Advice for Dietetic Interns

Part of becoming a registered dietitian is the completion of a supervised internship. This is similar to a residency for a physician in that you work for a short period of time in several areas; you get to put your theory into practice and see what area of the field you may wish to focus your career on. The internship is an exciting time but also a busy time. Here is my best advice for anyone in or about to start their internship.

1. Treat every day like a job interview. Dietetics is a very small world and the job market is competitive. If your preceptor thinks of you as the one who was always late, the one glued to her phone or the one on Facebook, is she going to recommend you for a job? Absolutely not. But if you're the one who is punctual, the one who did thoughtful work and acted professionally, you have an ally in your job search.

2. Be patient. Some people are better teachers than others, but coaching and teaching an intern is a big time investment for everyone. Also, keep in mind that many RDs don't have a lot of control over their schedule because often their day depends on their patient load. You have to roll with the punches. Help where you're able to make the days go smoothly. Their hours are your hours. If their day starts at 6, you had better be there by 5:55, ready to roll.

3. Be thankful. When you're done with a rotation, write a thank you card (no, not an email). If they write you a recommendation for your job applications, be sure to write a thank you card for that too.

4. Take notes. The dietetic internship is a time to ask questions and to learn a lot. When your preceptor or some other health professional takes the time to teach you something, get out your notebook and write it down. 1) It shows you're interested in what they're saying, and 2) prevents you from asking the same darn question the following week. Also, they're more likely to slow down so you have enough time to write it down. When they're done with the lesson or thought, read it back to make sure you got it right.

5. Take the initiative. Don't waste your preceptor's time asking a question you could have answered by opening a book or getting online. There are plenty of things you are going to get stuck on, but get as much information independently as possible. I would much rather hear, "I was able to look up this medication, but I didn't understand why someone couldn't take it if their kidneys aren't functioning well," than, "What's this medication?"

6. Don't gossip. Dietitians are people too, so some of us are more professional than others. If any of the dietitians are stooping to gossip, do not participate.

7. Dress the part. This ties back to the first recommendation to treat each day like a job interview. People who dress professionally are more likely to be taken seriously. Added bonus? This can also give you a boost of confidence too. Of course, if you're in an internship funds are likely tight, but I have found plenty of great duds at my local thrift store. If they're clean and pressed, no one will be the wiser. Maintain your nails and hair and don't go crazy with the jewelry or perfume.

8. Keep copies. Your case studies, pictures from the bulletin boards, and menus you created are fodder for your next job interview. 

9. Have fun. Yes, you do need to work hard, but your internship is the culmination of four years of school. Enjoy how far you've come.

Bonus Advice
And, here are a few bonus tips on distance internships from my fellow dietitian Sarah Waybright:

10. Put every assignment on a calendar. Both due date and when you will actually do it. I had 87 assignments during the duration of my internship, and completed every single one on time with this method.

11. Share a bit of your personal life with your coordinator. Most likely, you're mainly in touch via email, and to Holly's point about wanting your superiors to remember and recommend you for jobs, you'll want them to have some kind of personal context for you. Easy to do when you see them in person, harder to do from a distance…so end each email about official internship stuff with a short paragraph about what you did over the weekend, something funny your mom said, a recipe you tried, etc.

12. Be as active as possible with others in your class. Do this even though you're spread out. Comment on discussion boards or Facebook pages. Be visible!

Good luck!

Holly Larson on Twitter
Holly Larson
Holly Larson, RD, is a registered dietitian in Oxford, Ohio. Read her blog and follow her on Facebook and Twitter.