With the national acceptance rate to dietetic internships at fifty percent it can be daunting trying to figure out what will set you apart from the dozens of others applying. As we go through programs people always ask what they need to do to secure an internship and there is no right answer, but this post covers many things I did and other things I find important. If you use my suggestions talk to a mentor to be sure it matches up with your goals. My approach looks at opening yourself to several different aspects of dietetics to show a well rounded experience that highlights your specific passions. Remember, we are all stretched for time, many of us must work, and we are all held to a high academic standard so when building your resume take advantage of all possible opportunities but keep in mind the idea of quality over quantity.
W O R K E X P E R I E N C E
We all like getting paid, but we don’t always have the option to get paid for dietetic experiences. Not to mention a majority of dietetic internship applicants are seeking or have have the exact same experience as you. The key to setting yourself apart is how you utilize these experiences, both dietetic and other work experiences, to explore the field of dietetics. Here's an example from my life: I worked in an after school child care facility and at a teen center neither of which relate to dietetics. However, I believe that this is where I had my greatest dietetics experience. At both centers I was able to take charge of cooking club and incorporate nutrition into everyday activities. Additional, I oversaw snack everyday and got to talk to the kids about their opinions on food. I was also able to use some of my foodservice management knowledge and fill in for the cooks when needed and check orders in for the kitchens.
Although this isn’t a personal example, let’s look at the position of a dietary aide. This position is widely suggested for dietetics students but to set yourself apart it’s more than just holding the job. Think about ways you can show your passion. Maybe that's incorporating a short education session for the patients or residents you work with, while overseen by the dietitian on staff. Or even decorating the cafeteria to show the menu in an interesting way or highlight specific nutrients and their benefits. Just find a way to give a little extra.
Despite the setting you’re working in, find a way to involve all three major areas of dietetics: management, clinical, and community. Management doesn’t always have to be getting the the kitchen, but it’s definitely an easy place to start. And community is as easy as finding a way to give general nutrition education with the oversight of a Registered Dietitian. Clinical can be tricky but if you are in a hospital or long-term care facility take advantage of having an RD nearby to get some shadowing in or even just asking questions. If you can’t get all of the experiences in one job it might be worth considering adding another to your plate. In my case I worked as a Certified Nurses Aide for my freshman and sophomore years, then I took on more community and management experience. So don’t feel like you need to do it all at once.
V O L U N T E E R E X P E R I E N C E
Work experience isn’t the only thing that looks good on a resume. Volunteer experience is an opportunity to get experience that you can’t find employment in and and is a great way to integrate new and different experiences into your repertoire. If you’re interested in working children volunteering is the way to go. There are several opportunities to provide nutrition education in schools and other organizations. If your school doesn’t send out opportunities, reach out to you professors or mentors for ideas, or you can always contact these organizations on your own. Just remember that it is important to have an RD approve the education you plan on giving.
Job shadowing isn’t necessarily volunteer experience but it’s an pressure free way to get involved in the clinical side of dietetics. However, with HIPPA regulations it can sometimes be difficult to find places you are allowed to shadow at. To overcome this I would suggest looking at smaller community hospitals and clinics. Although they are still held to the same HIPPA regulations they will have less corporate hoops to jump through. Job shadowing is more of a benefit than just padding your resume. By seeking out these experiences you are discovering what you enjoy doing with dietetics. Not everyone is meant to be a clinical dietitian so don’t draw the line there. Look for dietitians in all aspects of dietetics and see what they do on a regular basis.
L E A D E R S H I P E X P E R I E N C E
Another suggestion I have is to get into involved in a leadership position. Believe it or not dietetics is all about leadership. People are looking for dietitians who will lead the profession as we seek increased billing opportunities and other ways to show our value to healthcare teams, community organizations, to society. Therefore, leadership positions should be highly coveted and increase your chances for internship selection.
R E S E A R C H E X P E R I E N C E
My final suggestion is to get involved in research. Research is an asset to you as a dietitian because it will teach you about how research is conducted and how to better interpret research. Throughout your time as a dietitian you will need to be able to consult the research to learn about new methods to better sever your patients. Any type of research will work. I work in an entomology lab where the primary research preformed in on brown recluse spiders.
Marketing yourself for internships goes way beyond all the practical application we’ve talked about so far. It’s about showing your commitment to what dietetics looks like for you. Try a little bit of everything and stretch your boundaries. Some things that I’ve have really enjoyed that are outside of the typical scope of dietetics practice are attending public policy workshops and wasted food workshops. Attending events like FNCE or your state AND conference are perfect for getting your feet wet, so utilize these experiences and use them to find leaders in the area that you can connect with.
The bottom line is, use your extracurricular’s to continue to learn about yourself and dietetics. Use them to set yourself apart and show an authentic experience. As a dietitian you will have to do countless hours of continuous education so show future internships your commitment to learning and commitment to the profession.