Internships provide hands-on, practical work in a job with the same focus as a student’s field of study. An internship will allow you to see first hand what it is like to have a career in nutrition. If possible, it is ideal to choose an internship that aligns with your nutrition job goals.
The amount of experience and type of duties will vary depending on each individual position and will be influenced by the work environment and the individual who manages your internship.
A dietetic internship is a necessity for anyone seeking the credentials of Registered Dietitian (RD). The internship must be approved by the American Dietetic Association (ADA) through a program accredited by the Commission on Accreditation for Dietetics Education (CADE). There are two ways a dietetics student can seek and complete an approved internship, through a Coordinated Program or through a Didactic Program.
A Coordinated Program (CP) provides the 900 hours of required internship work combined with the coursework necessary to obtain a bachelor’s or graduate degree. With a CP program you are already approved and accepted for an internship when you begin your program of studies. You will not have to compete in the computer matching placement for an internship once you complete your degree.
The second type of dietetic program is the Didactic Program in Dietetics (DPD). This type of program includes your coursework, but does not include the necessary internship to become an RD. DPD programs are much more widely available for study; however, the internship selection process is very competitive. To complete this process you submit an application for the internships that interest you. There is no limit to the number you can submit. An online process will then match you to an internship based on your personal information such as grades and experience.
There are more students than available internships through the DPD, therefore many students do not receive placement. According to the ADA, in 2009 50% of students seeking internships were not given a position. In some cases, DPD programs offer pre-selected matching for internships which can ensure that you are placed, but otherwise it is necessary to go through the online matching process.
In order to stay competitive you must have a grade point average above a 3.0 and must have a Graduate Record Exam (GRE) score above the minimum stated on the internship applications for which you apply. Professional communication, work experience in the field such as a paid part-time job, volunteering and involvement in student organizations increases your competitive edge when seeking a dietetics internship.
Dietetic internships typically last from 6 to 12 months and most are unpaid, however some combine graduate coursework for those wishing to obtain a graduate degree. Many are more clinical in nature and often require work in a hospital, within a university setting or medical school, or another healthcare facility. Duties may be related to food service, food science, community and patient education, nutritional analysis and nutrition consultation.
If you are not granted an internship, you do have a few options. A second round of computer matching will take place if there are any unfilled positions after the initial process. In addition, some students choose to retake classes or the GRE before reapplying. Others may choose to start a graduate program before reapplying. Still others choose to continue on with a graduate program or seek employment without plans to reapply. These individuals would then work in the field as Nutritionists.
For aspiring Nutritionists, or those individuals who do not wish to become a Registered Dietitian, but want to work in a nutrition job, it is wise to seek an internship independently regardless of the requirements of your coursework.
Potential employers will consider you more qualified for a nutrition job if you have had some type of supervised, hands-on experience.
Nutrition internships can be paid or unpaid. They can be found in wellness centers, community recreational facilities, government offices, universities, corporations, restaurants and healthcare facilities. Duties may include nutrition consultation, development and implementation of nutrition programming, teaching nutritional classes, marketing, participating in health coalitions and task forces, cooking, food ordering, or menu planning.
Supervised practice work is also required for individuals who wish to become Dietetic Technician, Registered (DTR). While the supervised work of an aspiring DTR is not termed an internship, it is similar in that you will be getting hands-on experience in your field of study. DTRs must complete 450 hours of supervised field work which has been accredited by the CADE. Duties include assisting an RD in day-to-day tasks and may involve work in food service, teaching community classes, nutrition program implementation, and nutritional analysis.