Exciting news: Today is the last day of my dietetic internship! Over the past 9 months, I’ve learned more—and done more—than I ever could have imagined. In fact, I’ve grown exponentially, both personally and professionally.
For sure, the constant pressure helped me build on my strengths: working with patients, creating educational materials, public speaking, and problem solving. Internship also forced me to tackle my Waterloo: time management. And—I’m super proud of this—I now get way more done in way less time! Which means more time for
binge-watching Netflix professional development.
So, what exactly goes down in a dietetic internship? I’m glad you asked, because before I started down the path to becoming an RD, I didn’t even know a dietetic internship was a thing. Here’s what it was like to be a dietetic intern.
A Dietetic Internship in Pictures
In a dietetic internship, you spend 9 (or more) months doing supervised nutrition practice in three settings: clinical (hospital and and outpatient), community (for instance working with a nonprofit or a corporate wellness company), and food service management (e.g. in a public school system, hospital, or university).
Internship programs can be run by food service companies, the government, or universities. I was lucky enough to be accepted into a fantastic internship program at Virginia Tech’s Northern Virginia site with 7 other interns. We started in August with two weeks of orientation, then went full-steam ahead into clinical rotations!
I did my clinical rotation in a community hospital in Virginia. It was so far from our house that Jeff and I stayed at my parents’ house most weeknights. (Where this picture was taken.) Thank goodness Mom and Dad didn’t charge rent, because internship is UNPAID.
In the hospital, I helped sick people get better by assessing their needs, diagnosing their nutrition problems, and providing support. Sometimes that took the form of educating or counseling people; other times, it meant providing extra food or supplements. I spent longer with patients than my preceptors would have liked given our patient load, but by gosh I provided good care. (I said my time management skills improved thanks to internship; I didn’t say how long it took me to get there, lol!)
Clinical work never ceased to surprise me. For instance, one of my most memorable patients was a retired police officer—a real tough guy. And I was given the unenviable task of teaching him how to count carbs. I figured he’d rather have his toenails pulled out than talk about nutrition, and boy, was my head was hanging as I made my way to his hospital room.
But when I got there? That man was nose-deep in an issue of Cooking Light magazine! And he was just itching to talk about his diet.
Of course, there were also heart-wrenching meetings with the families of terminally ill patients and my own struggles to get better—and faster—at my job. In fact, the hospital was the first and only place I ever cried at work. (Repeatedly.) Although never in a patient room, thank goodness!
The stress of clinical was compounded by the fact that there were a ridiculous number of assignments and not enough time for wimpy stuff like, you know, sleep.
On the happy side, though? I also got to learn the art and science of nutrition counseling for diabetes, heart disease, and pulmonary disease from two fantastic outpatient dietitians. And the outpatient setting meant I had enough time to give each patient in-depth care. Professional bliss. 🙂
What’s more, two weeks into internship, I did my first-ever TV appearance, on Good Morning Washington. Holy cow, was I terrified! I think I maybe slept three hours the night before my first segment. But I ended up having fun, and I’ve been on twice more since. (With another segment scheduled for May 25th at 9:15am. Tune in to NewsChannel 8 in the DC metro area to see it!)
Then it was on to my community nutrition rotations, where I worked in corporate wellness and nutrition communications. Thankfully, they were both right up my alley!
I also met with Maryland state legislators to promote public health nutrition…
…and dove into the fashionable world of hair nets to help provide meals for clients unable to cook for themselves.
Food Service Rotation
Finally, I wrapped up with my food service rotation at American University. I not only learned a TON about high-volume food production, but the dietitian there was plant-based. Yay! That meant I got to indulge my passion for plant-based food.
I also got to enjoy lots of vegan eats in the dining hall, thanks to the plant-focused dietitian and a sustainability-centered executive chef.
Finally, I throughout internship, I completed a leadership project, and I got to choose what role I wanted to fill. Since I love writing and editing, I decided to serve as the assistant publications editor for the Women’s Health Dietetic Practice Group within the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. That meant that I made the quarterly newsletter masthead. Cool, huh?
Dietetic Internship in a Nutshell
So there you have it, all the rotations I went through to become a dietitian: clinical, community, food service, and in my program, leadership.
To be fair, I wasn’t sure how I was going to handle it all. But I prevailed—and managed to watch all 5 seasons of the Mindy project to boot. 🙂 However, I couldn’t have done it without the love and support of hubby Veggie Quest, Jeff. He not only did the laundry, cooking, AND dishes for most of internship, but sometimes he even cooked for my fellow interns on class days. (That earned him a hashtag in group text: #TheYearOfTheJeff.) Also a huge shout out to my mom for talking with me pretty much every day to keep me sane, my dad for his unflagging support, my fellow interns for their friendship and advice, and my program directors for keeping me on track.
The only thing left now between me and the RD? The registration exam. (Does the fun never end?) But assuming I pass it, I will officially be a registered dietitian.
If you’re considering becoming an RD, I promise that internship will be the hardest thing you’ll ever love. (Most of the time. Occasionally you’ll hate it, lol!) If you know an RD, I hope this gave you a taste of what she or he went through to become one. And if you are an RD, I’d love to hear your internship experiences in the comments!