How to be an Awesome Dietetic Intern

Dietetic internship is filled with highs and lows. The learning curves are steep, the stress can make things tense, and navigating new relationships can be challenging. This blog post discusses some of the ways that you can thrive during dietetic internship to make sure you are getting the most out of your experience.

Dietetic internship is filled with highs and lows. The learning curves are steep, the stress can make things tense, and navigating new relationships can be challenging. No dietitian has a perfect internship experience, but one thing is certain - all dietitians leave the internship experience better, more well-rounded people than when they started. 

If you allow it to, dietetic internship can be a powerful opportunity for personal and professional development, in addition to allowing you to build deep and meaningful relationships with your peers and preceptors. That being said, not everyone uses it as an opportunity to do so. 

Having taken on many dietetic interns during my career, I want to provide you with an insiders perspective on the qualities of students who have thrived during their rotations with me. Even if you aren’t the most clinically savvy student in the world, or your writing skills need some work, embracing these learned characteristics below will make ALL the difference for you and your experience. At the end of the day, you get out of it what you put into it. 

A note about being a preceptor... Preceptoring is tough. Plain and simple. Taking responsibility for someone else’s learning is challenging, particularly when you haven’t received any real training on how to do it successfully. Nevermind if the student/preceptor relationship isn’t jiving! Always remember that your preceptor wants you to succeed. Even if it feels like they are being tough on you, or that your personalities aren’t a good fit, use your positive attitude to get the most out of the situation regardless. Every single preceptor has incredible knowledge that you can learn from, so soak it up like a sponge and don’t take it personally. 

1. Stay open-minded and curious. I put this as #1 on purpose. In my opinion, being open-minded and curious is perhaps the single biggest predictor of whether someone will be successful in their placement or not. Even if you struggle with some of your projects or with grasping certain concepts, being open-minded and curious shows your preceptors that you have a deep willingness to learn and grow. Asking insightful questions and expressing genuine interest in the role of a dietitian in that specific setting makes all the difference. For me, when a student demonstrates these qualities, I am willing to go above and beyond to facilitate their learning and growth.

One other note - if your preceptor asks you “do you have any questions?” try to think of something. When we’re consistently met with “nope”, it’s hard for us to know whether you are just trying to be polite, you’re afraid to waste our time or you just weren’t paying attention. Chances are, if you were listening, you will probably have a question! 

2. Lead with respect but don’t be afraid to share your thoughts. I love engaging in meaningful discussion with dietetic interns. To me, when a student expresses genuine interest, it shows that they’re interested, engaged and are paying attention. Plus, having regular dialogue helps to build a deeper relationship between preceptor and student, which enhances the experience for both parties. With that being said, there is a line between sharing your opinions and being disrespectful. Tread that line very carefully and understand that, although you may have your own experiences, your preceptor is the expert in your placement setting. 

3. Pay attention to the rules and follow them. No preceptor, and I repeat… NO preceptor wants to be the one to tell you to change your clothes because they don’t abide by the dress code. Please, please, please do not put your preceptor in that position. If you are ever uncertain about how you should dress, always wear something that is more formal than casual. Wearing something too casual looks unprofessional. Although casual might be fine after you’ve familiarized yourself with the new workplace culture, don’t start off on the wrong foot. The same thing applies to start time and finish time - don’t be late. For the most part, if something you couldn’t have predicted happens (like your car breaks down or there’s an accident) they will totally get it. But if that happens, make sure you have a way to contact them to let them know as soon as possible and don’t make a habit of it. 

4. Manage your time and speak up early if you’re struggling. There are probably going to be times where you’ll be asked to take on more than you can juggle. If you feel that there are not enough hours in the day to accomplish the priorities being asked of you to a high quality, then make sure to be upfront and transparent. From a preceptors perspective, we have no idea how fast of a worker you are, or how long it will take you to complete a project. We want you to provide us with guidance if we’re giving you too much or too little to do. The more open and up front you can be, the better. That being said, make sure to manage your time appropriately. If your preceptor feels that they’ve given you an appropriate amount of work based on the volume that past students have accomplished, respect that. Reflect on your own working style and determine whether it’s your own perfectionist tendencies that are causing you to spend too much time on certain tasks. 

5. Be open to different experiences. No matter what experience is thrown at you, view it as an opportunity to learn something new. You may not be able to see the direct relation to your dietetic practice immediately, but each new experience is an opportunity to develop your interpersonal skills, communication, confidence, etc. Go into your placements as if you have no preconceived notion of what stream of dietetic practice you might prefer. Allow yourself to soak all experiences up like a sponge and let those experiences dictate what feels right for you. And if nothing feels 100% right, then you can always create the ‘right’ path. That’s the beauty of this field… you can make it what you want! 

If you’re a dietetic student looking for a supportive and empowering community of like-minded people, make sure to check out our private Facebook group - The Dietitian Project - Student Group

If you’re a student and you’re looking for help deciding what your next steps are in terms of applying for internship programs or getting your first job, reach out! My team and I offer 1:1 coaching and countless resources and tools to help you find success in the dietetic profession. 

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