The Dietetic Internship: Self-Care Strategies to Get You to the Finish Line

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Dietetic internships are inherently intense programs because they’re designed to cram the required 1,200 supervised practice hours (and often more) into a six- to 12-month period. Think of it as signing up for a marathon —  it is very difficult to complete 26.2 miles without some support along the way.

As you lace up those stylish foodservice shoes, head into your program with a plan for how to “fuel” yourself along the way so that you don’t hit the wall and falter halfway through! Consider the following questions:

How can I plan ahead so that I continue to eat well, giving my body what it needs to function optimally? 

It can be tempting after spending 12 hours at a hospital to scarf down a bag of cheese puffs or some stale leftover doughnuts. Yet many of us know we won’t feel or operate our best if this is a daily pattern. With a little forethought, balanced eating during the week can happen. Purchase nutritious, ready-made foods, batch cook on the weekends and stock up on frozen fruits and vegetables to ensure that there always are healthy options close at hand that require minimal effort.

 How can I structure my day to ensure I have time for adequate rest?

Your internship may mean getting up much earlier or staying up much later than usual. As many of us are well aware, there is an increasing body of research linking poor sleep with poor health outcomes, and certainly, none of us feel fantastic operating on only a handful of hours of sleep. Figure out how many hours you need to feel your best and count backwards from your alarm time. Scale back a half hour further to allow for “getting ready for bed” activities, and this is your new bed time.

What relationships matter most to me and leave me feeling supported and rejuvenated?

As your commitments increase, free time and going out with friends may feel like a distant memory. Don’t cave to the pressure to eliminate social plans in order to accommodate your growing “must-do” list. Friendship and human interaction play a vital role in maintaining a positive mindset, which will carry you through the added stress of the internship. 

What activities or hobbies keep me level-headed? How can I structure my schedule so I still have time to do them?

​Just as food, sleep and relationships matter in our internship “fueling” plan, so do activities that bring us joy. Whether it’s hitting the gym and working up a sweat, poring through a romance novel or spending time in the kitchen creating a masterpiece, write your favorite de-stressing hobby into your planner like it’s a critical assignment. Allotting time for your passions allows you the mental space to regroup and attack whatever is next with renewed vigor and attention.

If you have ever run a marathon, you know that nourishment, rest and a cheering squad are pieces of the puzzle for a successful race. Similarly, your dietetic internship is both a physical and mental challenge where all these principles apply. By entering your program with a mental and physical “fueling” plan, you will be prepared to make the most of the experience.

Laura Nitowski on Linkedin
Laura Nitowski
Laura Nitowski, RDN, recently completed her dietetic internship at Ingalls Memorial Hospital in Harvey, IL. In addition to her nutrition and dietetics degree, Laura also holds a BA in English literature. Whether the medium is food or the written word, Laura hopes to spread her passion and joy regarding nutrition to those around her. You can connect with her on LinkedIn.