I'm headed into my second semester of my dietetic internship/graduate program, and with 7-8 months to go until I sit for the RD exam, I thought it would be fun to recap how I chose to become a dietitian, and what my experiences have been like thus far - from undergrad until now. There are so many ways to gain the experience you need to secure an internship, and listening to the stories of how people got where they are is my fave, so here's mine.
I graduated high school in 2012 and headed across Missouri for college with the firm intent of getting a degree in marketing. I'd been offered a generous scholarship to Missouri State and loved the campus, so choosing a school was a no-brainer, much like I thought choosing a major would be (WRONG). I moved into my dorm and shared a suite with a theater education major, and two accounting majors. One of us graduated with the degree we declared to begin with, which goes to show that college can reveal tons about oneself and what path you should take. I started my first semester with gen ed classes that would also count towards a business degree (i.e., macroeconomics), so I figured I was covered either way. Except my one business class was SO boring to me. I sat through econ three times per week and wondered if business principles would ever spark my interest (it did not). Towards the end of the semester, I began to think that if one business class hadn't been great for me, the rest wouldn't be either. But I loved my speech class, liked the professors in that department, and promptly switched my major to health communications.
Also during my semester, I started volunteering at The Doula Foundation to make progress on the required volunteer hours for my scholarship. I filed things, set up for baby yoga classes, and organized. I liked feeling helpful, and I liked hearing about mother/baby health, so I stuck around as long as they would let me. One day, the CEO asked me to edit some listings for interns that she wanted to send to local colleges. I marked up them both, handed one back, and held up the other in front of her and told her that instead of publishing it, she should just hire me instead (I will possibly never have more courage than I had at 19). And then things got even crazier, because she said yes. During the spring semester, I returned to the foundation as a communications and marketing intern, helping recruit donors and prepare for events. It was the best. I loved talking to people, building connections, and explaining the importance of solid pre/postnatal care and infant care.
During this same semester, I was dealing with some chronic (possibly food related?) health problems, so I was taking Introduction to Nutrition to get more information for myself, and toying with the idea of declaring a healthcare major. I stayed on the fence, because my professor for that class was hard and didn't mess around (she would later become my favorite professor and kick my butt through MNT I & II). As summer drew closer, I began to consider finding an internship more directly involved in healthcare, and sent out a few applications. I wound up being hired as a research assistant at a children's hospital, and I think this is where my healthcare story really begins.
I essentially spent 3 months on a project overseen by pediatricians, reading background research, doing data collection, and running statistics. I tagged along to rounds and loved every medical word I learned. When I got back to MSU for sophomore year, I declared a major in...nursing.
You totally thought I was going to say dietetics, didn't you? That would have been much more efficient.
So, I met with a nursing advisor. And she kindly and patiently explained the program to me. And I listened and nodded and tried to picture myself doing the things she was describing - but I couldn't, so I made one last trip to meet with a general advisor in the College of Health and Human Services. She was the best, and stayed my advisor from the moment she convinced me to declare a dietetics major, to the moment I was officially accepted into the program and had to switch to a more specific advisor. Frankly, I don't even remember what she said to convince me to make the switch - but Hilary, I am forever indebted to you for having this idea.
My sophomore year remained pretty uneventful as I worked my way through more gen eds and general science to prepare for upper-level nutrition classes. I worked as a tour guide and recruiter for MSU, and found myself surprisingly happy taking classes like chemistry alongside nutrition assessment and anatomy.
The dietetics program director (hi, Carmen) convinced me to sign up for an 8-day Study Away program to Huancayo, Peru and I jetted off immediately after the spring semester ended to take part in that medical mission trip via FIMRC. I plan to write much more about this trip later, but I'll just say - if you have the opportunity to study abroad during college and you have the means, I highly recommend taking that leap. Being immersed in a completely different culture is a kind of education you can't get in a classroom.
I met with our program director when I returned from Peru and she then recommended I get some clinical experience. (Side note: there are 3 basic pillars of dietetics: community, clinical, and management. I've been told it's important to gain experience in all three in undergrad so you're well-rounded when it's time for DICAS.) I applied for jobs at local hospitals both as a food service technician and as a nurse's aide, and was legitimately floored to be hired for the latter (as a non-nursing major, I didn't think I would have a shot).
