12 Tips For Surviving The Dietetic Internship

All right, baby RD2Be’s. If you’re reading this, chances are you’re either A) freaked out about your impending internship or B) freaked out about your current internship. I feel you, and I am right there with you.

As an introvert and someone who gets exhausted being around people all day, the internship has been a unique … challenge. But I will say this – I have gained a lot of really valuable traits during this experience, like standing up for myself, being flexible, and learning to be confident in what I do know (which isn’t everything, and that’s okay).

But thinking back to how horrible some of my early days of the internship were, I feel like there were a lot of things I could have done to make it a little easier on myself. It may feel like you are at the mercy of other people’s schedules and unique weird rules when you’re an intern, but you have a lot of control over your own experience! Here are some things I’ve learned so far that are helping me end this thing on a slightly chiller, slightly more relaxed (but still stressed and tired, let’s be real) note.

1. Know that the first day of a new rotation will be hard.

I kept having breakdowns on the first day or two (or three, or four) of each new rotation because I would get so overwhelmed with having to deal with another new driving route, another new preceptor, and another new set of rules and expectations. Finally it clicked – this will always be hard. First days just suck even if it’s the best rotation in the world because there is so much to get used to and you don’t really know where you fit in yet. Once I accepted that I will always feel super awkward on my first day, will probably get lost on the drive in, and will need a cute little glass of wine when I get home in the evening, I stopped having breakdowns with every new rotation. I just allowed it to be uncomfortable, and you know what? It actually made me care a little less about the uncomfortable-ness, because I knew to expect it.

2. Bring things from home that are comforting.

You’re going to be in a LOT of new places with a LOT of new people for several, several months. I brought a nice big bag with me to each rotation for my work stuff so I had plenty of room for things that bring me a little bit of comfort when I’m feeling homesick (yes, I feel homesick during an 8 hour work day – really it’s just feeling homesick for some normalcy!). Things like a homemade iced coffee to have after lunch, my favorite essential oil, a photo of my kitties, and a piece of my favorite jewelry (if you use crystals, rose quartz or tourmaline!) helped remind me that I do have a place in the world where I feel like I belong, even if I might be feeling lost and out of place in that moment.

3. Take bathroom breaks to recharge.

This is a trick from my days working jobs that drained the life out of me – take plenty of bathroom breaks! On the first day of a new rotation one of the first questions I ask is “where can I find the restroom?”, so I can immediately gather myself and take a few deep breaths. (Also it’s annoying how frequently a preceptor would ghost me without first telling me where the bathroom was – hello, I’m going to need to pee at some point! So asking right up front avoids this predicament, too.) No one will question you going to the restroom, so this is an ace-in-the-hole solution for when you need to take a two minute time-out to collect yourself and regroup.

4. State your needs and boundaries.

Okay, this is one I continue to get a lot of push back on from interns but, interestingly enough, not from preceptors. STATE YOUR NEEDS, people. As interns we are made to think we have to submit to the will of the situation we’re put in, but as a full-grown adult with health concerns and basic human needs, I’m just not doing that. Sorry not sorry. Examples of how I’ve done this in my internship:

1. I had a rotation in downtown Atlanta and was constantly getting lost and making dangerous driving mistakes (what’s up one-way roads, it’s me Kelli, I drove the wrong way on you a lot and almost died, remember?). As cruel fate would have it, one of my assignments was to deliver meals around the city. I had to be super transparent with my preceptor and told her that I simply didn’t feel safe doing this. She was totally understanding and I had a much needed work-from-home day to catch up on projects instead – win!

2. Another rotation had me scheduled to work 10+ hour days. I stressed about this one for literally weeks and finally just decided to be honest with my preceptor on day one – that I only needed 8 hours per day, and would it bother her if I left after I got my hours in? Again, she was completely fine with this and understood I had assignments and other things to do outside of my day with her.

If you are respectful and honest with people, odds are they will return the favor and help make things a little easier on you. If you’re reading this and thinking “I can’t do that”, please realize that I am terrified of conflict and generally avoid inconveniencing people at all costs and I managed to do those two things above and several others. It may not be easy but YOU DESERVE basic things like time for lunch, a safe environment, and reasonable shifts.

