The Life of a Dietetic Intern: Clinicals Week 6

Here we are at the end of week 6 of clinical rotations … and I’ll be honest, I’m dragging a little bit! The good thing is I got to do lots of really interesting things this week, so let’s get into it!

Naps – an essential tool in the intern toolbox

My preceptor was out of town for the first part of the week, so on Monday I was with the GI dietitian, on Tuesday I was with the Cardiology dietitian, and on Wednesday I was with the Oncology dietitian. I think my clinical site does things a little differently in that we are placed with one dietitian the entire 8 weeks and are given one acute-care floor that is our own – while I really like this because it lets me do my own thing and have my own set of patients (so cool!), it was also exciting to see other floors and learn more specialized MNT.

So on Monday, after seeing patients on my normal floor, I rounded with the GI dietitian and got to observe her giving nutrition education for a gastrectomy patient … using a translator! It was a learning experience for both of us and something I would without a doubt encounter if I were to enter the clinical nutrition field. I love that my hospital offers translation services in literally every language any time of day or night!

On Tuesday, my fellow intern Amanda and I showed up bright and early at 6 AM to shadow the Cardiology dietitian. We had the opportunity to observe a graft placement for dialysis – after the patient was sewn up, we even got to place our (gloved) hand over the area of the arm where the graft was placed and feel the blood rushing through it. Amazing! This is something the patient can do at home to make sure the graft is still working properly. After that we saw a few cardio patients, watched a heart cath placement, and visited the hospital’s dialysis center.

Just a couple of nerds about to watch a surgery

On Wednesday I rounded with the Oncology dietitian, which was interesting but emotionally taxing. I found out late last week that my case study patient (who was on the oncology floor) received an extremely poor prognosis, so I was still a little tender from hearing that news.

On Thursday, my fellow intern and I created a display for pre- and post-op nutrition. It was a fun creative project that gave us a breather from the stress of clinicals.

NUTRITION!!!!!!!!!

Then Friday came around … and things really kicked into high gear. I usually have 4-5 patients, 6 on a busy day … on Friday I had 9! This would be a normal patient load at your typical hospital (my hospital is huge and therefor the RDs tend to have more patients), so I really got to test my abilities. It was definitely stressful but I actually finished early!

Adding to my stress this week was the knowledge that I’d be reviewing my big case study project next week with my preceptor and the clinical nutrition manager. Of course I’m way overthinking the entire project and really getting in my own head about it … the good thing is that I know I work well under pressure, so if I don’t have it done early (which I probably won’t), I know I’ll knock it out the night before. This might sound a little reckless or irresponsible, but after four attempts at college (and three of those unsuccessful) I know myself pretty well. I usually do my best work under pressure and I’ve never missed a deadline, so I just have to trust that I will get it done.

Reading about nutrition therapy for partial bowel obstructions and drinking cider – jealous???

What’s been saving me from having a full mental breakdown this week has been climbing … again, I urge you not to give up the things that keep you sane during your internship. I know that dedicating 2-3 nights per week to climbing means I have less time to work on projects, but I’m not willing to give it up because it’s the main thing I do to take care of my mental health (other than therapy, of course). Plus it keep me physically strong too!

Jumping for the top is still scary and that’s why I love it!!!

Lessons learned this week:

  • Saying “I’m gonna really buckle down and finish this project today” does not mean it will magically get done … unfortunately.
  • It’s really, really rare that you will fail out of a dietetic internship. If you do your best and ask for help when you need it you’ll be just fine.
  • Most of us are Type A’s and that can be a gift, but it can also be a hindrance. Some things just need to be done and won’t be 100% perfect, and that’s okay.
  • If you’re married or living with a significant other, sorry, but they will not understand the stress you’re under if they are not a dietitian or dietetic intern themselves. Stop trying to make them understand it and just ask for what you need (like a pizza, or a hug, or a sympathetic ear).

See you next week RD2Be’s! Let me know if there’s anything specific you want to know, and questions you have, or any advice you want to offer! Soon I’ll start to do special posts like resources I use for clinical rotations. Anything else you want to see? Let me know!

