer them a seasoned perspective on our profession. It will all work out in the long run. Every experience you have, you will draw upon in future experiences. It is a great career field with wide-open opportunities, and the extensive education and training required to be an RDN will make them a reputable, valued professional.