My RD Journey

From Undergrad -> Internship -> RD -> Private Practice!


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Top 10 Tips for a Successful Dietetic Intern

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.

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The First Day at My FSM Rotation

Today officially marks the start of my rotations! I started my dietetic internship in Food Service Management at an elementary school. The food service company I am working with has a contract with the whole district, which includes 16 different schools from grades K-12. I was lucky to begin in FSM before the school year started. I felt as though I was able to ease into the rotation, rather than just being thrown in mid-stream.

Going into my first day, I was pretty nervous. I wasn’t sure what to expect of the managers, schedule, or workload. (Just a side note, I was so worried about being late that I got to my rotation site an hour early. My preceptor had a good laugh about that one. :)) Everyone I worked with today, my preceptor and additional staff members, were really great. My preceptor lead me on a tour of the school, gave me little tips about the co-workers and what to expect on a daily basis, and allowed me to ask as many questions as I needed. She also had tons of resources in her office for me to refer to when I worked on assignments.

I really felt that it was helpful to have all my assignments printed out for quick reference. A lot of times when my preceptor was talking, she would touch on a topic that related to an assignment I had. My director had suggested that I sit down with my preceptor in the first week to review the assignments and get a plan together on how to tackle them. Today, my preceptor and I worked through my assignment list very thoroughly. This really helped us both to understand all the assignments better and bounce ideas off of one another. My preceptor was open to any ideas that I had, which helped me feel more comfortable about what I was doing.

One of the major topics for today was the school lunch program. With all of the new guidelines in place for the school year, my preceptor has to work to update the menus to fit all nutritional requirements. I had reviewed the school lunch program prior to starting; however, it was very helpful to go in depth with my preceptor. I was able to look at menu templates and the programs they used for their schools.  I had a little bit of down time (expect that when you begin your FSM rotation), so I was able to get working on my school lunch menu planning assignment. Planning a school lunch menu with all of the new guidelines is a lot more complicated than I thought. It helps to have charts printed out of all the grade group requirements and food component regulations for quick reference.

I was surprised at how many phone calls the office received when I was there today. It seemed as though the phone never stopped ringing with parents asking questions about the school lunch program, new employees asking about trainings, and potential employees calling about positions and job offers. With the students starting next week, a lot of food ordering had to get placed today too. I expect that I will be a lot busier once next week rolls around.

Overall, today was quite a success. Over the next few days, I will be meeting the principals, managers, and employees from other schools in the districts at the meetings and trainings they have scheduled. I am very excited to continue my journey to RD status!

I now leave you with my “laughable moment of the day”:
I packed a lunch and some snacks for today which consisted of: carrots, celery, dressing, chickpeas with ranch, 1/2 sandwich with natural peanut butter and nutella, turkey jerky (made in my dehydrator), an apple, raw cashews, and 2 rice cakes. Now, I don’t know about you, but besides the sandwich and jerky, I picked some noisy food. Let’s set the scene. While the phone does ring a lot, when it doesn’t ring, the office is dead silent. So, lunch rolls around and I break out my sandwich and my veggies. Starting with my quiet food first, I have no problems.  I then move onto my carrots and celery sticks, which are not very quiet foods. I begin laughing because all I can hear is the obsessive crunch when I bit into my food. Let’s face it, there is no quiet way to eat celery and carrots. Anyway, I don’t think anyone else notices, or cares that I am crunching and chomping. I, however, begin to crack up at myself, and proceed to choke on my food. This wasn’t a heimlich maneuver type of choke; however, I had one of those slight panic moments where you suck in too much food with air and do a cough-cough-large swallow. I think tomorrow I will will be packing cucumbers and grapes 🙂


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Preparing for Your First Internship Rotation

In exactly 11 days, I will begin my first dietetic intern rotation in food service management (cue the bells and whistles). I am very excited/nervous to begin my next step in my RD journey. A lot of people in my internship program have already started their rotations. Hearing their positive experiences have really made me antsy to have my own and just get started.

 

With my internship, I also take a certain amount of graduate credits. At first, I thought this would be a ton of work; however, the assignments and lectures are spaced out and prepared very well. Also, with the online format, it is easy to jump on and work for an hour or two, then move on to something else.

 

Some ways I have been preparing for the rotation are: 1. Complete quizzes and lectures supplied by my internship (If your internship does not have these, there are plenty online). 2. Read through my foodservice organizations book. 3. Read through all the assignments I will be completing. 4. Create a semi-timeline of the rotation. 4. Give an overview of assignments to my preceptor (I am in a distance program). I also found it to be helpful to gather all of my rotation materials in one binder so that I can reference assignments or notes with ease. I also read through some of my notes from my food service management classes and quantity food production class that I had in college

 

Besides preparing myself for the work portion, I have been mentally preparing myself for the rest of the program. Not only do I not know my surroundings, but, I also don’t know my preceptors very well, or what their schedules are really like. It is more of preparing myself for the unknown of that first day; accepting what will happen and just going with the flow. There is always that feeling that “maybe I don’t know enough” however, the comments and feedback I have heard from the other interns have really made me excited and know that I can do it. Having the other interns to talk to and share stories with has been such a great addition to my internship. I know that if I need help with assignment I can always turn to the other interns. Also, seeing that some of them struggled with similar assignments has really made me think that I wasn’t the only one to be in that situation.

 

Just some final words of advice to those of you who have either just begun your internship or are waiting to start:

-Don’t feel like you are alone in the process! You will always have the other interns and your directors to turn to for help or guidance.

-Have confidence in yourself and know that you can do it! Trust the knowledge you have. Brush up on some information to boost your confidence.

-Be flexible and go with the flow. As much as you want your first day to go smoothly, know that it will probably be crazy or very different than what you are used to. Embrace the change and accept what is in front of you.

-Prepare your materials ahead of time so that it is one less thing to worry about.

-Get to know your preceptor and supply them with your assignments prior to starting. It will help the process run a bit more smoothly.

-Lastly, share your story with others! It always helps to share your positive experiences with others who are just starting.