My 6 Tidbits of Advice for Dietetic Interns

Last year, before I started my Dietetic Internship, a girl in the class above me reached out to provide some advice and answer any questions I had about the dietetic internship that I would be starting.

She told me, “You will learn more about what you don’t like, rather than what you do like during the internship”.

This didn’t faze me as earth shattering advice at the time, but let me tell you, when 5 months of clinical rotations had passed and I couldn’t name a single area I really enjoyed, nor could I ever envision myself being a clinical dietitian, that advice was life saving. I still had a few moments of panic (I knew I still wanted to be a dietitian, but suddenly I had no idea what I wanted to do as a dietitian), but knowing that it is okay to not enjoy parts (or whole chunks) of the internship was very reassuring. There are so many areas of dietetics that you may not be exposed to in your internship, so there is still so many other opportunities to find where you fit in. And don’t worry- I’m still trying to figure out what that niche is for me.

Anyways, since I received that invaluable piece of advice prior to starting my internship, and now having completed an internship myself, I thought I would share a few pieces of advice for any RD2Be’s out there.

  1. Going along with the advice I was given, I would tell people to find an internship with tons of different rotations/areas of experience – especially if you don’t really know what area you want to go into. I worked in more than 25 different clinical areas during my internship, and although a didn’t love any of them, there were definitely some I liked more than others and I discovered interests that I didn’t know I had. Even if you do have a specific area of interest, gaining experience in a number of different fields will make you a better dietitian all around.
  2. Practice what you preach as a dietitian. Dietetic internships can be extremely busy and stressful, especially if you are also completing as masters degree at the same time (like me). It can be easy to slack off, skip workouts, and order pizza for dinner, but as future RDN’s, we all know that those choices aren’t the best for our physical or mental health. Make sure you have plenty of fruits and veggies to snack on and especially get a solid 7-8 hours of sleep every night.
  3. Ask lots of questions! I was terrified starting my first rotation because I felt like I didn’t know enough. Guess what…you aren’t supposed to know everything – that is why you are there. I never had a preceptor who wasn’t willing to answer my oodles of questions – especially regarding areas of nutrition that I didn’t learn a lot about in undergrad.
  4. Similarly, take advantage of all the knowledge your preceptors have to offer. This goes for nutrition knowledge (again, ask questions!), but I also liked to pick their brains about life and career advice. They all landed a job as a clinical dietitian and most had other jobs and experiences prior to their current job, so they have lots of valuable information to offer about careers in dietetics.
  5. I know I probably don’t have to say this to a bunch of type A, aspiring dietitians, but say on top of your work and manage your time well. I guess this mainly goes for interns who are also getting their masters at the same time (like I did), but you definitely don’t want to fall behind and let the workload pile up. Start your assignments early, chip away at them every day, and you will definitely still have time to enjoy life!
  6. Finally, your internship is the greatest study tools and experience to prepare you to be a dietitian. I remember worrying during the first few weeks of my internship that I needed to start taking notes or studying for the RD exam (this was when I still had 11 months of internship ahead of me!). Now, having passed the RD exam, I can confidently say that there is nothing to worry about. Those 1,200+ hours spent working during your internship aren’t for nothing and prepare you very well to be a dietitian and pass your exam.
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I’m a Registered Dietitian!

Wow, the past few weeks have felt like quite the whirlwind! I finished up the last of my four weeks working as the pediatric ICU dietitian, graduated from my dietetic internship, studied hundreds of pages of dietetics information, made and learned oodles of flash cards, and took (and passed!) the Registered Dietitian Exam yesterday!!

I am officially Dana Goldberg, RDN!

(Not to mention, this is also my 100th blog post!)

With all of these milestones comes lots of self-reflection and things I want to share about my experiences, so first I thought I would use this post to share my thoughts 1-week post- dietetic internship.

