Each internship is uniquely different. Some programs consist of six or fewer rotations at two facilities, while others have as many as 11 rotations at 12 or more facilities. You may be accepted into a program with a clinical nutrition focus or possibly one with a business approach to community nutrition. Despite the variation amongst programs, they all have one thing in common: Each program will test and challenge you in ways you were not expecting. The hours will be long, the work will be rigorous and, at times, it may all seem overwhelming.
The overall goal for the majority of dietetic interns is to work hard, learn as much as possible, grow as a nutrition care professional, and graduate. It is also paramount to not lose your mind. Here are some tips and tactics that helped me get through my year successfully, with my happiness and health intact:
Organize your workload
In the beginning of the year when we received the list of our assignments, projects and presentations, I spent time organizing my binders, computer documents and planner to ensure that I never missed a deadline. Yes, my binder looked like a crazy pile of multi-colored tabs and sticky notes, but it worked! I felt relieved once everything was noted and accounted for in my planner. You have a lot on your plate — the last thing you need is an important form or paper accidentally shoved in the wrong place.
Keep succinct and realistic lists
It is crucial to prioritize your responsibilities. But as we tell our future patients and clients, be realistic! After a 10+ hour day, do you think you will be able to check 15 items off of your to-do list? Probably not. Keep a (short) weekly to-do list and stick to it. If something must be adjusted, make sure it's something not due the next day.
Work on your assignments daily
Treat the internship like a full-time job. In between rotations and events, work on your assignments. Don't wait until the last minute, which can increase stress, decrease sleep and lower your quality of work.
Prepare meals in advance
Your time is precious — don’t waste it. Pick one or two days a week when you can prepare the bulk of your meals. Make things that are easy to prep and keep well. Having healthy food that fuels your mind and body is imperative — remember, a “hangry” intern is an ineffective intern.
Your body uses sleep to reset and heal itself. Yes, you may have to pull a few all-nighters, but don't make it a habit. Losing sleep affects your appetite, productivity, concentration, immune system, mood and much more. Racking seven to eight or more hours each night should be a goal and priority. Trust me, one night of bad sleep can affect your whole week.
Change your routine
Although routines are beneficial, sometimes too much structure can lead to boredom and unproductive time. Simple ways to change up your routine: Don't eat the same thing for breakfast every day, take a different route to work, vary your exercise schedule, try a new tea or go food shopping on a new day. Don't let your schedule rule you all the time — spontaneity and change keeps our minds sharp!
Make the weekend count
If your schedule is like mine, by the time you get out of your rotation and get home, it's late and you're exhausted. I typically only had enough energy to heat up a meal I prepared over the weekend, work on some assignments and go to bed. My weekends were spent grocery shopping, cooking, cleaning, doing laundry, catching up with family and friends, racking up some longer workouts and anything that was not accomplished during the week. They may be busy, but they enabled my week to run smoothly.
Be supportive of the other interns
The fact that there are other people who are going through the exact same things that you are is a huge gift. Being kind, cooperative and helpful will not only enhance your experience, but also your co-interns’ experience as well.
Go with the flow
Your schedule will change frequently: Assignments and classes will be shuffled around and new obligations will be added. This may leave you feeling like you have to scramble. Resisting change can mean more stress and less than your best effort. Sometimes opportunities pop up quickly, and it is better to take advantage when they come along than to miss out on them altogether.
Have fun and relax
This is a temporary commitment. As fast and crazy as it feels, try to eat at a new restaurant, go on a walk in a new park, bake with a friend or get together with fellow interns. Life is all about balance: Your scale may be tipping more on the "work" side, but make sure the "fun" side sees a little action, too. You can be successful and enjoy the year — it is possible, I promise.