[The Dietitian Project Podcast] Ep 009: Finding the confidence to take on your first intern

In this episode, I speak with Kristen Carli, Registered Dietitian and owner of the private practice, Camelback Nutrition & Wellness. Kristen and I talk all about being a preceptor for dietetic students, and specifically, having the confidence to take on your very first intern!⁠

Together, we chat about: how she facilitates a positive student-preceptor relationship, mindset shifts you need to make when it comes to taking on students, how to get over the "nerves" of taking on your first dietetic intern⁠, the importance of advocacy and education in dietetic practice.⁠

Listen to the full episode on Apple Podcast or Spotify.

[Intro] Hey guys! Welcome to The Dietitian Project. A podcast, where I have real, gritty and honest conversations about the role of a dietitian and provide practical, empowering advice for finding your passion within the field, improving your job satisfaction and building financial freedom. 

I am your host, Krista Kolodziejzyk (or, the @rdentrepreneur on instagram). I come to the table with years of experience working in nutrition care and the food industry, most recently, I’ve taken the leap from my comfortable corporate job into pursuing entrepreneurship full-time as a freelance dietitian. 

With this podcast, I really want to explore some of the challenges that dietitians face - being undervalued, underpaid and underutilized, while also providing practical and tangible advice for building the life and career you absolutely love. So thanks for joining - I’m super excited to take you along on this journey with me. 

So today, I am thrilled to have an incredible dietitian on my podcast. Her name is Kristen Carli and she is a private practice dietitian, in addition to being the author of an amazing plant-based food blog, Mostly Green. 

Kristen graduated from the University of Arizona in 2013 with a degree in psychology. After launching a career and moving to Washington, DC, she uncovered a passion for nutrition and began exploring how to turn that dream into reality. She returned to school to study nutrition and dietetics, and graduated from Arizona State University in 2018. She’s also currently working on her M.S. in human nutrition and functional medicine.

She is the owner of the private nutrition practice, Camelback Nutrition & Wellness, where her goal is to help her clients simplify their relationship with food through an uncomplicated, mostly plant-based approach. She’s also been quoted in InStyle, Livestrong, Bustle and MyFitness Pal 

So Kristen, feel free to say hey to the audience and let me know if there’s anything I’ve missed in my intro! 

Hi! No you nailed it!

So, Kristen, before I get into today’s topic where we are going to be talking all about being a better preceptor, I always like to back it up a little bit and talk a bit about your background and history. A lot of the listeners in my audience are students and dietitians-to-be and I always think it’s helpful to talk about the wide variety of paths that people can take within the field. 

So can you start off by telling us a little bit about your path and how you got to where you are today? 

Like you said, I originally got my bachelors in psychology. I never wanted to pursue a masters in psychology and since there is no defined path for a graduate with a bachelors in psychology, I didn’t really know where to start. I ended up working in a few different industries, which were all interesting and taught me a lot, but ultimately I wasn’t fulfilled doing that work. I knew I wanted to go back to school. It took me a long time to figure out that I wanted to go back and study nutrition. I always knew I loved nutrition and healthy eating for my own sake, but I eventually learned that I was interested in sharing this with others as well. 

What made you decide to pursue entrepreneurship?

I have a lot of entrepreneurs in my family, so I always joke that it’s in my blood. I love business and I love talking strategy. My family members and I get giddy with excitement talking about business. I also loved the idea of the flexibility that comes along with it. I knew I wanted to be able to work from home or pick my hours so that I can one day take on the lead-parent role. 

So now, I’m going to ask you a few more questions about you at the end of this episode, but I’d love if we could shift our conversation to the topic of preceptoring. So the reason why I really wanted to have Kristen as a guest on my podcast is because I have actually had the opportunity to coach a few of the students who have worked with her. Kristen actually put her students in touch with me and has recommended some of my resources, like my podcast and blog articles. So because of that, I’ve come to know Kristen as the type of dietitian who really puts the time in to support and mentor her students. 

