I am going to switch gears for a bit from my usual Dietitian-related tips to a focus on dietetic internships. I have been a preceptor for the last 2.5 years and it has been awesome. I would highly suggest any professional to take on an intern at some point in their career. It is such an eye-opening experience when you are teaching and basically helping to mold someone into their profession.
Over the last month, I have had a lot of interns reach out to me to be their preceptor for 2017-2018 dietetic internships. Only a small handful I ended up meeting with and agreeing to become their preceptor. In the process, I had a few asking what the qualities are of a “good” intern. While I hate using the word “good,” I do like thinking in terms of success. The top 10 list I complied below is a blend of tips from my own experience as being a preceptor plus what I observed during my internship (way back when).
Tip #1 – Show up on Time
This is an absolute must. There is nothing more off-putting than a late intern. Get up earlier and never assume traffic will be great (especially if you have a long drive). My practice is super busy and I am usually on a time crunch, especially if running a class that day, so tardiness just won’t cut it for me. If you do happen to be running late for some reason, always contact your preceptor. Let them know why you are running behind and your estimated time of arrival.
Tip #2 – Always Dress to Impress
I am sure you have heard this one a lot, but take it seriously. I have had interns show up for meetings with me in jeans (and not nice looking ones)! It is way better to be overdressed for a meeting. For your actual rotations, always contact your preceptor and find out the dress code. For my practice, there are days where we need to get dressy for classes or seeing clients. Other days, I am just working out of my home so there is no sense in getting all dolled up to just sit around and work.
Tip #3 – Come Prepared
One of my biggest pet peeves is when an intern shows up with absolutely no work to do, no outlines or class assignments printed (or available on their computer), or nothing to do for downtime. Whether you are heading in for an initial interview with a potential preceptor or your first day on-site be PREPARED! Have an idea of what your rotation entails. What assignments do you need to accomplish? What tasks need to be done? Don’t assume your preceptor will have that information. Set aside time to speak with them to review everything. Also, make sure you have something to do when there is downtime. This could be reading journals, working on assignments, or studying for your RD exam. Again, this is a good time to ask your preceptor what the expectation is. Do they want you to be working on something for them? Do they want you to work on assignments? Lastly, don’t sit on your phone while you wait. Honestly, that makes me think you don’t take nutrition or the rotation seriously enough.
Tip #4 – Engage and Ask Questions
I always have interns tell me they don’t want to bother me with questions. I love questions and to me, this means you are excited and passionate about nutrition. One thing about questions is to time them correctly. If your preceptor is in the middle of a call or email, that might not be the best time to ask a question. Again, find out what they prefer for this too. I had preceptors who would tell me to interrupt them with anything. I had others that told me if they are busy to let them be. Asking questions about something is not a sign of weakness at all, instead it shows me that you are willing to learn, grow, and challenge yourself. If anyone ever gives you heat for asking questions, apologize maybe for your timing, but never, ever, apologize for your curiosity and desire to learn.
Tip #5 – Be Organized
For anyone that knows me personally, they know I am highly organized. My expectation for organizational skills is probably much higher than most professionals; however, it is for good reasons. My practice involves just me. I do all the scheduling, client-seeing, billing, follow-ups, emails, etc. I need to be organized to make sure everything gets done in a timely (and good quality) manner. While I don’t expect my interns to be like me, having some sense of organization will really suit you well.
Tip #6 – Give Good Quality Work
If your preceptor gives you an assignment or task to work on, take it seriously and take your time to produce good quality work. Don’t just slap something together to get it done. Do the research, invest the time, and don’t be afraid to ask for help.
Tip #7 – Respond to Emails (Professionally)
As I mentioned earlier in the post, I have had a lot of interns reach out to me as a preceptor in the last month, yet I only interviewed a few for my practice. A lot of this was due to that first impression I received via email. Frantic and desperate emails were red flags for me. I questioned if they prepared at all for the internship (i.e. finding preceptors). Again, are you taking this seriously? This makes me think about lack of organizational skills. Also, if students reached out for a clinical rotation with me or with incorrect information about my practice, another red flag went up. Obviously, you did not do your research very thoroughly, so this makes me think that attentiveness to detail is not a strong suit. I have also had potential interns reach out to me, interview with me, not get matched and never let me know (though they said they would). While this doesn’t seem like a big deal, I spent the time setting up an interview with you, filling out paperwork and blocking your rotations in my calendar. At least have the decency to let me know if you will actually be coming. I had these same students reach back out again later when they did get an internship and needless to say, I was hesitant to work with them. While some of my perceptions could be totally off from the actual reality of the situation, that first impression is everything for me in choosing an intern that will work well in my practice. After all, this is my business and I rely on it for my income.
Tip #8 – Be Aware of Preceptor’s Time (Assignments)
Your preceptors are taking the time to work with you during your internship, so as much as you can make that process easier for them, the better. This means being on-top of your assignments and tasks, which goes along with being organized. Plan out when you will do your assignments and don’t wait until the last minute and then expect your preceptor to work it all out for you.
Tip #9 – Be Open to Learning
You might not love every rotation and you might already have an idea of which area of dietetics you want to go into. This doesn’t mean you should just do the bare minimum for your other rotations. Even if you know clinical is not for you, engage and ask questions. You never know when you might find a new passion or learning something exciting.
Tip #10 – Be Open to Feedback
One of the most important pieces of any profession is getting and giving feedback. Feedback is crucial since it can help to shape you into a better professional. Always be open to getting feedback from your preceptor, even if it is negative. After such, do something about it! If your organization is slacking, how can you improve? Get used to giving feedback as well. Don’t just say everything is great when it isn’t. You can always attempt to improve a situation (or work environment) by giving constructive feedback. Are you frustrated with the lack of time your preceptor is giving you for questions? Are you not learning enough from them? See if you can compromise or come up with a solution that will work for the both of you. I always say that the worst that can happen is someone says, “no” but at least you know that you tried.
I hope this list helps any current or potential interns out there to enhance their experience in the dietetic internship. Good luck to everyone beginning their internships and leave a comment to let me know how yours is going!
For more tips on Preparing for Your Internship, check out the BLOG
For more information on joining the AND Preceptor Database, click the LINK.