The Life of a Dietetic Intern: Clinicals Week 5

Well friends, I am writing this post from my phone, at 10 pm, about a week late, and with a cider in my hand. Week 5 was an absolute blur and rather than give you a recap of what I did, I’d like to have a little heart to heart with my fellow RD2Be’s.

I feel like my internship is going really well. I’m learning a lot and, although we all love to complain about working for no pay, I’m really seeing the immense value of this internship. I can’t imagine jumping into the world of dietetics on my own without having had this experience first.

That being said, I am exhausted. I’m just not someone who does their best work in a typical 8 hour per day, five days per week gig. I think a lot of people struggle with a 40+ hour work week but feel like they should suck it up because “everyone else does it”. I think that’s absolute bull, which is one of the reasons why I want to work for myself.

Here’s the thing though, the dietetic internship is a 40+ hour per week deal, without counting all the extra projects and quizzes and modules to be completed after the work day is done and my brain is mush. I’m still trying to figure out how to manage this demanding schedule without slowly running out of steam. I’m also trying to figure out how to show up 100% for my patients when I’m so drained. It doesn’t feel fair to walk into someone’s hospital room as a limp noodle of an intern, so I push myself to really be present for my patients even on my worst days … but end up feeling even more exhausted because of it.

Again, I think this whole experience is important and crucial for us RD2Be’s … but it also feels like we’re expected to forget about being a human for 10 months and become an intern machine. That’s not to say everyone in my internship experience so far has been anything but amazing and kind. Y’all, I’m just so tired and it’s only week 6 😆

Now I don’t want you to think I’m miserable – I just want to be honest, because that’s the whole reason I wanted to share these posts with you all. I want to show that the internship isn’t as awful as everyone says it is, but I also don’t want you to think I’m some lunatic who has a smile plastered on her face 24/7. I’m struggling a little, and that’s okay.

A deal I try to make with myself is that I’m allowed to feel negative emotions, be bummed, and complain a little, but I also need to come up with some solutions at some point. SO, my game plan for now is to continue my nonnegotiable self care (climbing at least 2x a week) and be better about meditating. Also maybe wash my hair sometime soon. I know as long as I make my mental health my top priority I’ll at least stay somewhat sane!

Until next week sweet RD2Be’s 💛

The Life of a Dietetic Intern: Clinicals Week 4

I CANNOT believe I have just completed my first month of my dietetic internship! I’m a pretty adaptable person (just give me a few days and I’ll get used to most things), so I have to keep reminding myself that I am so fortunate to be having this experience and how hard I’ve worked to be here. This is my last stop on the train to becoming a dietitian (well there’s that whole RD exam thing but we’ll think about that later) and I’m just so grateful for not only where I am, but where I’m going.

Okay, let’s get into this week!

Monday was another didactic day – this time we went to Emory and took a Diabetes Education Course for professionals. It was super informative and really brought everything together that we learned about diabetes in undergrad. And while that was great, probably the best part of the day was visiting The Municipal Market and eating the most delicious arepas!!!

After lunch it was back to Emory where we got to test our 2-hr post-prandial blood sugar! This was my first time using a blood glucose monitor on myself and while I’m totally comfortable with needles, the thought of pricking my own finger made me a liiiitle bit sweaty. I’m glad I did it though, because like every dietetic student/intern I have convinced myself that I’ve developed diabetes or hypoglycemia … and of course my blood sugar was completely normal.

The rest of the week was a blur, but in the best possible way because so much happened. I finished up the malnutrition week projects I started last week and was so pleased with how the trivia game I made came out! Of course the entire hospital is crazy busy right now so we really haven’t gotten to use them yet, but they’re a resource that will be available going forward which is really cool.

I got thrown a few situations this week that required not only clinical skills, but major interpersonal skills. There are so many moving parts in a hospital that sometimes things get overlooked, misinterpreted, or just plain confusing. I got to make sure a patient on contact precautions (you need a gown, gloves, and a mask to go into the room) got her food order taken; I also had to speak with a resident and RN about some confusing tube feeding orders. Learning how to navigate weird situations without insulting people or assigning blame is such an important skill; I started developing it when I was a vet tech, but working in a huge hospital with a zillion people provides many, many more opportunities to exercise tact and efficiency.

I also finally found my case study patient! As part of our internship, we are tasked with creating a presentation on an interesting patient for our preceptors, director, and coordinator. I’d like to thank my almost two years of podcasting for numbing me to public speaking because I know I would be freaking out about this otherwise, but I’m actually excited! I really love giving presentations now which I can’t believe I’m saying – ask me to speak in front of a room full of RDs in my freshman year and I probably would have peed my pants and passed out.

My case study patient’s room was on a different floor than I’m usually on, so not only did I not know where the hell I was in the big maze that is the hospital, but I didn’t know the protocols of that floor. I saw a box of masks hanging outside my patient’s door and I didn’t know if that meant we had to put them on before we went into the room. No big deal though, right? I just walked up to the nurse’s station and said “Hey there, I’m not usually on this floor, do we need to put on a mask before entering the rooms?” The nurse was happy to help and probably used to interns and residents not knowing what the hell is going on (she said no, by the way, I only needed a mask if I was sick). Once I was done talking to my amazing patient, I had no idea how to get back to the nutrition offices. Again, no big deal – I just found my way to the front desk and asked for help.

This kind of stuff would have mortified me in the past because I used to be so afraid of looking stupid. I thought I should know everything and that asking for help made me look dumb. Not true! If you ask nicely and act confident, people don’t mind helping you and don’t think you’re stupid for not knowing something. And here’s the thing – you actually will look stupid wandering around aimlessly or walking into a room in a full mask and gown when it isn’t necessary. Ask for help!

My faithful study buddy

One really exciting thing that happened this week is that I got the opportunity to record a voice-over for one of the hospital’s CBLs (computer based learning)! The Clinical Nutrition Manager knows I have a podcast and thought it would be a perfect special project for me to do (plus no one else wants to do it, because who wants to listen to their own voice on a recording – it’s cringey). This is why you shouldn’t be afraid to self-promote, because I’m sure I never would have gotten this opportunity if I hadn’t mentioned my side-hustles to my preceptor.

Lessons learned this week:

  • If you really have no clue, ask for help!
  • Act like you belong where you are – you’re still learning, but you’ve earned your spot.
  • Take every opportunity, even if it’s a little scary.
  • …but that being said, don’t overload your plate. It’s hard to do your best work when you’re drowning.
  • Be honest – don’t pretend you understand something if you don’t.
  • Be thankful – your preceptors are going way out of their way to help you, so let them know you appreciate their hard work!

And that’s the first month of my dietetic internship in clinicals! Four more weeks at my current hospital and then it’s on to my clinical concentration rotation. Until next week!

We were cracking up at this guy who got caught in our group selfie and smiled with us XD

The Life of a Dietetic Intern: Clinicals Week 3

Another week of clinicals in the books! Everyone said it would fly by and they were 100% right. I can’t believe Monday starts my fourth week of the internship. I’m really soaking in the experience but I won’t lie, I’m also excited that it’s going by so quickly!

Another week, another seventeen trips to Starbucks

On Monday, my fellow interns and I returned to The Atlanta Community Food Bank to learn how to give cooking demos. At the end, we got into groups and were given a mystery ingredient and scenario that we had to use to create our own cooking demos. Our group made chicken salad using our secret ingredient, apples.

Tuesday it was back to work at the hospital. This was honestly a big day for me because I had the opportunity to speak with a young woman struggling with some major health issues that were just starting to develop. I was able to practice some weight-neutral approaches to healthy eating for the first time in real life … I left my patient’s room after our talk feeling so sure that I am in the right place, and so grateful that I’ve found my purpose. I really love helping people in an individualized way, and everything just clicked for me today.

There is something that became glaringly obvious to me though that I want to be transparent about. I have never been overweight. I thought I was overweight in my early twenties, hence the eating disorders, but I never truly had to move through life in a larger body and experience the adversity that accompanies that. I left the room feeling like I had made an impact, but also wondering if I should have addressed the fact that I am a thin person talking about accepting your body as it is and that I can never truly know her struggle. It’s an area I’m excited to delve deeper into and learn as much as I can about.

Wednesday was a busy day full of learning – we had a lunch and learn at the hospital about enteral nutrition and fiber followed by a GADA (Greater Atlanta Dietetic Association) professional development meeting with some of my fellow interns that evening. We listened to a fascinating presentation on the potential benefits of using the ketogenic diet with oncology patients, a topic we’ve discussed on the podcast before. I know you’re rolling your eyes even at the mention of keto, but it’s a therapeutic diet y’all! Someday I’d love to really dig into the science and learn more about its potential.

Future RDs!

Thursday was when things really started to get crazy – I think I had 6 patients (the most I’ve ever had) and all the RDs were slammed. On top of the mounting list of consults, myself and another RD were scrambling to get our materials finished for malnutrition week (September 23-27, mark your calendars!). We made a deck of cards for the nurses with malnutrition trivia questions on them, along with a “Faces of Malnutrition” deck with case studies detailing different types of patients you might see with this condition in the hospital.

So much cutting out squares

Oh, and no big deal, but I did my first bolus feed calculation of the internship (and second ever shh) and got it right! When my preceptor asked me if I wanted to try it on my own I hesitated, but the other RDs cheered me on and gave me little hints to help me along the way.

Went with 5 cans, should have gone with 4 … ended up changing the order on Friday due to intolerance =P

I also got to have lots of interaction with other parts of the care team this week, like the care coordinator and RNs. The people on my floor are all so lovely and fun to work with. Oh, and of course a week in clinicals would not be complete without me getting stuck in an elevator … this is seriously on my (long) list of biggest fears, so at least I’m getting LOTS of exposure therapy?

Me hoping the elevator starts moving again and glad I have lots of snacks

And just like that, it was Friday again. It may have been even crazier than Thursday but what really warmed my heart was that two of my patients ask for my card because they wanted to work with me after they went home. Obviously I told them I was still an intern and can’t take patients on my own, but that just really made my day. It was a little sign that I’m at least doing something right and maybe even getting through to people!

I also had my first angry patient on Friday – y’all, I was actually excited about it because I got to test out my plan for dealing with situations like this. I let my patient yell at me and complain and didn’t interrupt him … and then when he was done, I told him I was sorry and that the whole situation sounded so frustrating. He yelled some more, I continued showing empathy, and then just as I hoped, he calmed down, apologized for his behavior, and let me talk to him about his diet. I know when I’m upset I just want someone to listen to me and not tell me that I’m wrong for feeling how I feel – this patient was no different. I know tough situations like this won’t always go as I plan, but it was nice to successfully navigate my way through a difficult patient interaction.

Oh and how could I forget, there was cake on Friday. Cake that we ate twice throughout the day, because dietitians love sweets just as much as everyone else 😉

Lessons Learned This Week:

  • You know more than you think you do – just try before you assume you don’t know what to do.
  • Be open to not being perfect. My mantra of this internship is “I’m learning”, and I am continually reminding myself that I won’t always know exactly what to say or how to act.
  • Be truly interested in each patient. When people feel that they matter to you, they tend to listen.
  • Eat. It can get really hectic in a clinical setting, but if you don’t pause to eat, you’ll make mistakes. Duh, right?

I also wanted to point out that I have a new article up on my main website all about vitamins! I tried to write this article for everyone – it’s easy to understand but gives a little bit of the deeper science too for you nerds. I like to use it as my own personal cheat sheet when I can’t remember what a certain vitamin does or how deficiencies manifest.

Until next week, friends!

The Life of a Dietetic Intern: Clinicals Week 2

Another week in paradise! If you’re an RD2Be and terrified of the internship, please don’t be – it’s exciting and you learn so many new skills. As you’ll hear one million more times from everyone who’s been through the internship, just keep an open mind and be flexible!

Week 2 of my clinical rotations started with this beautiful sunset! This week went by so fast (they said it would fly by, and it is!), but overall it was great. I saw so many different kinds of patients with lots of different conditions – diverticulosis, heart disease, renal disease, Crohn’s, and of course countless inadequate oral intake patients. One thing that’s really nice about this hospital (and I’m assuming most others) is that the electronic medical records have a template all set up for the dietitians that calculates BMI, prefills their anthropometrics, and gives you a list of diagnoses. This makes everything go so much faster when I’m typing up records.

As I’m typing up my records, I write down an identical copy in a notebook (I de-identify the patient, of course). This way I have a record of everyone I’ve seen, the language I used on different diagnoses and interventions, and a reference for how to treat common conditions.

