So, What is a Dietetic Internship Anyways?
“So, what is a dietetic internship anyways?” is probably the single most question I’ve been asked since matching to my dietetic internship back in April 2017. Actually, if I’m being honest no one even knows it’s called a dietetic internship. Unless you’re actively trying to work towards a dietetic internship or you’ve survived one already, most people don’t really know what a dietetic internship entails or even what it means. Which I totally get people not understanding. I barely understood the process until my last year of college and it’s what I was actively trying to do with my life.
If you’re reading this, it means you’re obviously curious about the dietetic internship. So let’s jump in!
- So, what is a dietetic internship? The dietetic internship is designed to provide, at minimum, 1,200 hours of supervised practice. The time given to complete your hours differs from internship to internship. Some are as short as 8 months, and some run for 4 years. It really just depends because they’re all so different! I’m truly lucky that my internship is only just under a year and I’ll earn my MS in dietetics at the same time! Those that are only 8 months typically just focus on the required hours. Those that run 4 years typically have a MPH or MBA built into the program. Others can fall somewhere in between there (like mine!).
- Yeah, but what do you actually do in the dietetic internship? Again, all internships are different. Each internship has a focus area. A majority of them focus on clinical nutrition (aka the dietitians most people are familiar with–the hospital), some research, very few sports, and then some community (like my internship!). Since my internship focuses on community, I have a Graduate Research Assistantship I do once a week (and sometimes more often) where I work in the community nutrition field. One day a week I have my required graduate nutrition courses. Currently, you are not required to have a Master’s degree to be a RDN, but soon you will. Therefore, not all internships have some sort of masters built in–but they’re working towards it. Mine does not require a masters (just a few certain classes like Advanced MNT 1 and 2, Research, etc.), but I only need about 5 extra classes to earn my MS in Dietetics, so I’m going to go ahead and finish it up! The remaining three days a week I’ll spend doing my rotations–which count towards those 1,200+ hours we talked about earlier.
- Who is eligible for a dietetic internship? To land a dietetic internship you must have, at bare minimum, a bachelor’s degree and a verification of a completed DPD program. A DPD program is a Didactic Program in Dietetics. This is an approved coursework list by ACEND (aka the accrediting agency for nutrition). You can find a list of all DPD programs on the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics’ website. I completed my DPD program and earned my BS in Human Nutrition and Foods all at the same time from West Virginia University!
- Can you apply for a dietetic internship at anytime? Most dietetic internships start in the Fall semester and you find out if you made the cut in the Spring. This generally means the internship application opens in December and closes (aka is due by) Valentines’ Day. You find out in April (aka the Spring) if you landed one or not. A few internships start applications in the Fall and start the program in the winter (aka January). So basically the dietetic internship is a once a year opportunity, twice if you’re lucky. It’s important to stay on top of your application!
- So, once you’re eligible, how do you get a dietetic internship? Unfortunately there is a shortage in dietetic internships/preceptors so dietetic internships are extremely competitive! I’ve been told many times I had a better chance of getting into medical school than landing a dietetic internship. Yikes! You can also find a list of all Dietetic Internships on the Academy’s website. Using this list, you can narrow down the internships and apply to each program using DICAS (Dietetic Internship Central Application System).
- Wait, so what is DICAS? DICAS is similar to SOPHAS or PharmCAS in that it’s a centralized application website. You fill out one long application on DICAS and add in each program you wish to send the application to. All schools ask for basic information, such as transcripts. Each program has specific, unique requirements too. Once you’ve completed DICAS, you can submit your application to each program. Each program has an associated DICAS fee, plus any additional fees to the program, and D&D matching fees. Once you’ve submitted your DICAS, you must rank your schools for matching.
- Wait, what is matching? Matching is the goal! Matching means you landed that dietetic internship! Matching is the process they use to determine what program matches up with each applicant the best, based on ranking. You must create an account with D&D Digital to be able to match. Once completed, you rank each program you applied to in order of your first choice, to your last. Ranking carefully is important! You want to rank the school you think you are most competitive for first to increase your chance of matching–because you can only match to one program! This is very similar to the process medical students complete for their rotations. Once you’ve ranked your programs, you have to wait and hope for an interview. I had an interview with WVU (my second choice program), but not any of the other programs I applied to because some programs, like the one I matched with, don’t do interviews. Then you wait for Match Day!
- Why is Match Day important? Match Day is the day all applicants can log onto their D&D account starting at a specific time of day to see if they’ve received a computer matched appointment (aka an invitiation into the internship). If they have, they must contact the program the next day accepting their seat. If not, they will lose their seat… which brings us to Second Round.
- Second Round? Second Round happens a few days after Appointment Day, after programs have determined if they’re full or not. If a program has openings, they will release their name to D&D for all students who did not match first round to see. Second round is a battle field because this is where the organization stops and it turns into a free for all. Basically anyone who applied during first round, but did not receive a match can apply for second round. There is no deadline. It is a first come, first serve. Each program determines if they want to immediately accept the next application, or hold off in hopes of a better candidate. Therefore, some programs fill up within hours of second round, and some don’t fill up for another month or two. After second round, it goes into ISSP (Individualized Supervised Practice Pathways, pronounce “ispeys”) which I’ve never really totally understood. From what I’ve gathered, it’s basically a way to avoid “wasting” a year, as some call it, if you didn’t match. ISSP tend to vary from program, to program, so the best way to understand them is to contact that program’s director.
- So, why even bother with a dietetic internship? Completing a dietetic internship is a requirement to be eligible to set for the Registered Dietitian, Nutritionist (RDN) exam. That’s the end goal after all, to be a Registered Dietitian, Nutritionist when this is all said and done!
- This sounds awful. How do you make yourself competitive for a dietetic internship? First, it’s now awful! It’s challenging in the best way possible. Second, that answer is a story for a different blog post! Hint hint. I’ll have a blog post for the RD2B series coming soon on how I made myself competitive and matched to my dietetic internship!
Like you already know and I’ve already said, understanding the dietetic internship is confusing! But I really hope this blog post at least helps you understand it just a tiny ounce better. If you’ve read this it’s probably because either 1) you’re thinking about becoming a RDN some day, or 2) you know someone wanting/trying to become a RDN. Either way, it’s time you reach out to those people or anyone in the dietetics field! I promise they’re some of the nicest people ever and definitely want to help you understand our field! We’re passionate about what we do and here to educate on it.
If you have any questions about the dietetic internship or becoming a RDN, definitely reach out to me! 🙂