How to Become an RD: Dietetic Internships

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

I describe this step as the DI step, but that’s not completely accurate. I wasn’t able to find actual numbers for this, but based on the number of CPs compared to DPDs (see last week’s post), my guess is that even with the other options, it’s standard for most future RDs to go through a DI to complete this step. So if I talk about this step as the “DI step,” that’s a bit of a generalization, but I’m including the other options in that 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. The internships put into practice all your skills and knowledge through hands-on experiences in various settings that you could some day work in. All DIs have a minimum of 1200 hours that take place over 8-24 months, depending on whether the program is part-time or full-time.

Beyond those basics, the specifics of dietetic internships are very different from program to program. Each DI has several different rotations, which can include clinical, community nutrition, and management positions. The settings can vary as well. You could work in hospitals and medical centers of different sizes, outpatient clinics, food banks, school foodservices, 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 has far surpassed the supply, the chance of getting accepted into an internship is currently about 50%. There are a number of ways to influence your chances of successfully matching to a program, such as great grades and references, as well as doing a bit of strategizing about your applications through DICAS, 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 that takes lots of forethought and planning on your part.

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 coordinated programs (CPs) are a great option to consider if you’re someone who hasn’t yet broken into the study of dietetics and you want a quick, cost-effective way to get through the RD process. Keep in mind that CPs are more rare compared to Didactic Programs in Dietetics (DPDs), so 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 and make it through a CP, I’m sure you’d be thanking yourself down the road, for the time saved.

Individualized Supervised Practice Pathways

Individualized Supervised Practice Pathways (ISPPs, pronounced “ispeys”) are less well-known, but 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 a way for students who might not be able to go through the traditional route for this step (i.e., the DI), but still give them a chance to succeed 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 did not match to a DI, or you are a doctoral students who don’t have a DPD. From what I understand, an ISPP is like a DI, but 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!

That concludes this week’s post! As I was researching and writing for this week’s post, as surface level as it is, I really started to realize that it takes a lot to become an RD. (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, but writing this post required me to think much more thoroughly about the process.

There was this educational show I watched as a kid (Saturday mornings sans-cable were interesting times back then!) 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,


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