How to Become an RD: Dietetic Internships

Happy Tuesday everyone! This week’s post is the second in a series that covers the different routes to becoming an RD. Last week, we talked about what coursework and degree you’d need to start the process. Today, we’re going to cover the next step in how to become an RD: Dietetic Internships (DI).

I describe this step as the DI step, but that’s not completely accurate. Most RDs complete a dietetic internship after their Didactic Practice in Dietetics (DPDs). But you can also do an internship as part of your Coordinated Practice (CP). (For an explanation of CPs vs DPDs, see last week’s post!) Because of the high number of DPDs compared to CPs, my guess is that most future RDs to go through a DI to complete this step. When I talk about this step as the “DI step,” I’m including internships, CPs, and one other option in the phrase.

Enough about semantics, let’s talk about your options for this step!

Dietetic Internships

I’ve mentioned dietetic internships a lot, but I haven’t really fully explained them. A dietetic internship puts into practice all your skills and knowledge through hands-on experiences in various settings that you could someday work in. All DIs have a minimum of 1200 hours that take place over 8-24 months. These include rotations in three key areas: clinical, community nutrition, and management/food service.

Beyond those basics, the specifics of dietetic internships are very different from program to program. There’s still a lot of variation within each of those key areas. You might work with different clinical patients or with different communities. The settings can vary as well. You could work in rural or urban hospitals and medical centers of different sizes, outpatient clinics, food banks, school cafeterias, or public health departments. The specialization and focus of each program will be different as well.

Even though there are 262 dietetic internship programs in the US, the spots for these are very, very competitive. Because the demand for DIs is greater than the supply, the average acceptance rate is currently about 61% (eatrightpro.org). There are a number of ways to influence your chances of successfully matching to a program. This includes great grades, experience, and references, as well as doing a bit of strategy with your application. But that’s a whole other blog post for another time ;). For now, just know that applying to and getting into a DI is a complex process. To succeed, you must put some planning and forethought into your future.

Hopefully I haven’t scared you into switching majors yet. Fear not! There are other options for you out there.

Coordinated Programs

I know I mentioned this in last week’s post as well, but don’t forget coordinated programs (CPs)! CPs are a great option to consider if you’re someone who hasn’t started college and wants a quick, cost-effective way to get through the RD process. Keep in mind that CPs are more rare compared to DPDs. You might not find a CP in a location that you’d like. Also, coordinated programs two rather difficult things, a college degree and a dietetic internship, into four years! If you’re willing to take on the challenge of a CP, I’m sure you’ll thank yourself down the road for the time saved.

Individualized Supervised Practice Pathways

Individualized Supervised Practice Pathways (ISPPs, pronounced “ispeys”) are less well-known. That’s because not many exist in the first place and not many people are applicable for them. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics started offering this option in 2011 as an alternative in how to become an RD to dietetic internships. Although they aren’t the traditional route, ISPPs are still a great chance for success in this field.

To be eligible for an ISPPs, you must fall into one of two categories.

  • Either you must be a student that completed a DPD, but didn’t match to an internship
  • Or you are a doctoral student who doesn’t have a DPD background.

From what I understand, an ISPP is like a DI. However, the student finds settings and preceptors where they can complete their rotations. Just like many DIs, ISPPs are also connected to universities. So if you don’t make it into a DI or you’ve gone above and beyond and now want to get into the RD field, this might be the option for you!

Final Thoughts

As I was researching and writing for this week’s post on becoming an RD and the basics of dietetic internships, I really started to realize that it takes a lot. (Wow, Emmalee, as the writer of this blog, you should probably know that…) Ok, like many other juniors, I had some idea that the internship step would be difficult. Still, writing this post required me to think much more thoroughly about the process.

There was this educational Saturday morning show I watched as a kid where the host’s catchphrase was, “You gotta want it!” I have no idea why that phrase has stuck with me since then, but it definitely fits the RD path! We have so many hoops to jump through with lower chances of success than we might like. But we do it because we want it.

Maybe you want to work in the field of nutrition, but you don’t want to jump through those hoops, and that’s ok! While limited, opportunities do exist for you. If you want to learn more about these options, I plan to talk about them in the coming weeks, so be sure to check back!

Until next time,
Emmalee

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