I know bringing all of my books to my rotation might make me “look like a loser”, but the one day I didn’t bring books I realized how much I still need them. Also I really don’t care if I look like a loser anyway =P I don’t bring Krause everyday unless I think I’ll be working on my modules (I have a clinical nutrition pocket guide I bring instead most days). I rely heavily on the Food/Medication Interactions book and the Diagnostic and Laboratory Test Reference book. The medical abbreviation book is also super helpful, but it’s almost too outdated to be relevant.

This was possibly the weirdest sign I’ve seen in a bathroom – WHY would anyone put their hand in the toilet? Well, I can tell you why, because immediately after laughing at this sign my favorite highlighter fell in the toilet.

I take a lot of bathroom breaks during the day – it gives me a chance to close my eyes and do a mini meditation, plus it’s a good opportunity to get up from my desk and stretch my legs. Clinical nutrition is a lot of sitting (reviewing and writing notes) and a lot of standing (rounds), so I try to create moments of movement throughout the day.

This week one of my biggest fears came true – I got stuck in an elevator! Luckily there was a doctor in there with me so I at least pretended not to panic. Fortunately we were only stuck for a minute tops before the elevator let us back out on the same floor. I was late to rounds (still got there before we started though) but at least I made it alive!

One thing I was surprised by this week is how many patients are in the hospital waiting to be transferred to an inpatient psychiatric facility. I’m really sensitive to other people’s emotions, so I made sure to do extra mental preparation before heading up to see these patients. I’ve found that a lot of these patients just need a compassionate ear, so I spent a little extra time in these rooms when I was ale to. When I take the time to really listen to people and show that I care, they’re much more willing to answer my annoying questions about appetite and PO intake =)

And just like that, I was on the couch enjoying my sweet, sweet Friday evening. Even though I love clinical nutrition so far and could see myself working in a hospital one day, I also began to remember why I love working for myself this week. I’m a great employee, but I crave the freedom and independence of self-employment. I got really motivated to continue dedicating time to my podcast, create this new website, and writing new articles on my main website. I want to do everything I can to build a solid foundation for a private practice while I’m within the safety of my internship, so that if I do decide I want to jump right into it after I get my credentials, I can!

Lessons learned this week:

  • Don’t forget about your end goals. Soak up all the experiences you can, but if you have a passion, keep working on that too.
  • Be a “go-getter”. Take initiative and get things done in a timely manner.
  • WRITE EVERYTHING DOWN. I sat next to a very experienced RD one day this past week who kept leaning over to drop major knowledge bombs. I wrote down everything she said because my brain is full of too much right now to remember, well, anything.
  • Take the weekends off – well, as much as you can. I have decided to spend Saturday on my modules and personal projects, but Sunday is all for self-care.

Until next week!

The Life of a Dietetic Intern: Clinicals Week 1

Tuesday

Well, here we are, the very first day of my rotations as a dietetic intern, and in clinicals to boot. I woke up Tuesday morning (Monday was labor day so we had the day off) feeling all the feels. I was a tiny bit nervous, but mostly excited and actually feeling pretty confident! I’ve worked in a clinical environment before (with animals instead of people but, same idea right?) so I was excited to get back into it.

I drove up to the hospital and found the employee parking garage (the largest one I think I’ve ever seen), drove around for five minutes and finally found a place to park. I then realized I had NO idea where I was or how to get to the employee entrance. I called my preceptor and she kindly came and found me and brought me inside, reassuring me that this happened to everyone.

Once we found our way to food and nutrition services, I was walked through an orientation for the hospital and then we went on a tour and got my badge. I officially have no idea where to get anywhere in that building and I don’t know if I ever will, but it’s an impressive facility! Everyone was very nice and luckily I’d met many of the dietitians during my visit the previous week.

After the tour I was given a display project to do – cue my spiral into anxiety. I was feeling like a deer in headlights after getting lost, orientation, the tour, and meeting everyone, and now I was supposed to be creative? I’ll be honest, I kind of started to panic. I kept repeating over and over in my brain “WHY ARE YOU DOING THIS THIS WAS A HUGE MISTAKE GO HOME GO HOME GO HOME!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!” … and I share this because I want you to know that if you have the same thoughts, you aren’t alone. I muscled through the project (they needed it done that day so we could display it the next morning – ah!) and then like a gift from heaven, a freaking therapy dog pranced into the office.

My new best friend (and some of the RDs) – can you tell how happy I am?

This little pupper felt like a reward from the universe for not grabbing my bag and running out of that hospital as fast I could. We snuggled and got kissies, and he seriously sucked the negativity and fear right out of me. After that I felt so much more at ease and then just like that, it was time to go home (at 3pm! Woohoo!).

I drove through Dunkin Donuts on the way home and treated myself to a coffee and a pumpkin muffin. Once at home, I finished up some work on the handouts that go along with the presentation I did, diffused some calming essential oils, talked on the phone for an hour with my lab partner for life and fellow intern Jenn, and pet my cats. Self care, y’all! It was a whirlwind of a day, but I was excited to start seeing patients the next morning.

I made it through day 1! (just barely)

Wednesday

Wednesday was my first day waking up super early – I promptly discovered I’d try to have to get to sleep before midnight in the future. Once I got to the hospital and found a parking spot, I was actually able to find my own way to food and nutrition services and only got lost twice! I thought it would take me at least a week to be able to do this.

Once I got settled I made my way to the cafeteria to put up my Nutrition Corner display. The RDs were all so nice and gave me compliments on how it looked, which was definitely a confidence boost I was needing that morning. My preceptor had some stuff of her own to do after that so I spent some time working on my next module. After that we walked through how to use the electronic medical record software (it’s confusing, but like everything else I know I’ll get used to it) and then it was time for my first ever rounds!

My little project on cholesterol awareness month

Now, these rounds were not on the floor I’m going to be covering – they were in the ICU (or “the unit). Even though I’m not doing intensive care right now, I opted to tag along with my preceptor just to get an idea of how rounds go. To be honest I felt like I had been transported into an episode of Scrubs, only I had zero idea what anyone was talking about. My preceptor kept reminding me not to get to overwhelmed with this stuff because it wasn’t my current focus.

After almost two hours of rounds, we had lunch and then began going over the patient I was going to see that day. My FIRST EVER PATIENT. I was super nervous to go up to see her and my preceptor offered to let me shadow her, but I knew this was the time to push myself so I decided to take the lead. Once we got into the room, we quickly realized the patient was (very) elderly and (very) not in the mood for anyone’s BS. I asked her how she was doing and she opened her eyes, said “NOT GOOD”, and turned away. I was not prepared for this response and just turned to my preceptor with a “help me!” face. She graciously took the lead and got some information from the patient’s son who was also in the room visiting.

After filling out my patient’s chart, we took yet another tour of the hospital and I felt 1% more confident in my ability to find different floors. I feel like my brain was just in survival mode all day and I was having trouble thinking critically. I pride myself on being able to think on my feet, so this was kind of a blow to my ego. Lessons learned today – give some sort of answer even if I don’t know what to say. It’s better to try and be wrong than to say silent!

Thursday

I was feeling much more confident by Thursday, thank goodness! It felt like I was starting to get my bearings a little bit and I felt much more comfortable. I started the day by going over the patients I would be in charge of – I read through their charts and calculated needs. Then for the patient I would be interviewing, I wrote down some questions I thought would be good to ask – any nausea or vomiting? How has your appetite been today? What about before you got here? Honestly a lot of these questions were already answered in the chart, but sometimes it’s good to ask again anyway.

Then I finally got to do rounds for the main floor I’ll be seeing patents on in acute care. I was so relieved to find out that I understood almost everything they were saying, as opposed to understanding almost NOTHING during rounds in critical care on Wednesday. Two patients ended up asking to see the RD during rounds, so we added them to our list to talk to that afternoon.

Next was lunch, but first I took a bathroom break to meditate for 30 seconds (and also pee, duh). I wasn’t feeling overwhelmed or anxious, but it’s good to practice self care even when you’re feeling good so that you STAY feeling good.

After lunch I read up on the charts for the two patients who had requested to see us before trucking back upstairs with my preceptor to talk to the patients. I was feeling way, way more confident than yesterday – I had a plan for what questions I would ask, plus I had some great educational materials printed out for a woman who wanted to talk to us about her GI issues. I only got to talk to that one woman (the other patients were busy or already discharged), but she was super eager to learn and it went great! I honestly wasn’t nervous at all – it helped that I had already met her in rounds and that she truly wanted to see us.