5. Bring things to work on.

Something that always gives me anxiety is not having anything to do. Odds are you will at some point get placed with a preceptor who either does not know what to do with you, is too busy to deal with you, or has super slow days. Always always always have your laptop with you and several things to work on (should be easy, right?) so you are never put in the awkward position of staring at your fingernails for 8 hours. If you are like me and have entrepreneurship dreams, take advantage of downtime and do research, create marketing and business plans, and start building a website/social media page for your future business. And check out Libby Rothschild’s podcast (Dietitian Boss) and Instagram (@libbyrothschild) if you haven’t already!

6. Make friends with at least one other intern and send each other encouraging texts.

It literally makes my day to get a “hello!” text from a fellow intern. It can feel so isolating to be out there by yourself during rotations, but don’t forget you have an entire cohort that is going through the same thing with you! It’s super easy to make friends with your fellow interns because you have such a huge thing in common – working lots really weird, random, exhausting jobs for no money. If you’re feeling lonely, send out a “hope you’re having a great day!” text or better yet, start a group chat with your entire cohort and keep each other motivated and smiling by sharing inspirational quotes, funny memes, and crazy stories =)

7. Know who to vent to.

I feel like a lot of us Type A peeps tend to keep things all bottled up until we’re around our “safe person” and can finally vent. Here’s the thing, though – this internship business is rough, and it’s also really hard to relate to if you haven’t gone through it yourself. Your roommate, significant other, best friend, or parent might not be able to feel much sympathy for you, or on the flip side they may feel too much and make you feel like your situation’s even worse than it really is. My advice? Vent to your fellow interns. They know exactly what you’re going through and feel your pain, and this will also spare your poor significant other or whoever from being the victim of daily rants about things they don’t understand, like being called “dietary” during rounds. This isn’t to say you can’t talk about your internship experience with your family and friends! Just realize that they won’t, and can’t, fully appreciate what you’re going through and that’s okay.

8. Change your clothes when you get home.

This is a trick I learned from my therapist back when I was a veterinary technician – when you get home, change out of your work clothes right away! It helps you transition from work to home and gets rid of any yucky energy from the day. If I’ve had an especially rough day, I’ll even take a shower when I get home to symbolically “rinse the day away”. It’s really important to have somewhat of a life outside of the internship, and this simple exercise helps get your mind away from work and focused on being at home.

9. Fake it til you make it.

I know this advice is so annoying, but hear me out – no one knows that you’re super uncomfortable or nervous or awkward on your first day. Feel free to pretend you’re confident, calm, and collected because no one will know any different! I do this all the time with public speaking. I love doing it, but I also get super nervous and tremble-y right before I give a presentation. I finally just started pretending I was confident and relaxed during presentations, and guess what? My last preceptor gave me feedback on my presentation skills saying how relaxed I was. I was blown away because on the inside, I’m nervous as hell! So fake that confidence friends, and eventually it will become real, I promise.

10. Each rotation is a fresh start.

The one huge upside of starting a new rotation every few weeks is that you get a fresh start each time. Things not going well at your current rotation? Not vibing with your preceptor? Hate everything about it? IT’S TEMPORARY! In just a few weeks you’ll get another shot at getting a rotation you actually enjoy. You’ll also get to try again with practicing being confident, relaxed, and self-assured with each new rotation. After six months, I promise you it gets easier (as long as you have appropriate expectations!) – and remember, this is coming from someone who had literal week-long pouting fests at the beginning of her internship.

11. Remember – you’re doing this for a reason.

Things will get hard. You’re going to have patients who call you names, preceptors who look at you as an inconvenience, and doctors who think dietitians are a joke. Write down why you’re doing this in the first place and keep it in your phone or planner. I don’t known many dietitians or RD2Be’s that don’t have a lot of passion in their hearts for what they do, and this temporary, weird experience is one of the last steps that will allow you to do something truly meaningful with your life. Not too long from now you’ll have that RD after your name, a job that actually pays you, and this whole internship will be a memory.

12. Read The Empath’s Survival Guide

My final piece of advice is to read The Empath’s Survival Guide. You do NOT have to identify as an empath, or a highly sensitive person, or an introvert to get something out of this book. Yes, it gets a little woo-woo, but it also has actual practical advice for how to protect your energy and let other people’s crap roll off you more easily. Highly recommend!

RD2Be’s are some of the strongest, most resilient, most intelligent people out there – yes I’m talking about YOU! You can handle this. Trust me, if I can, you can =P I hope these tips can help ease the experience just a little bit for you, and remember, you’ll have a lot of great experiences too! It’s not all bad – in fact, it’s mostly good ❤

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