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.
My job is what’s usually labeled a “non-traditional career” in dietetics. For the last 17 years, I’ve worked on my own as a freelance writer and independent consultant. My office is a bedroom in my house. The only colleagues I’ve had are two aging cats. I throw in loads of laundry between conference calls and deadlines.
On paper, I’m probably not the ideal preceptor. After all, I’m used to flying solo, not delegating. I spend most of my time in front of a computer screen, not seeing clients or dashing around a hospital. So when I started to be contacted by potential dietetic interns from our local university, I was hesitant. Would I really have anything to offer? Could I find things for them to do? (And of course I couldn’t help but wonder, “What’s in it for me?”)
A few years and several fantastic interns later, I can say that being a preceptor has been a solid win-win. I’ve worked with students from both the undergraduate and graduate level. Each one has brought something unique, and each one has left with a glimpse into a side of dietetics they may not have known about before.
Once I started being a preceptor, I realized how many aspects of my career (and even my volunteer work) were valuable experiences for students — and how much their perspectives and talents could enrich my work too. I’ve taught them about school wellness, and they’ve created and delivered educational programming for the local elementary school where I volunteer. I’ve taught them about blogging, and they’ve developed and tested recipes for posts. I’ve taught them about food photography, and they’ve shown me what a GIF is (and, more importantly, how to pronounce it). I’ve taught them about working with the media, and they’ve helped me prepare food and props for TV segments. I’ve taught them about magazine writing, and they’ve helped gather research for stories and seen articles go from proposal to publication.
I always valued my preceptors and the guidance they gave me, so being able to pay it forward has also been personally rewarding. I see myself in my interns, as they navigate their dietetic internships and figure out what they like and don’t like, where their strengths and weakness are. I love providing another example of the diversity of career possibilities in the dietetics fields— and I love that I just might ignite an interest or passion they didn’t have before.
It’s also really nice to finally have some company around here.