How to Have a Great Experience with a Dietetic Intern

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Throughout my five-year run as a dietitian, I’ve had the opportunity to work with several dietetic interns, both in-house and those from distance programs who design their own path based on personal interest. In talking with other professionals, I have found that taking on interns often causes feelings of stress and anxiety, along with fear that it takes too much time away from job duties. In my opinion, that is simply not the case! The trick to having a great experience with an intern is to be incredibly organized and take the time to plan. Let me explain.

When I was an intern myself, I specifically remember how frustrating it was when I started a new rotation and the preceptor was unprepared. Not only is it awkward to follow someone around aimlessly because they are winging it, but the experience is not beneficial for either party. Once I transitioned from student to RDN, I told myself that I would never let this happen. The way I avoid this scenario is by following these steps:

Create a Detailed Schedule

This includes location, time, topic, etc. I just use a table in a word processing document to do this, but you could use any system that works for you.

Send It to the Intern in Advance

I usually send it a few days before they’re due to start, in case they have any questions. Be sure to include any additional information that might be helpful such as the lunch situation and whether or not they should bring comfortable shoes for walking meetings.

Include Links to “Suggested Reading”

This way, if there is down time, they have something productive to do. Interns are working with you because they want to learn about your job, so this can be helpful. If they never have down time because you end up rocking out some amazing projects the entire time, even better — and the reading can be done on their own time if it interests them.

Be Sure to Challenge Them

As we all know, dietetic interns work hard to get where they are. Give them autonomy and their work may surprise you — and hey, we all know that the younger generation just keeps getting more skilled at technology, so you can always set them loose on a tech project you’ve been putting off.

Wondering what to do with an intern? Here are a few things I did with my most recent dietetic intern that were beneficial for both of us:

  • We planned and attended an employee wellness fair. My intern helped me brainstorm snack ideas, hit the grocery store, designed an attention-grabbing handout, and talked with attendees about how to stay energized throughout the workday.
  • She wrote several tweets (and found the best hashtags) to use in the days leading up to an office-wide wellness event.
  • She redesigned marketing materials for an alternative transportation challenge.
  • She wrote a guest blog post on healthy snacking and found photos for it on our stock photo subscription site.

In addition to the mutually beneficial relationship that you can foster through this process, I feel like it really is our duty to pay-it-forward to interns as our preceptors did for us. So, the next time you get that e-mail or phone call asking if you take interns, instead of immediately stressing, take a moment to think about the potential benefits. After all, you might be the deciding factor for what area of the field this person chooses, and that is definitely one of the best feelings ever.

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Leanne Ray
Leanne Ray, RDN, coordinates the employee wellness program for a Denver-based health department. Her professional interests include promoting an intuitive eating approach in conjunction with cooking and meal planning education all in the name of self care. Connect with Leanne on her blog, Leanne Ray Nutrition, and on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook.