RD Journey Part Two: Getting the Internship


Part One: My journey through school, up until my internship.

Part Two: Applying for and matching to a dietetic internship.

Part Three: My internship and passing the RD exam.


The dietetic internship…

brace yourself.

Like I said in part one, my internship was probably the most strenuous and draining eight months of my life.


First, let’s talk about landing your internship.

There are two application sessions each year: one for spring match (internships that begin in the fall) and one for fall match (internships that begin in the winter). Once you know when you’re graduating and when you’d like to start your internship (ideally, at least, because there is no guarantee that you will be matched), then you can begin to look through internships. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics has a search engine for this.


Just about every internship will cover the three main rotations in some capacity: foodservice management, clinical nutrition, and community nutrition. Some may put emphasis on a certain area, include an elective rotation, or have a connection with a certain specialty. There will be at least 1200 hours of supervised practice, and internships range from 8-24 months depending on a number of factors. There are internships that are coordinated with earning a Master’s degree, often lasting longer than those that aren’t, but my internship was not coordinated.

All internships cost tuition, and note that you will not get paid during them while you work full-time. The programs with a Master’s are typically more expensive.


The applications are done through an online portal called DICAS. It’s nice having everything in one place, especially if you’re applying to multiple internships. I’d recommend applying to more than one too, because you aren’t guaranteed a match. Whichever internship(s) you do apply to get ranked in the order that you want to get them. That way, if your first option does want you, that’s the one you get matched to. 

In DICAS, you’ll enter typical resume information such as personal, background, and contact information, work history, extracurricular activities, awards and honors, and volunteer experience.

Keep track of ALL your volunteer hours, and keep them organized!! This will make the application process so much smoother and less time consuming.

You’ll upload transcripts and complete any special requirements from each individual internship. You’ll also need at least three letters of recommendation, and your references will upload their letters right into DICAS confidentially. Be sure to ask for these early, giving your references plenty of time to write their recommendations. Your program director will have to verify certain elements of your application as well. You’ll have a cover letter and a personal statement for each individual internship that you apply for, and these are important.


Your personal statement is basically the heart of your application. You need to make an impression—a GOOD one that lasts.

You’ll discuss these things in your statement:

  1. Why do you want to enter the dietetics profession?

  2. Discuss experiences that have helped prepare you for your career.

  3. What are your short-term and long-term goals?

  4. What are your strengths and weaknesses or areas needing improvement?

  5. What other information do you consider important for the selection decision?

Be sure to have family members, peers, professors, advisors, and anybody else that you can go over your statement and provide feedback. You want this thing to be perfect. Also, don’t forget to tailor your personal statement for each program, whether that’s simply changing the name of the program, adding an experience relevant to that internship’s specialty, or answering another question they’ve specified for you. You’ll upload a separate one for each internship into DICAS.


There are far more fall-start internships than winter-starts due to the fact that a majority of students do graduate in the spring. Since I was a winter graduate applying for a winter-start, my options were more limited. I only applied to one internship near my home in Michigan, and it was an extremely competitive one. The other was in Oklahoma. 

Some internships will do interviews between the application deadline and deciding on their interns. I did get an interview for the internship in Michigan, which was done over Skype, but I didn’t end up getting that internship. “Match Day” is about 6-8 weeks after the DICAS applications are due, and this is a big deal in the world of dietetics. You probably know by now that I landed in Oklahoma; it was far away and somewhere I’d never been before, but you’ll be thankful to get whatever internship you can.


The computer matching is actually done through D&D Digital, which is where you’ll rank your internship selections and where the internships will rank the students they want. Once you are matched, there’s a lot of communication, paperwork, and prep you have to do before the start of your internship. And don’t forget about finishing your degree if you’re still in your last semester. 

If you don’t get matched, don’t lose all hope. There is “round two” matching to fill any internship spots that weren’t filled, so you have a couple days to reach out to these programs and see if things work out. You can also apply again during the next round of DICAS. If you want to forgo the internship, at least for the time being, you can sign up to take the Dietetic Technician, Registered (NDTR) Exam. 


Okay, are you ready to hear about the internship finally?

get ready for part three!


RD Journey Part One: Getting the Degree


Part One: My journey through school, up until my internship.

Part Two: Applying for and matching to a dietetic internship.

Part Three: My internship and passing the RD exam.


I’m not going to get into WHY I chose dietetics in this blog series; I can cover that in a future post. My hope is that this series can shed some light for anybody on or considering the RD path!


I graduated high school at the top of my class in May 2014. At the end of 2013, I had committed to Olivet College to play golf. Although I already knew I wanted to be a Registered Dietitian at this point, Olivet did not offer a dietetics degree. I was going to be an exercise science major, and I was told that I could take a ‘nutrition path’ with it. I didn’t know any better at the time (which is where a post like this probably would have been very helpful), but that wasn’t going to get me where I wanted. I took the one general nutrition class offered, the same class that just about every health-related major student takes. I excelled and truly loved the class. However, this was the end of that so-called ‘nutrition path’, and I realized this during that first semester at Olivet.

Your degree needs to be from an ACEND-accredited program.

This is something that you should clarify with an advisor to be sure that the degree you’re going for is going to make you eligible for a dietetic internship.

Ultimately, I decided to transfer that winter.


I transferred to Madonna University in Livonia, Michigan. Ironically, I had toured this campus and talked to the golf coach about playing for the team here when I was weighing my options in high school. It’s a shame that I didn’t choose to go here, because by going to Olivet first, I lost a TON of scholarship money. Like, all of it. I had a 4.0+ GPA in high school and was offered an extremely high merit scholarship from Madonna (not including whatever I could have received from golfing), but all of that was lost by transferring. I chose to give up golfing after Olivet too, so 2014 was the end of my competitive athletic career.

Madonna was just about an hour from my house, so I lived at home to save money on room and board. I could also take some of my classes online since Madonna is a very commuter-friendly school, so I didn’t have to drive to campus every single day. 

Before I started classes in January 2015, I sat down with my advisor to plan out ALL of my classes up until graduation. DO THIS, no matter what. I wanted to finish in three years (3.5 years total with the semester at Olivet), and there’s no way I would have been able to do that if I didn’t have an intentional plan. Graduating a semester early would mean a December graduation, hoping for a January-start internship (I’ll get more into that in part two). It also meant summer classes, but I was determined.


Below is the core list of classes required for my dietetics degree, which doesn’t include any electives or general education requirements. It’s extremely science-based, so get your safety goggles ready. Organic chemistry is HARD, but I actually took it over the summer which meant a lighter class load during that time. I’d highly recommend doing that if it’s possible for you.

 
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The “major elective” classes were extremely important and provided so much applicable knowledge. Some of the elective courses I took were Dietary Supplements, Becoming Vegetarian, Nutrition for the Aging, Nutrition Education and Counseling, Nutrition through the Life Cycle, Nutrition Assessment, and Community Nutrition. I’m going to insert my complete list of classes by semester below.

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A few of the (MANY) big projects I did that stand out include:

  • In Nutrition Education and Counseling, we had to video tape ourselves doing a counseling session with a classmate. Each of us were given a patient role to play, and we carried out what would be like a real-life appointment with a dietitian. These sessions were analyzed and critiqued very thoughtfully.

  • We also had to do an interactive educational presentation in this class geared toward a specific target audience. I shared about eating healthy on a budget, and the class got to make trail mix!

 
 
  • In Medical Nutrition Therapy (MNT) I, we had to do a huge case study on a patient with a given disease. I was given chronic pancreatitis… definitely not a simple condition!

  • In Becoming Vegetarian, we had to collect a 24-hour food recall and food preferences from another individual. Then, we had to do a “diet makeover” creating a vegetarian meal plan that would be practical and meet the needs of this individual.

 
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  • In Foodservice Management II, we had to create our own business complete with a mission statement, marketing plan, budget, business plan, kitchen design, menu, and more. I created a meal delivery service!

 
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  • In Experimental Foods and Research (essentially Food Science II), we had to conduct our own food research and experiment with a legitimate sensory taste panel in class. I tested the replacement of oil in brownies with cauliflower puree, and although each of the tested replacement levels (0%, 25%, 50%, 75%) were ‘acceptable’, the brownie with no cauliflower puree was the most preferred.

 
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  • We also did a food demo in Experimental Foods and Research, and I made some delicious dessert crepes!

 
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  • Community Nutrition was actually a required summer class, because Madonna had a connection with a local center where we helped young kids grow and harvest a garden. It was really cool!

  • In Senior Seminar (which wasn’t actually taken as a senior), we learned about public policy and wrote a letter to the Legislator, presented on one of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics position papers, and practiced writing a personal statement-- a HUGE part of the internship application process!