Me after successfully giving nutrition education!

Afterwards my preceptor gave me some input as far as what I can improve on (mostly just remembering to introduce myself and identify the patient when I walk in, even if I’ve seen her before) and then I finished my records. Since I was feeling more comfortable and my brain was out of survival mode, I made sure to ask my preceptor if she had any additional input or suggestions for me from that day and thanked her for taking the time to help me. Then, I went home!

I’m really surprised and so grateful at how quickly I’m getting used to this rotation, especially considering the sheer panic I experienced on my first day. I’m going to try to remember this for my future rotations, so hopefully my next several “first days” will be more bearable!

Friday

Friday was another big day because I went to rounds by myself. This felt like a huge step and apparently it was – just jumping in and trying things is the theme of this rotation for me so far! My preceptor was on the same floor most of the time charting, but I went into the rooms by myself with the rest of the care team and made notes as appropriate. I also made friends with the Care Coordinator on my floor while we waited for rounds to start – striking up conversations with strangers is not in my comfort zone whatsoever, but she was super nice and was new to the hospital too!

Even away from my desk I manage to use 15 different resources

After lunch I typed up my records and reviewed some stuff with my preceptor before we headed outside to have our weekly check-in. We went over my goals and expectations for this rotation and discussed my strengths and weaknesses of the week. It was really nice to have this check-in and I’d highly recommend asking to do these with your preceptor if they don’t already. It’s great to find out how you’re doing and express any questions or concerns you’re having.

If you had told me on Tuesday that I would be feeling this confident by the end of the week, I would have laughed in your face. But it’s true! I think focusing on self-care every single day, even at work, was huge for me. Also having check-ins with my fellow interns and friends from undergrad helped me feel like I’m not alone (because I’m not!).

Lessons from this week

  • When asked for your opinion or input, say something. Even if you think it might be wrong, it’s better to offer some input than just shrugging your shoulders
  • Stretch yourself. My preceptor is great and always gives me options – watch her shadow or take the lead, go to rounds together or by myself … I always try to take the scarier option because the internship is all about learning and growing. Not to say do something before you have any clue what to do, but push yourself when you feel it’s appropriate.
  • Everything is temporary – including discomfort, fear, feeling out of place, not knowing what to do, and being totally lost.
  • Take care of yourself!

Until next week!

The Life of a Dietetic Intern: Orientation Week 2

This week was crazy y’all … lots of emotions, lots of knowledge, lots of wine. Let’s get into it!

My little intestine badge reel!

Week two consisted of our second and last week of orientation before heading out on rotations (!!!).

Much of the first couple of days consisted of a refresher on malnutrition and nutrition focused physical exams, and then, we actually had to practice a nutrition focused physical exam. Life University has mock exam rooms for the chiropractic students, so we paired up and took turns practicing an exam on one another.

My good friend Allie and I paired up and I volunteered to be the clinician first, while she played the patient. I was a veterinary tech for several years so I figured, hey, I’ve done this a million times on animals, what’s the difference?

BIG DIFFERENCE. I literally froze and my mind went blank after I stepped into the room. This has never happened to me before – I’m usually really good under pressure but I freaked out! I am so so so grateful that our director and coordinator had us go through this exercise, because none of us had ever done an NFPE before and it was so intimidating! It was nice to have room to make mistakes and figure things out before actually walking into a real exam room in a real hospital. After letting us stumble a little, our director and coordinator demonstrated what an NFPE should look like and how to help the patient be comfortable with us as clinicians.

Later that same day we got to practice motivational interviewing on each other and this shook me up as well! Again, an area where I felt pretty confident – I’ve been in therapy forever, so I felt like I knew all the tricks. My friend Jessi and I practiced on each other since we’re both interested in eating disorders. She played a 17 year old girl with anorexia, and I quickly confirmed that working with teens may not be my area of expertise =D It was a great exercise though, and something I wish we could have done more of!

