In Search of a Dietetic Internship? Consider a Distance Learning Option

I’ve wanted to be a dietitian since middle school. Even at a young age, I loved to cook for friends and family, reinventing my mom’s classic Italian recipes for much healthier fare. The moment I found out there was a career for this passion, I quit all ambitions of becoming a doctor and focused instead on becoming a dietitian.

So it was a real kicker when I wasn’t accepted into any of my dietetic internship placements. A path that I knew was a perfect fit for me was abruptly derailed when the rejection letters came in. Since I hadn’t even thought of an alternative to pursuing the RD with a dietetic internship, I did what all graduating seniors do when they reach a crossroads — attend grad school.

Two years and 3,000 miles later, I had a master’s degree but still no RD. For a while, I thought that was it for me. The nearest program was 90 minutes away, too far for a daily commute and not feasible with my new job as a fitness coordinator.

But then, like all happily-ever-after stories, fate stepped in. I present to you, the distance-learning option of the dietetic internship. An option that allowed me to keep my job (for the most part) and still pursue the job I knew was my calling. I am so happy that distance programs exist for those who want more flexibility in the internship process, and for those who can handle the responsibility of a non-traditional program.

I was accepted into the Utah State program in July 2008 and completed my RD exam the next spring. The biggest challenge of a distance-learning program is finding your own preceptors. Before you can submit your application, you must find at least three RD mentors who are willing to take you on as an intern in the following specialties: community nutrition, food service nutrition and clinical nutrition.

The most challenging of the three was landing a clinical internship location. Competing with not only other distance learning RDs, but also local internship RDs, was difficult. I interviewed with five different hospitals and finally found one that accepted me; although, it was an hour away. In the end, I am grateful for the diverse opportunities, and I loved the fact that I was able to really personalize my RD internship experience.

Besides the week of orientation that I attended in Utah, all of my course work was completed online. A distance program is great for someone who is self motivated and organized, but can be a nightmare for someone who tends to put things off until the last minute. As a distance intern, you are responsible for completing all of your required experiences, turning in assignments on time and finding proctors and space to take your exams. You are treated as an independent student — a blessing or curse, depending on which way you look at it.

The downside to my distance internship was the lack of fellow RD interns near me. If you are someone who really enjoys group work and the social benefits of having peers close by, a distance learning option may not be the best choice.

Deciding to go back and get my RD was one of the best decisions of my life. Almost five years out, I am in the place I always wanted to be; sharing my passion with others in a career that I love. Overall, I couldn’t be happier with my decision to pursue my RD at a distance-learning level. I am thankful that these opportunities exist and strongly encourage others to consider this non-traditional option. 

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Alexandra Caspero
Alexandra Caspero, MA, RD, CLT, is a registered dietitian and nutrition expert with a passion for health and wellness. Alex is a nationally recognized nutritionist and appears regularly on TV, print and social media. She was most recently featured in Runner's World, Men's Health, Fitness, Shape Magazine & Vogue. As the campus dietitian, director of wellness and adjunct instructor at University of the Pacific, Alex teaches what she preaches. Through innovative programs and services, Alex inspires students to become their healthiest selves. Her blog, DelishKnowledge, focuses on making whole-food eating deliciously simple. Alex also dishes out delicious tips to her thousands of social media followers.