  • In Food Service Sanitation, we took the exam to become ServSafe certified. This will be necessary if you choose to go the foodservice route with your career, but it’s great to have in dietetics no matter what!


As I moved further along into intense nutrition material, online classes weren’t as much of an option. I was having to be on campus just about every day, so I ended up getting an apartment from April 2016-June 2017. During my last semester, I only had to be on campus about two days per week, so I moved back home for this period of time.


Another important part of college is getting relevant work and volunteer experience for dietetics. I worked two part-time jobs during my three years at Madonna, both of which had relevance to the field. The first was at The Vitamin Shoppe. This job was retail- and customer service-based, but I did learn a lot about different supplements and making individualized recommendations to customers. The second was in the best hospital around, Beaumont Health. I worked as a nutrition services attendant, mainly delivering meal trays to patients. I highly recommend getting a job like this if you can, because patient interaction is KEY on your internship resume. If not, try shadowing a dietitian in the area or volunteering somewhere that could offer this. However, don’t take on more than you can handle.

The extent of my volunteering and community service was pretty much limited to what I did during my Community Nutrition class and the couple of times I had worked at the local food pantry during high school. There were some different programs and opportunities through Madonna while I was in school, but I felt like anything more was going to stretch me so thin that I would break. I had to keep my schoolwork a top priority and give it the time that it needed, which meant forgoing some of these other opportunities that would have certainly looked good on a resume. I did have some “leadership” roles that I was able to include on my internship application, such as being a team captain in high school and assistant coaching a girls’ golf team during college. Ultimately, I still got an amazing internship, and that’s what matters.

Focus on keeping a good GPA and finding work experience with relevant knowledge and patient interaction… quality over quantity. If you have one or two extra little things on top of that, you’re doing really good.


I want to note that I only wanted (and needed) to get my Bachelor’s Degree before my internship. However, starting in 2024, a Master’s degree will be required to take the RD exam. 


Beginning to look at internships adds a whole other realm of responsibility and time commitment to your plate. This process is done through an online portal called DICAS. If you’re looking to get your internship right after graduation, your DICAS application will be submitted during your last semester of college. Since I was graduating in December of 2017, I was working on my application from about May 2017 to the day it was due in September. I’ll talk much more about this in part two, but the internship process is tough and SUPER competitive, so prepare yourself ahead of time.

Fortunately, I matched to an internship my first round through DICAS. This meant that I graduated in December and started my internship in January… requiring a move across the country from Michigan to Oklahoma too! I was in for just about the most stressful and exhausting eight months of my life. But, completing your internship means you’re eligible to take the RD exam.

FINALLY!

Stay tuned for part two!


Dietitian vs. nutritionist: Not the Same

A Registered Dietitian, or Registered Dietitian Nutritionist, is NOT the same thing as a “nutritionist”. The RD and RDN credentials do mean the same thing and have the same requirements. However, just a “nutritionist” does not have the same, or often any, credentials at all.

To become a Registered Dietitian, one must have at minimum a Bachelor’s degree from an ACEND-accredited program. The individual then must complete an accredited dietetic internship which provides over 1200 hours of supervised practice, lasting 8-24 months long. He or she is then eligible to take the national registration exam, and must also gain licensure in any states they plan to practice in. All registered dietitians must maintain continuing education for as long as they practice as well. Beginning in 2024, a Master’s degree will actually be the minimum degree required. Legally, a dietitian is a nutrition EXPERT. He or she is qualified to promote good health through proper nutritional habits.

At least here in the United States, “nutritionist” is a self-proclaimed title. Someone that claims they are a nutritionist may have received education or educated themselves about nutrition, but there is no legal regulation. There are no initial requirements or continuing education requirements. Essentially, anybody could give themselves this title. That’s why it’s so critically important to know who you’re working with.

I can promise you that the process any dietitian is required to go through is RIGOROUS. If somebody isn’t truly passionate about the field, they wouldn’t have been able to earn the credentials… honestly. It’s a hard, long, and draining process, but I know that personally, I never looked back.

I guess my main takeaway for you is this: know who you’re talking to and what you’re signing up for. Dietitians are not perfect; we’re human like everybody else. However, we have been trained and educated as professionals and experts in the field of nutrition, and we abide by a code of ethics and standards of practice. I can’t speak for all dietitians, but I can assure you that I have nothing but your absolute best interest in mind. I want to see you succeed, & I am here to help you to meet your goals.