What is a dietetic internship?
To become a professional Registered Dietitian or nutritionist, one must gain hands-on experience. The dietetic internship provides training in the skills undertaken that are essential for success as a future R.D./nutritionist.
A dietetic internship is undertaken after completing an Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (formerly American Dietetic Association)-approved curriculum at the Bachelor’s level. Although some dietetic internships can be completed at the same time as the undergraduate degree, the programs are extremely competitive and it is difficult to be accepted into this kind of a program while still an undergraduate. Some dietetic internship programs offer the possibility of completing a master’s degree at the same time.
The dietetic internship itself varies among the different institutes. Generally, it lasts 34-52 weeks and is offered through a hospital or university. Most internships provide experiences in clinical, food service, and community nutrition. The Accreditation Council for Education in Nutrition and Dietetics (ACEND) demonstrates which internships are in either hospitals and/or universities, which are community or clinical based, and which also offer the opportunity to gain a master’s degree.
The different steps that one may follow to become a professional Registered Dietitian are as follows:
- B.S. degree in nutrition
- Dietetic Internship (clinical, community)
- Registration Examination (national examination set by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics)
- Registration (happens automatically after successfully passing the exam, also run by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics/Commission on Dietetic Registration)
- Some regulatory bodies may request/require additional licensure
- Employment in a vast array of settings.
What is to be expected from a dietetic internship?
Interns can expect to engage in hands-on activities, get a feel for the job, and actively participate in a dietetics setting. Some settings that interns may be exposed to include hospitals, clinical and food service, health centers, public health offices, social services, and food banks, community; childcare or eldercare organizations (community + foodservice), private practices, food distribution companies, marketing boards and institutions such as universities, group homes, senior residencies, and grocery stores. Because dietetic internships are available in such a variety of locations, interns work alongside Registered Dietitians, healthcare officials, community and social workers, business professionals and food service workers to get exposure to the different types of careers that are available in the nutrition field.
Interns in a dietetic internship are exposed to a diverse range of employment opportunities including administrative, clinical, community and even non-traditional careers. Because of this, interns develop skills in a diverse range of dietetic areas. Some important skills include:
- Stress management
- Group skills
- Computer skills
Many internships require a 35-40 hour work week. Interns’ weeks are filled with projects/case studies, educational classes, and developmental activities. Dietetic internships also recommend attending professional development events. At these events, there is an opportunity to make future contacts and connections that may be useful when seeking employment.
Unfortunately, most dietetic internships are not paid internships, and most programs require the intern to pay an enrollment fee. This fee ranges from $25-2600 and does not include the tuition that interns are responsible for paying as well. It is important that interns have liability insurance and health and accident insurance. Paid internships usually occur in hospital settings, some food service industries (e.g. Sodexho) and the military also aids with the cost of dietetic internships. The Accreditation Council for Education in Nutrition and Dietetics website incorporates specific information on internship costs, financial support and/or stipends.
For dietetic interns, however, it is possible to contact your bank and discuss options for student or personal loans to see if financial aid is an option. Many dietetic interns apply to programs that are close to home to save additional money.
The Commission on Dietetic Registration has many important resources and links for those seeking dietetic internships. Here are some: