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.
It's National Preceptor Month, which feels very fitting because I am rotating Chicago-area interns one after the other right now at work. As our office's internship manager, I collaborate with local universities and dietetic internship programs as well as individual students and distance programs to schedule as many interns as we can comfortably take throughout the year. I'm generally booking at least six months ahead at any given time. Because I work in an outpatient cancer center, I get students interested in that type of work, as well as those who want to learn more about cooking and culinary skills, and those who want the unique experience of integrative nutrition education or to learn more about supplements or plant-based diets.
One of the things that makes dietitians so specially trained as nutrition experts is the supervised rotations through medical clinics, hospitals, schools and community programs we complete during our internships. Having been an intern myself not too long ago, I create internship experiences based on what I remember working (or not working) when I was in my rotations.
My clinic has a relatively small staff with only four dietitians and we are really, really busy all the time. I strictly take only one intern at a time because my philosophy is that an internship rotation should be mutually beneficial: helpful to the staff to have the extra assistance and educational with skill-building for the intern.
My interns help us by cooking and organizing in the kitchen, they do research projects for us and make patient handouts. Right now, my team needs to know more about essential oils and the MTHFR genetic mutation because this is coming up with my patients, so my interns do projects that educate both our staff and patients. For the intern experience, they get to borrow all of my books and resources, receive access to Natural Medicine's Database for projects, and sit in on all of our consults with debriefing after each one; they also get to sit in on consults with the rest of the integrative staff. We always include them in all of our meetings and treat them like they are a part of our team while they're here because they really are — whether they are with us for a week or several months.
I enjoy having my interns so much. I hope they learn skills from me and my dietitians that open their eyes to nutrition work they might not previously have considered or even known about. I hope that my "supplement skeptics" leave more open-minded than when they arrived and that everyone who comes through my center sees the power that nutrition can have on successful cancer treatment. I often get thank-you letters in the mail or on an intern's last day — I keep them all.
I'll close with a word from a wonderful student I was honored to work with: "I haven't fully expressed my gratitude to you. As Mr. William Arthur Ward once said, 'Feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a present and not giving it.' The impact you have had on me is immeasurable. I want to express my deepest gratitude for believing in me. You have been an excellent inspiration for me, inspiring me to pursue my goals with hard work and dedication."