5 Tips for Scoring a Dietetic Internship
Let me start by saying HOORAY to all the applicants who were matched for the spring 2018-2019 Dietetic Internship! I have been waiting for this day for a number of years and now I’m finally there pursuing the next step to having the credential RDN, LDN. Since I have been asked about it and since so many blog posts from dietitians helped me in getting matched to a dietetic internship, I figured I’d write a post as well to help anyone who is currently in school for nutrition or is thinking about becoming a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist down the road.
To any of you reading this who is in school for nutrition and dietetics congrats to you. It is not easy. I know the struggle and the intense coursework. Most doctors and nurses only take one nutrition class so dietitians are a class of their own. Pat yourself on the back for all your hard work!
Next you'll need to get matched to a dietetic internship. Applying to a dietetic internship (DI) is similar to applying to medical school in its application process. You need to match with where you applied and they need to match to you in a complex algorithm of a ranking system - and it is competitive. I'm sure you've heard this before, but less than 49% of people that apply get matched to an internship. Many people I knew didn’t get matched the first time around, including me! Sometimes it takes two or three times and building your resume and experience to really impress the internship review committee.
When I saw this, I didn’t know what to do with myself. I didn’t know whether to jump up and down or cry tears of happiness or immediately start planning for the future. I think I did a little bit of each but mostly the latter (thanks to my type A personality). The application process is pretty much a full time job between writing and re-writing a personal statement 90 times, updating resumes, and researching hundreds of internships to find just the right one that matches your concentrations and lifestyle.
I applied to two part-time distance internships this time now that I have a family. Wellness Workdays and Sodexo both of which were very flexible and I could set up my own rotations with the network I’ve built here. I’m glad to say I matched with Wellness Workdays, my first choice. The first time around I applied for only conventional, very prestigious internships which only have about 8 slots open each nationally. I would recommend to anyone who is applying to include at least one distance internship and start the process of finding preceptors early - which leads me to my first tip.
Tip #1: Start early
As long as you start early, even cultivating relationships while you’re in college, you can build those relationships and have a better chance building great relationships that can become references and landing a DI. Even if your applying for a traditional internship, take on any nutrition related volunteer opportunity while you're in school to build your experience in the field even more to make you that much stronger of a candidate. Being a Teaching Assistant has been a great opportunity for me to become more confident in not only the content, but also in presenting it to 50-75 students. Working for a food magazine got me out there meeting other like-minded individuals in the locavore movement. Although the internship review committee looks at the whole person, GPA does matter. Re-take classes if you didn't do so hot in nutritional biochem. If you do decide to apply for a distance internship, yes, it is a lot of leg work to set up your own rotations. But you can tailor it to your interests and with people you may have already built a relationship with while having it all within a reasonable radius of where you live. Plus they tend to have more slots open since students are completing their 1200 hours of practice from their own sites with their own preceptors.
Tip #2: Perfect your application (as much as possible)
Cross your T’s and dot your i’s and make sure you read all instructions carefully. Watch all the videos. Make sure you copy your transcripts over correctly and that your resume is updated. You’re showcasing your best self and this applies really to any job you’re applying for. Educate yourself on the programs you’re applying to and don’t ask questions that are right on the website. Talk to your professors because they have been there too and can be a great resource. Be professional in all of your exchanges with internship directors and dietitians or other professionals. It goes a long way in making a good impression. Have a few sets of eyes look over your personal statements (Thanks Mike and Professors) and tailor to each program - it is the meat and potatoes of your application and where you can really showcase your personality. Rank your internships the way you'd genuinely want them, even if your first choice is a reach. Triple check everything before pressing that submit button and submit early so you don’t have to deal with everyone submitting all at once. I submitted two days early and still ran into an error message which nearly gave me a heart attack. After you've hit the submit button, BREATHE. You did the best you could and now you wait.
Tip #3: Prepare for your interview
After you press the submit button, brace yourself for the potential interview. Most DI’s will have an interview unless it says otherwise. The day after I submitted my application I was contacted by Sodexo for an interview. Not only was I surprised by how quickly they contacted me, but I was also low key freaking out. I had no idea I’d be contacted so early and I didn't know what to expect. Luckily they ask when your earliest convenience for the interview is and mine wouldn’t be until after the the weekend. I researched the internship and thought about questions I'd ask if I were in their shoes and reached out to professors to get some pointers on preparing for the interview. Most of the time the interviewers will give scenario based questions, some nutrition content questions, and general background and experience questions. Practice saying your answers out loud beforehand. Dress professionally, even if its a phone interview. It will come across in how you carry yourself. Remember that everyone you are talking to is a human being and they want you to do well so just be yourself and answer the questions to the best of your ability. They want to see your personality as well! There is a period of time where you can rearrange your rankings. I suggest keeping them the way they are unless an internship that definitely does interviews doesn't contact you. Wellness Workdays didn't conduct interviews so I only had the one interview with Sodexo.
Tip #4: Make good impressions and network
Even after you submit your application, the internships could be monitoring to see how the best candidates stand out. Talk to other interns that attended your college as well to get feedback on the internship. I asked my professor if she knew anyone that attended the internships I applied to who were also students at my university and she gave me the names and suggested I ask the internship for their contact info. This not only shows initiative, but it also shows your genuine strong interest in their program. Every person you talk to and network with could be a potential opportunity for a connection or even a possible future job. This goes along with starting early as well. While I was in undergrad, I also set up a shadowing experience with the dietitians in the hospital I worked at where I eventually took on a full days worth of appointments 3 days a week. I also worked with the farm to school program at the sustainability institute at the University I attended to help bring more fresh food from farms into elementary schools. This was invaluable experience that helped me grow as a future dietitian.
Hosting a resource table at the Tast of the Nation event representing the Farm to School program
A demonstration of the amount of sugar in different beverages represented by sugar cubes during my dietetic shadowing experience.
Tip #5: Keep calm and stay positive
You've done everything you can up to this point to be the best candidate you can be. Breathe and do something that keeps you calm like going for a run, doing some yoga and listening to music, or pet some puppies (in my case, play with my 1 year old daughter). Write thank you cards to the people who wrote your letter of recommendations and a thank you email to those you interviewed with (or a hand-written note if possible). If you don't match it does not in the least define your worth! I promise you it is not the end of the road. I'm a prime example of someone who applied the first time, didn't get matched and lived life a little and came back full force. Do not let it affect your self-esteem. This gives you an opportunity to take on more experiences and build your resume and network even further. If you put your mind to it, it WILL happen!
I hope this was helpful to all those who are pursuing their RD! I know how much work goes into it and how sometimes it doesn't go exactly as planned. But with hard work and determination, you will get there!
I'll be sure to post periodically during the internship, so stay tuned until fall!
Please feel free to reach out and I'd be happy to answer any questions.