It may not have been the type of clinical experience I'd envisioned (I was told that any experience in the hospital setting is a good idea, which is why I applied for multiple jobs), but it turned out to be possibly the most valuable job I had in all of undergrad when it came time for my internship. If you're not familiar with who does what in the hospital, I'll be frank and say that the nurse's aides do a lot of literal dirty work. I was given a specific "team" of patients for the day, and essentially was responsible for taking vitals, charting intake/output (yes, that means what you think it means), toileting, hygiene, day-to-day activities, and any other orders in their chart that fell under my job description. I would sometimes also sit with patients that required 1:1 supervision.
I'm not going to lie, this job was really hard. It was physically and mentally demanding, constantly busy, and emotionally draining. I worked on a medical/surgical floor specializing in hospice, and having so many patients pass away weighed heavily on my heart despite the reassuring thoughts that we provided the best care possible in their last days. However, this job was easily one of the best I've ever had. I loved bonding with patients, I loved my coworkers, and I loved the quick pace of the hospital environment. I liked providing some light during difficult times for patients, and I loved caring for people in such a direct way. At this job, I also learned exactly how everybody fits into the medical team, from the nurses to the doctors to the dietitians. I learned how to read charts and write in them correctly, and how a patient's day is scheduled. My brain was exhausted every day when I left my shift from learning so much - and all of that knowledge came in handy during the clinical semester of my internship. After about 10-11 months at the hospital however, working in hospice was starting to get to me, the hospital was switching to 12-hour shifts that didn't work with my class schedule, and I needed community and management nutrition experience. My sweet nurse supervisor completely understood, and I really did shed tears as I turned in my badge at the end of my junior year.
I didn't have a ton of time to recover from my nurse aide job, though, as I immediately moved back to my hometown for the summer to work at a kids cooking camp as a class leader. The camp was affiliated with a grocery store, and my job was to work with a team of other leaders to plan class days (the schedule was set for us, but we picked the recipes out of a handbook, made the lesson plans, and created crafts/activities as well as grocery shopped for supplies). This was a bit of a jarring transition (hospice to community nutrition with kiddos) but it was definitely a change I needed. Plus, since the leaders were in charge of food safety, sanitation, and all of those fun ServSafe topics, this job gave me experience in both community and management nutrition - basically killing two birds with one stone.
When I came back to MSU for my senior year, I decided to lay low and take a job at my apartment building's front desk so that I could focus on classes like MNT and senior seminar. I was also elected secretary of our Student Dietetic Association and took a trip to Nashville for FNCE, so I stayed plenty busy by the time DICAS rolled around.
Honestly, my application and match story was pretty uneventful. I went to one open house and one internship forum after meeting with tons of programs and FNCE and developing a working list. I also sent thank you notes to program directors after each visit, which I think is an extremely important part of making/maintaining a good impression! I ended up submitting four applications at three programs (one required different applications for each specialty track, so I applied to MNT and pediatrics). I actually didn't have any interviews since two programs didn't conduct them, and I wasn't offered one to the one program that did (so basically, I knew I could count that one out even before match day). I'm not sure if not interviewing was a blessing or a curse, since it took away some pressure but also made the waiting period feel super long since I just submitted apps and then sat there for two months.
On match weekend, my parents actually happened to be in my college town for one of my brother's drumline competitions, so they opted to stay an extra day to take my mind off of things on Sunday. We had a pretty low-maintenance time going shopping and out to eat, then browsed books and sipped coffee in Barnes & Noble for a good hour or so while waiting on 6pm to roll around. I had the best intentions to check D&D Digital (the matching service) at exactly 6 pm, but my mom happened to be buying a book and my dad was getting a coffee refill, so I danced around and deep breathed and looked until 6:06, when I checked and found my match to KU! My parents and I hugged and celebrated, then they dropped me off at my apartment to enjoy a glass of wine with my roommates and headed back home. The rest of my evening was essentially filled with Facebook stalking my classmates to celebrate their results as well, and updating some of my closer friends and family with calls and texts. I also had to call my program director (on her cell phone...which still feels weird) and give her an update, since any second-round match candidates would need her help to get the ball rolling again. I actually kept it fairly together until emailing my favorite professor (also an alumna of KU and the reason I applied) and got a sweet response back. The next day, I'm fairly sure nobody got anything done in any of my classes since we were all emotional from the previous day. Thankfully, my professors saw this coming and were patient with us (one even ordered pizza for our entire 12pm class).
After that, it was a pretty short wait until graduation! I returned to cooking camp last summer as a manager before moving for my internship, and just completed my clinical semester. Now, I'm looking forward to starting my rotations in community and management nutrition this spring and graduating my internship around July!
Are you an RD2be? Tell me your road to RD story in the comments below!