The world of nutrition is complex, fun and such an important field. However, the long road of becoming a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN) is difficult and even after acing anatomy, biochemistry and microbiology, there is no guarantee of getting into the internship. Punch in the gut, right? Maybe you are currently an undergrad student thinking about applying to a dietetic internship, or you have recently graduated and have already applied but didn’t match to a dietetic internship. In either scenario, you need a game plan before Match Day in case you don’t match to a dietetic internship. And I am here to help you!
My personal journey of getting accepted into a dietetic internship is extremely long with a few roadblocks along the way. After taking a little longer than I had hoped to graduate from my undergrad in 2013, I applied to the dietetic internship three times before I was (finally) matched to the 2015-2016 ASU Dietetic Internship, my alma mater.
I wanted to write this article for those of you who did not match to a dietetic internship and want to be a better candidate for the next application round. I also wanted to give hope to those who might be discouraged about applying or trying again. Obviously, this article is from my point of view and I absolutely do not know the secret internship formula, nor do I claim to be any kind of expert for match acceptance. I do, however, want to tell you about the path I took, what I saw successful fellow interns do, and what I tell other dietetic students to try.
The problem with the dietetic internship is that so many people apply to so few spots. And don’t forget, you are not just competing against your recently graduated peers, you are also competing against last year’s rejected too, who might have picked up a master’s degree or now have a year of work experience as a full-time Diet Tech at a hospital.
Think about this: you now have plus or minus 10 months/40 weeks/300 days until you once again click submit on your DICAS application. So what are you going to do about it?!
What to do if you Don’t Match to a Dietetic Internship
1) Come Back Bigger, Better, Faster, Stronger
Picture yourself right now in that awkward and nervewracking conference room for your interview, sitting directly across from your potential future Internship Director. They hold up your resume and looking directly into your eyes ask “So insert name here , I see you graduated almost a year ago. What have you done in the past year that makes you a top applicant?”
You can now do one of two things: poop your pants because you have done nothing or you can intelligently collect your thoughts and explain that you have done X, Y, and Z in the last year and hit them with so much relevant experience that they are convinced you are a top applicant match. Just skating by or continuing to do the same thing you did when you were rejected won’t make you a better applicant. Join the Academy’s local state agency, volunteer in a different field than where you work, pick up a Spanish class at the community college. Do something to better yourself!
2) Don’t Burn Bridges
When you first find out you didn’t match to a dietetic internship, you might feel all sorts of emotions, which is ok. You might also feel like you need to email the internship program director and tell them about those emotions. Don’t. And please, don’t post an angry rant on Facebook about not matching either. It’s ok to feel those emotions, but as soon as you make those feelings public, you close many doors that might have been open and waiting for you in the future. I know of a few interns who were called by the internship program director a few days after match day offering them a spot in the internship. If you send an angry email to the director, you probably won’t get the call offering you an open spot no matter how high you were on the runner-up list.
As you probably already know, the nutrition community is pretty small and someone always knows someone, who in turn also knows someone. A bad impression or a nasty sent email could haunt you for a really long time! Instead of burning a bridge, build one. Send the program director an email telling them you intend on applying to their program next year and that you are open to suggestions or comments on how to be a stronger applicant next time.
3) Stand Out Amongst the Crowd
Being a Diet Tech at a local hospital or long-term care facility is super important and a great position to have on your resume. But, maybe there are 15 other applicants that are also working as a Diet Tech! This is an extremely likely scenario. Maybe you were a waitress throughout college and you kept your serving gig in order to pay the bills…. I hate to tell ya, so did a few other applicants.
So, What Can You do to Stand Out?
Become a Diet Tech
If you do go the Diet Tech route after you don’t match to a dietetic internship, I have a few tips on how to stand out. The hospital can be overwhelming for people and showing internships that you can handle the chaos from working at a large, level 1 trauma center will make them very confident in your ability to not get overwhelmed during your clinical rotation – which can be very scary if you haven’t worked in a clinical setting.
- (#1): Try to get hired at a large hospital. This will help you not only see different and more complicated cases but it also gives you more exposure with Dietitians at the hospital. The more Dietitians you get to know, the higher the chance that they can help you when applying next year by maybe looking over your resume, writing a recommendation or quizzing you with mock interview questions. Also, be sure to get to know the hospital’s Supervising Dietitian, because they hold the key to a glowing letter of recommendation. The Internship Program Director might even know the Supervising Dietitian at your hospital, but if you don’t make an effort to show them how awesome you are, then look forward to a limp recommendation.
- (#2): Be a Diet Tech at the same hospital the internship sends its interns for their clinical rotation. A few interns from my class were previous Banner Health Diet Techs and they were able to hit the ground running during our 10 week Banner clinical rotation, where as it took me a while to learn Banner’s system and charting software. Another bonus of working at a clinical preceptor site is that you might get some one-on-one time with a current dietetic intern where you can pick their brain about applying to their internship. You can also offer to train the intern on how a Diet Tech performs patient educations, which you can then bring up in your internship interview when asked about your role as a Diet Tech, mentorship/trainings you have done.
Go to Culinary School
Something that I did with my year between graduating and applying to (and being rejected from) the internship was enrolling in a culinary program. Do you know who else from my graduating class did the same thing? No one. Which definitely set me apart from other applicants. If you can’t go to full-on culinary school because of the time commitment or price (totally understandable) there were night classes and certificates available you could earn in one semester.
Remember, a large part of the RD exam is food service and getting a strong culinary background in a professional kitchen could be your golden ticket. You are also going to have a long rotation in food service and this will definitely show that you are comfortable in a commercial kitchen. My food service rotation was 6 weeks and having the culinary background made me that much more comfortable and confident in my abilities as an intern. My culinary program was through the community college and I enrolled in the associate’s degree program. It was extremely affordable and I think everyone should check out what their local community college has to offer! Culinary school bonus: healthy dinner parties anyone?
Get a Master’s Degree
This is my most popular response to people who didn’t match to the internship. Full transparency, I did not take this route but I know a few of my friends who did and they were matched the following year. Even a 9 month master’s program shows the internship that your are academically strong and are wanting to continue your education past undergrad statistics and community nutrition. You could even do your thesis or applied project on something relevant you mention in your internship personal statement. “Not only am I interested in childhood obesity, I conducted a research study on the impact of after school programs and their influence on waistline circumference in middle school students.” Bam, bam, bam! Not only are you saying blank is my passion, you are also hitting them with some serious experience that proves you are passionate about nutrition and they need to give you the RDN credentials so you can continue your awesomeness in saving the world from childhood obesity.
With all of these tips, I hope you feel like you have a game plan! It’s ok if you don’t match to a dietetic internship, but it is entirely up to you where you go from there and how you prepare for your next steps. Feel free to reach out with questions, I would love to hear from you! Michele@champagneandpaperplanes.com