And, I think this topic is so important to talk about because preceptoring and mentorship is such an important part of the dietetic profession, but yet we receive basically zero exposure or education in how to be a good preceptor. At least that’s the case in Canada, Kristen have you had the same experience? 

As a non-traditional student, I was a little bit older and married when I decided to go back to school for nutrition. I knew I couldn’t pick up and move to complete the dietetic internship. I completed a distance internship, meaning I had to set up all of my dietetic internship rotations on my own but could complete them in my hometown. I’m a big fan of distance internships because they create opportunities for non-traditional students like me. AND with a distance internship you have the ability to design the internship experience. However, it is difficult to lock down preceptors willing to take you on and train you for free. 

Going through this process myself, I always planned on giving back and precepting other students. Because I recognize that as a non-traditional student, these preceptors were the only reason I was able to become an RD. I relied on their willingness to take me on.

So, let’s start off, I want you to walk me through what your experience has been so far with being a preceptor? 

I began taking interns during the COVID-19 pandemic. When I heard about dietetic interns who were unable to complete their hours, I felt like I needed to step up and offer virtual precepting. The internship is a great experience, but it’s definitely one, that as an intern, you don’t want to extend. You want to continue on, graduate and start working. I can’t imagine being in limbo. Your life plans are on hold. 

So anyway, taking interns has been great so far. I love working with students! 

I think RDs need to remember that you benefit from this experience as well. We both can greatly benefit from this relationship. It is great to help out these students and train them, but think also of what you get out of this relationship. It’s been so nice to have some feedback on my work… as an entrepreneur I am a one-woman show, at this point. It’s been great to have someone to bounce ideas off of. Students also offer a fresh perspective, which can be helpful. But mainly, interns provide much needed support. Think of all the progress you could make on some projects that you haven’t been able to prioritize because you don’t have time. I’ve been able to off-load some patient education materials, IG posts, blog posts, etc. that I have been needing to create, but haven’t had time to. You are able to get so much more done. 

I know that a lot of my colleagues have been nervous to take on students in the past because they just don’t feel equipped to do so. What was it like when you took on your first student? 

Having just gone through the internship myself, I modeled my role after my favorite preceptors. I was able to complete my elective rotation in private practice. As an intern, I loved getting the hands on experience and peeling back the curtain on how private practice was run. I learned how to do my job today from that experience. 

I think other RDs need to remember that they are simply offering a chance for students to grasp what their day to day is. As an RD, you are equipped to share what a day in the life is like for these interns. I think if I was tasked with training a student about dialysis nutrition, I would feel ill-equipped and that’s because that’s not what I do. But they are there to learn about what you do as a dietitian. The interns will receive the other training in other rotations. Focus on what you do and share that with them.

What are some of the most important lessons you’ve learned when it comes to being a good preceptor? 

Offer something of value and don’t hold back. Give them exactly what you would have wanted. For me, I loved being able to learn about the ins and outs of private practice. How do you bill, how do you submit for insurance reimbursement, what systems are you using to chart, how do you interact with patients… All of those things I didn’t learn in school. I knew I needed that sort of information.

Tailor the experience to what the students’ want. I have had interns who are passionate about private practice and business and I have had students that loved the nutrition communication side of things more. I love to give the students what they want. If they are interested in private practice logistics, I make sure to give them everything they need so that they are able to start their own private practice right away. If they aren’t, I don’t bore them with it. We can focus on things that do interest them. That way, every intern leaves with valuable experience for them.

What are some things that might lead to a poor student-preceptor experience? 

Giving them projects to pass the time and not trusting them to get their work done. No one wants to be patronized. Treat them like adults and they will act like it.

Thank you so much for providing your perspective on that. Now I’d love to turn it back to you for a minute and talk a little bit about your career. Because I think sometimes this profession has a tendency to breed high achievement and perfectionism, I always love to ask my podcast guests to talk a little bit about some of the challenges that they’ve faced in their careers. 

What are some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced so far in your career?