I’ll start off by saying that these past 11 months have been some of the toughest months of my career as a student- both academically and mentally. Taking almost a full graduate degree course load and working 32 hours a week as an intern sometimes made me want to pull my hair out, but I am proud to say that I successfully made it out alive. There aren’t many things that I am ever really proud of myself for; it just isn’t my personality and I tend to be pretty hard on myself. Graduating high school didn’t faze me (I was livid and embarrassed when my mom tried to put a congratulatory sign on our lawn), graduating undergrad kind of seemed impressive (but everyone around me was also graduating college so I didn’t feel like it was that special), but I will confidently say that I am proud to have completed a dietetic internship and passed the RD exam. It feels like the hardest part – the uphill climb – is over and I can finally catch my breath.

I know I have shared this in a few previous posts, but I honestly didn’t love my time working at a hospital as a clinical dietitian. I didn’t feel like I really made any lasting impact on patients’ lives nor helped improve their long-term health. However, spending over 1,500 hours 27 different areas of the hospital, plus working with over 35 different dietitians, I learned so much about clinical nutrition that will set me up for success in any nutrition field that I end up going into. Although I dreaded walking into that hospital some days, I don’t think I would have wanted to do it any other way.

Finally, I can’t talk about my experience as a dietetic intern without mentioning my staff relief rotation. During the last four weeks of the internship, each intern got to choose an area of the hospital where she would act as the dietitian. We still had a dietitian to co-sign our charting documents, but we were basically on our own as if we were the sole dietitian covering that area. I chose to spend those four weeks in the pediatric intensive care unit (PICU), and it was my favorite four weeks on the entire internship. I chose the PICU because I found I enjoyed all of the enteral and parenteral nutrition (nutrition via tube feeds and IVs) calculations in the ICU setting. I also went into my internship wanting to work with kids – and especially enjoyed my pediatric rotations during the internship. The first week of staff relief was absolutely terrifying but by the end, I felt like I had the confidence to go out into the field and be a dietitian (which was very reassuring!). Also, I have to give a huge THANK YOU to the PICU dietitian and my staff relief preceptor Melanie for teaching me more than I thought I would ever know (and also making me laugh every day – even when I was working with kids who were critically ill).

Now, one week since the end of the internship, these are my main thoughts, but I’m sure as time goes by I will have more thoughts and reflections to share.

If you are a current RD2Be, dietetics student, or dietetic intern, be sure to stay tuned for my posts over the next few weeks because I’ll be sharing my dietetic internship and RD exam advice. Feel free to send me all your burning questions and I can answer them in my posts 🙂

Nutritionist vs. Dietitian

One of the most common things people ask when I tell them that I am a nutrition major is… “Oh, so you want to be a Nutritionist?”. Well, not exactly; I want to be a Registered Dietitian (RD). There is a difference and it is important to understand this difference to know where to get reliable nutrition information.

Anyone can call themselves a Nutritionist. There is no education, class, test, or experience you need to be a Nutritionist, so theoretically we are all Nutritionists.

In order to become a Registered Dietitian, it gets a little more complicated. Registered Dietitians are food and nutrition experts that are certified by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. To be an RD, one must complete a bachelor’s degree, Dietetic Internship, and pass a national exam.

A Dietetic Internship is 1200 hour supervised practice program that is accredited by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. To be eligible to apply for this program, one must complete the DPD (Didactic Program in Dietetics) classes. These include Nutrition classes along with Microbiology, Organic Chemistry, Statistics, English, plus many others. The DPD program is usually completed at the same time as a bachelor’s degree, which is the point in the process that I am at now.

Once accepted to a Dietetic Internship, one completes different rotations in three areas: Clinical Nutrition, Food Service, and Public Health/Community Nutrition. Depending on the internship, different amounts of time are spent in each of these three areas. Once one completes the Internship, he/she is eligible to sit for the national exam to become a Registered Dietitian.

Besides boring you to death with my education plans for the next few years, the point of this is so you understand where nutrition information is coming from and how accurate it is. Books and articles that have authors who put “Nutritionist” in front of their name may not contain the most reliable information. Those who have RD (Registered Dietitian) or RDN* (Registered Dietitian Nutritionist) after their name have gone through extensive coursework and are probably sharing more accurate and trustworthy information. For now, I am just a Nutritionist but give me a few years and hopefully I will be Dana Goldberg, RDN!

*RDN is a new title that is being given out in place of RD. They are exactly the same thing just different words.