Shifts in supply and demand signal brighter prospects for applicants.
Not long ago, many nutrition and dietetics students felt frustrated by the low odds of receiving a match to an accredited internship. These coveted programs are the most common route to fulfill the 1,200 hours of supervised practice required to sit for the Commission on Dietetic Registration’s registration examination for dietitians.
But in recent years, a convergence of factors resulted in more internship slots and fewer applicants, which translates to greater chances for a match — a positive trend that is expected to continue.
The Downs and Ups of Internship Matching
Beginning in 2009, the percentage of applicants matched to internship slots hovered around 50 percent (including both the April and November matches), dipping to a low of 47 percent as recently as 2016. But in 2017, the tide began to turn when matches jumped to 55 percent and continued rising to 61 percent in 2018. The April 2019 match reached 66 percent (although the April percentage tends to be higher than the combined April and November matches).
What’s driving this positive turnaround? One reason is that there are more internship opportunities available compared to a decade ago, says Mary Ann Taccona, MBA, RDN, LDN, associate executive director of the Accreditation Council for Education in Nutrition and Dietetics.
In 2010, there were 243 ACEND-accredited internship programs with 2,812 interns enrolled; in 2018, there were 260 internships with 4,142 enrolled. Taccona cites registered dietitian nutritionist preceptors who host visiting interns from ACEND-accredited programs as a key influence in establishing new programs at their institutions. “They say, ‘We’re already precepting interns from other programs, let’s establish our own ACEND accredited internship,’” Taccona says.
In addition to new internships bringing more available slots, some existing internships have increased the number of slots they offer, including both traditional onsite spots and those designated as remote supervised practice programs, formerly known as distance dietetic internships.
With remote programs, interns can study with preceptors in supervised practice rotations at a site more than 100 miles away from the sponsoring internship program. The internship supplies the curriculum and ensures remote sites meet ACEND accreditation standards and that interns are supervised and evaluated by qualified preceptors. Some internship programs find remote sites for their interns, while others require interns to find their own sites. “More programs are applying to offer accredited remote programs,” says Taccona. “These programs especially benefit career-changers and nontraditional students who can’t relocate to an on-site internship program.”
No Match – Now What?
Not receiving an internship match the first time around is disappointing, but candidates with a DPD verification statement can strengthen their future chances by getting dietetics-related work experience. One route is to take the Registration Examination for Dietetic Technicians and work as a nutrition and dietetics technician, registered. “Word of mouth from internship directors is that candidates with a year of work experience make good, strong interns,” says Taccona.
Candidates who opt not to reapply for an internship can pursue alternate routes to receive accredited supervised practice, such as:
Individualized Supervised Practice Pathways (ISPPs) are options for graduates with a DPD verification statement, but who did not match to a dietetic internship, as well as for doctoral degree holders without a DPD verification statement. ISPPs are supervised practice options housed within existing ACEND-accredited programs such as dietetic internships, coordinated programs or DPDs. ISPPs must meet the same accreditation standards for supervised practice that internships do.
Graduate level Coordinated Programs in dietetics (CPs) provide both the required foundation knowledge and supervised practice in one degree-granting program. Courses for the graduate level CP must meet degree requirements and students must complete the graduate degree.
ACEND’s new Future Education Model Graduate Programs (FG) are competency-based education programs offered at the graduate level that provide the required nutrition and dietetics coursework and supervised experiential learning to be eligible to become a registered dietitian nutritionist.
For more information about ACEND-accredited programs and the internship match process, visit eatrightPRO.org/ACEND.
Fewer Applicants = Less Competition
A sharp decline in students enrolled in didactic programs in dietetics is leading to fewer applicants to internship programs, which means less competition for available slots.
Following a near-steady 15-year increase in DPD students, the number fell from 17,719 in 2014 to 12,972 in 2018 — a 27-percent drop. “This change mirrors a gradual decline in U.S. birth rates, which means fewer high school students and fewer students going to college overall,” says Taccona. A potential ripple effect of the drop in DPD students is reflected in recent declines in applicants to internship programs, which fell 11 percent from 5,944 applicants in 2016 to 5,292 in 2018.
Improvements in the overall job market are another reason DPD enrollment is dropping, says Taccona. “In 2010, some people sought out nutrition and dietetics programs because they couldn’t get a job in their original field and decided to change careers.” Based on the low matching rates of years past, it’s also possible some students choose non-dietetics careers to avoid the risk of graduating without a pathway to receive the supervised practice needed to sit for the registration exam.
In addition, ACEND accreditation standards now specify that DPD programs must counsel students who have only a minimal chance of success to consider more appropriate career paths, possibly decreasing internship applications from less-qualified individuals. On the flip side, fewer incoming students and better match rates make it a good time for qualified DPD graduates who did not previously match to reapply.
The Future Looks Bright
Beginning January 1, 2024, CDR will require candidates to hold a master’s degree, practice doctorate or doctoral degree to sit for the registration exam for dietitians. All other entry-level dietitian registration eligibility requirements will remain the same. Taccona does not expect changes to internship programs or the match process, although the match process is evaluated regularly to ensure it meets the needs of both applicants and programs.
Taccona is optimistic about a continued upward trend in matches. “Every year, we have three or four new internship programs applying for accreditation,” she says. In addition, ACEND and the Nutrition and Dietetic Educators and Preceptors group developed a more structured second-round match process whereby unmatched applicants from the first round can apply for remaining open positions.
Meanwhile, ACEND continues to work with educators and preceptors to explore new options.
Accreditation Council for Education in Nutrition and Dietetics Dietetics Education Program Statistics 1995-2018. Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics website. Accessed October 7, 2019.
ACEND UPdates: 2019 Archives/Spring Dietetic Internship Match Data. Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics website. Accessed October 7, 2019.
Graduate Degree Registration Eligibility Requirement Frequently Asked Questions. Commission on Dietetic Registration website. Published July 2013. Accessed October 7, 2019.
Individualized Supervised Practice Pathways. Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics website. Accessed October 7, 2019.
Percent change in number of openings, applicants, and applicants matched to DI Programs participating in Computer Matching Process (April/November). Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics website. Accessed October 7, 2019.
FAQs About Program Definitions. Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics website. Accessed October 7, 2019.
Future Education Model Graduate Programs. Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics website. Accessed October 7, 2019.