There were many moments in my dietetics undergrad career that were prefaced with”I wished someone had told me that.” From classes to work experience to joining clubs, I found a lot of information given to me was both helpful and downright useless. Hopefully, my experience as a dietetics undergrad student will help you as you begin (or continue) yours!
As an dietetics undergrad student, you will be taking classes like Anatomy/Physiology, Chemistry, Biochemistry, and core nutrition classes. Although you have certain pre-requisites for classes, I would not suggest taking ORGANIC CHEMISTRY WITH ANATOMY or taking BIOCHEMISTRY WITH ANATOMY 2. Those were the worst 2 semesters of my college career. Anatomy 1 is mostly memorizing information and Anatomy 2 is applying everything you memorized. Throw those classes in with any type of chemistry and you will surely fry your brain. There were many dietetics students that had no problem with taking these classes in 1 semester. I, however, struggled with a horrible teacher and a lack of understanding of chemistry to begin with. I found myself ordering “Organic Chemistry Demystified” off of Amazon and attempting to teach myself.
If you find yourself in this situation, YouTube has online lectures that are helpful and the simplified books off Amazon help to breakdown the scientific blubber. Another option is to take Anatomy at a community college and transfer the credits to your university. I hear it is much easier. You could also take Anatomy or Chemistry over the summer to lessen your course load. These classes are very important for internship opportunities later on. Internships will ask you for your DPD GPA (GPA from all nutrition classes) and science GPA. A tip for taking Anatomy 1: you will be doing practicals in lab where you get bones or muscles and have to name them. What I found to be useful was to take pictures of the bones/muscles in lab and study from the picture instead of the book. In my lab, the models in class were used on the practicals. It made studying much easier. (This I figured out my last practical unfortunately). Lastly, don’t feel bad about having to retake any of the science classes! I retook Anatomy and got a full grade higher the second time around. I also understood the material much better. Many people don’t fail (like I did) and retake the class just to have a better grade on their transcripts.
If you don’t have a job in the dietetics field already, get one! Get yourself in at a hospital or long-term care facility as a diet or food/nutrition aide. The pay is pretty good and you really need the experience in the long run. Other options are to shadow a Dietitian, work/volunteer at WIC, or volunteer at a dialysis clinic. Not only good for experience, but also good for networking. Getting experience is vital for when you apply for internships or grad school.
My internship needed a minimum of 1040 hours of dietetics related volunteer or paid experience. This may sound like a lot, but if you were to work 20 hours a week for a year, you would meet the requirement. I worked for 4.5 years as a food and nutrition aide at a hospital. I worked for 8 years at the YMCA; however, only 2 of those years were dietetics related. (I taught nutrition programs). Getting experience also helps you to figure out what you want to do with your career. I discovered I hated working in a hospital. People didn’t want my help. They just wanted to eat bacon and go home. I found that I loved working with kids and families where I could create my own program and pilot it to the members. By volunteering/working in different fields of nutrition, you will discover what your niche will be.
Get involved at school! One club to get involved with is Student Dietetic Association (or whatever your college calls the nutrition club). Some SDA clubs just let you join without any stipulations. My university was much more strict. We needed 20 hours to get inducted, then we had to keep up with 10 hours to stay a member. Adding up hours was very complicated. If you did an all day event (which were only on the weekends) you would only get 3 hours max. But selling 20 cookies was worth a half hour. Let’s just say I was inducted, then on probation for my last year 🙂
I worked 2 jobs in college (both on the weekends). I lived at school but commuted back and forth for work. It was hard for me to keep up with the hours needed for the SDA club. Your university may be different and a lot more relaxed. SDA does offer a lot of information regarding the dietetics profession and tips for internships, so it is a good resource.
If you are involved with more than one club, I would suggest getting involved enough to gain a leadership position. I was Public Relations Officer for Habitat for Humanity my sophomore year and President my junior and senior year. Not only did this look good for my resume, but it also taught me a lot about how an organization should be run, time-management, patience, conflict resolution, and much more. I also got much better at public speaking. All of these qualities can be used in other aspects of your life. They are also important qualities for internship candidates.