Your dietetic internship can be an exciting time in your life. It is the next big step to becoming a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist!
You’ve worked hard in your classes and passed your exams…and now for the easy part, right?! Ha…maybe not so easy- but definitely exciting and at times, exhausting- interning some 40/hours week can be both mentally and physically exhausting- let’s just be sure to make that clear! The anxiety of not knowing what to expect can feel overwhelming at times, and trying to make your best impression all while being exposed to new information can wear you out!
Through my experience as a dietetic intern preceptor (and of course, I was once an intern myself), here is some of my advice and some “tricks” to keep in mind- it may help you ease into your internship and finish successfully.
1. Stay positive! Do not read over this part because you’re thinking, “obviously staying positive is important, duh!”. You need to stay positive and REMEMBER to stay positive- sometimes you will need to remind yourself of this. Know that you may not love every rotation you have- but try to keep an open mind and learn something from each experience. You’ll basically be at the beck and call of your intyernship preceptor. You may have rotations starting at 6am, and other rotations that may require sitting in rush hour traffic. You may be asked to do a project that is not quite your fancy. Staying positive will help you gte through these tryIng times. Try to look at each situation as a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Keep a journal of what you’ve learned and think about how it may help you in a future job. At times you may have rotations that drag by, but remember in a matter of months this will be over and you’ll be out on your own!
2. Keep a binder. At each rotation try to keep something or take note of something you learned. (Keeping HIPPA in mind of course- never leave your rotation with any personal patient information on it). As a preceptor I keep a “cheat sheet” of equations for the interns to use, as well as a list of common medications and their nutritionally relevant interactions. My interns often make copies of these items to bring with them to their next rotations. I kept a binder during my internship and still keep it on a shelf at my desk.
3. Ask questions! Don’t be afraid to ask your preceptor questions- this is the time to get it all out there. And never feel like you’re making yourself look stupid! Did you know, when I started my first rotation I did not know what a chart was? My (not so great) preceptor handed me the hugest chart I had ever seen and said “here, look at this patient’s chart and write a SOAP note”. I was totally overwhelmed and wondered how would I ever finish reading through that entire chart?
Thankfully, I asked another dietitian who was close by and she took the time to go over the chart with me- telling me what sections were more important to look at. (I know I totally date myself when I write about paper charts!!)
If your preceptors are willing to take interns then they should be willing to take the time to show you how things are done and answer any question you may have.
4. Stay open and flexible. I touched on this under “Stay Positive”, but staying open is also very important. Schedules change, rotations may get flipped around, and you may have a longer commute some days, or even longer days at some rotations. One week you might learn from one dietitian, then the next week work with another dietitian who shows you the same thing but in a very different manner. For example, one of my interns was telling every few days she would get assigned to a different dietitian. She stated just as she got used to the way one dietitian had her write a note, she would switch to another dietitian who would have her write a very different style note. Be open to this. In my facility, I tell my my interns, when going over their competed nutrition assessments, that it is very likely I may add some words or re-write something. This does not mean that what the intern is writing is wrong, it just means that I personally have things that I want worded another way so as I understand it best. The reason: I work in nursing home facility and am often audited- by both my regional dietitian and by state and federal auditors. It is very important to me that in the case I’m audited that things are said specifically and I can later explain myself if ever questioned.
5. Come prepared. Although asking questions is expected, it does not hurt to do some prep work before a rotation. Be familiar with calculating BMI, know how to interpret results of BMI, are you familiar the nutrition care process? Create and bring of your own “cheat sheet” tailored to the population of where you’ll be interning. Bring a notebook, lab coat, name badge, calculator, highlighter, pen, and pencil. You will likely need a lunch, water bottle, and even some snacks (please don’t be that “hangry” intern!!).
These are my five tips for helping you have a successful internship. Please feel free to comment below if you have any further questions. Best of luck, future RDN’s!