This post is dedicated to all you nutrition students and RD-to-be’s. As somebody who finally finished the long road towards becoming a dietitian, I know the struggle. I understand how intense the coursework is and how the daunting the internship application process feels. I can also tell you that the hard work is ABSOLUTELY worth it. I have never been more proud of myself than after passing the RD exam. It’s an amazing feeling knowing your hard work has led you to a career you are passionate about. In this post, I hope to address some questions I've frequently been asked about the path to getting a dietetic internship.
Depending on what stage of your education you are in, you can always do different things to prepare for the internship and make yourself a competitive, desirable candidate. I’ll break it down into a timeline about what you can do to make yourself stand out.
If you’re still in your DPD courses:
- Now is the time to really put in a lot of the grunt work. You’re probably balancing a full, challenging course load. While grades are not everything, it is important that you do well in your DPD courses. I spent many of my nights and weekend days during this time in the library, keeping on top of my schoolwork and studying very hard. This is also a great time to build relationships with professors who you’ll ask for recommendations for your application. Go to office hours and try to interact outside the classroom, if you can.
Why? Internships like to see that you not only understand the complex material from your classes, but also that you are a hard worker. Good grades are evidence of these both!
- I know keeping up with your classes is a full-time job, but start seeking out opportunities to volunteer at a hospital. Many hospitals accept student volunteers to help with the nutrition or food service department. If you can’t get into a hospital, try another type of acute care or long-term care facility. You should have at least 6 months of consecutive volunteer experience by the time you apply for the internship, so plan accordingly.
Why? Working in a hospital is not the most glamorous environment. Internships want to see you’ve spent time here because a vast majority of your internship is spent in a hospital. This will show them that you understand how a hospital works (to some extent), and were able to handle seeing some potentially unpleasant things (blood, very sick patients, etc.).
- In your free time, I recommend saying YES to as many nutrition-related opportunities that come your way. This may mean attending talks at your school, interning with private practice dietitians, or even just keeping up with the latest nutrition research by reading journal articles. The more exposure, the better! I got a part time job at a Soul Cycle studio, and even though it was not directly nutrition related, it was still a health and wellness company that helped me develop invaluable people skills and flexibility. I can confidently say that experience played a big role in helping me land the NYU internship.
Why? Nutrition is a science, and science is always changing. Staying up to date and in the know about the latest research and best practices is something required of a dietitian, so why not start now? This is also a great time to explore the many paths you can take as an RD. By giving your time to these opportunities, you will learn more about what you want to do with your career.
If you’re applying for your DI:
- You’re wrapping up the last of your DPD courses, and the internship is your next step. This is a very exciting time, but it can also feel overwhelming. The first thing to think about is, what is important for YOU in your internship? For me, that was location. I only applied to internships in New York City and Boston. For others, location may not be a concern (and to be honest, this will give you an advantage. A general rule of thumb for DIs is that those in major cities tend to be more competitive and harder to get into, because more people are applying).
Why? Deciding what your main internship priority is will greatly help you narrow down where to apply. You’ll have more time to research those internships you’re truly interested in, and spend less time sorting through all the other programs.
- Fill out your DICAS application. It doesn’t take a ton of time, but it’s important that you go through it carefully. Double and triple check for typos, spelling errors and formatting. Check out the essays each program requires, and start writing! Be authentic, concise, and honest in your essays. I also HIGHLY recommend you have a few people edit your essays and give you feedback. I was lucky to have my boyfriend’s brother & sister-in-law edit mine, and it really brought my essay to the next level.
Why? The internships know nothing about you, and your application is their first impression. Make that impression perfect! Also, each program may have a different essay question, so you want to make sure the each essay is tailored to each program.
- Ask for recommendations. I recommend professors/supervisors that are RDs or in a nutrition-related field that know you well. I also suggest asking EARLY. While they will be happy to write your recommendation, they are busy people and things get lost along the way! Giving them time will help them craft a better picture of you, and will give you time to follow up.
- Rank your internship programs honestly. From my knowledge, matching will always work in your favor. Don’t play mind games with yourself, and put your top choice first, even if it is a reach!
If you’ve applied:
- Congratulations! It’s such a relief to submit your application. First off, relax and give yourself a moment to breathe. Then, take the time to write a thank you note to those who gave your recommendations.
Why? Life is about balance! Relaxing is necessary so you don’t burn out. And thank you notes are polite, and will help you keep up meaningful relationships.
- If the internship programs you applied to have interviews, start preparing. What I did to prepare was think of tons of different possible internship questions, and corresponding scenarios/examples from my own experiences that would answer these questions. It helped to type them, then practice SPEAKING them many times. Coming from an introvert, I HATED doing this (and still do), but it was essential to answering interview questions confidently. It also helps to get together with your friends to practice with each other. Try to think of examples of the following scenarios:
- A challenge you’ve faced, and how you dealt with it
- Leadership skills you possess/a scenario in which you were a leader
- Examples of teamwork/working well with others
- Other desirable skills outside of the classroom that you have developed
- How you stay up to date with the latest nutrition research
- Your best qualities, and your biggest weakness
- Adjectives a previous boss/supervisor would use to describe you
- Why you are a stand-out candidate
- The day of your interview: arrive 10-15 minutes early. Bring copies of your resume. Dress in something appropriate, but also something you are comfortable wearing. After your interview, send your interviewers a thank you note sometime that afternoon or the morning after.
- You can re-rank your program choices again, so once all your interviews are finished, think about if your top choice has changed. I still believe putting YOUR top choice is the right move, even if you think you have a better chance at an internship elsewhere.
And now, you wait. On match day, be kind to yourself and keep yourself busy. I went to work in the morning, then took a barre class and did some light studying in the evening. BREATHE. If you’ve worked hard and prepared well, odds are, you will match. If you DON’T match, I promise you this is not the end of the road. I have many friends from the NYU internship that did not match the first round they applied. Not matching does NOT make you any less of a strong candidate. Don’t let it affect your self-esteem! Use the time between now and the next match round to make yourself an EVEN STRONGER candidate. If you put your mind to it, you will make it happen!
I hope this post was helpful to all those pursuing their RD certification! I truly know how long of a road it is, and how sometimes, you honestly feel like you’re drowning. Again, I promise you it is worth it! Be patient, keep hustling, and you’ll land your dietetic internship!