After our MI workshop, myself and three other interns went to meet with the dietitians with whom we will be completing our clinical rotations. We decided to carpool, which was a great opportunity to get to know one another and make sure we didn’t get lost. We were all super nervous walking in, but as soon as we got there we were welcomed with open arms. They were excited to meet us and just wanted to get to know us before we started rotations. This hospital will be my first rotation, and I honestly could see myself working there in the future. Don’t forget y’all, each rotation is basically a huge job interview! Several of the RDs working there were former interns. No pressure, right?

We earned these coffees

Wednesday was fun because we got to get out of the classroom and visit the Atlanta Community Food Bank! Four of us carpooled so we didn’t have to fight Atlanta traffic alone, and since we had some extra time we stopped at a hole-in-the-wall coffee place in the basement of some office building on the way.

Now, the Atlanta Community Food Bank is seriously impressive and does great things for our city. I’ve been there a few times before and have volunteered with their grower’s market. When we got there, we were given a quick tour before participating in a “community nutrition experience”. We were all given a role to play – most people were community members, while myself and a few others sat at stations set up to represent SNAP, WIC, a grocery store, etc (I love being in charge of stuff so I almost jumped out of my seat when she asked for volunteers =D ). It was a huge eye-opener to see how much work it is just to obtain and maintain these kinds of benefits.

Thursday was a full day starting off with a HIPAA quiz, which thankfully was pretty straightforward. After that we had a presentation that I absolutely loved on how to take care of yourself during the internship! We all talked about our fears, how we practice self-care personally already, and techniques we can use to cope with a stressful schedule. I’m so thankful our program thought to do this with us because self-care is so important! It also helped me get to know my fellow interns even better and showed us that we all share very similar fears.

Not a fan of cafe mocha Jevity

Next we had a fascinating presentation on renal nutrition and got to taste some different formulas! Our awesome presenter gave us a huge stack of handouts and reference materials (the way to any intern’s heart) and was super knowledgeable. After that, it was time to go home and start working on my general med module for rotations the following week. This was definitely the longest, most tiring day for me so far, but part of that was due to some personal stuff that was going on behind the scenes (more on that later).

Researching common medications and their nutritional implications

Friday was an exciting day because we were going to receive our embroidered white coats! But first, we had to get through a presentation on enteral feeding. I forgot how much I love calculations and could definitely see myself doing this kind of work for at least a year or two. Our presenter video conferenced in from Florida and was amazing – check out her YouTube channel HERE! After that it was on to ethics training and finally, we got our coats!

We were all so excited and finally felt like official interns. After a ridiculously extensive photo shoot, we decided to go out for margaritas and get to know each other before heading out into rotations. We had such a good time that we decided we should schedule regular get-togethers throughout our internship. I think we all feel that we got lucky with our group and everyone really just clicks.

A few interns short but we had a great time!

I wasn’t sure if I was going to include this next part, but I know a lot of former interns who have gone through a similar situation so I think it would be helpful. For the past two weeks, on top of the stress of starting the internship, my husband and I have been frantically moving out of our house and in with my in-laws. We are so lucky to even have this option and will be saving so much money by doing this, but there were definitely some complex emotions involved. I’m a very independent person, and accepting help like this (especially when I’m married and almost 30) was difficult. This morning I went over to clean and pick up the last of our things, and it was … hard. This was our first house and felt like a huge step for us as a little family. Although it wasn’t the greatest place to live (mold issues, bugs, weird drippy walls), it was our home for three and a half years and we really loved it there.

I tried to remind myself of all the good reasons why we were moving out of that house, and told myself that the new family that was moving in would make lots of happy memories there. But I also let myself cry and be sad. It feels like everything in my life changed all at once in the last few weeks … because it did. And that’s going to take some adjustment. So for the many of you who have or may have to do the same thing during your own internship, remember why you’re doing it and that it’s only temporary … but give yourself some room to be upset too.

Our “inter” group chat XD

Well that’s it for week two! Next week … CLINICAL ROTATIONS START. I am so so so so excited and a little bit nervous. But mostly excited. Let me tell you, doing homework has a whole new meaning when you know you’re going to be walking into a hospital and using that information in a few days. Until next week!



The Life of a Dietetic Intern: Orientation Week 1

In undergrad, I consumed every bit of information I could find about the dietetic internship, and I STILL felt like I had no idea what to expect. Part of this is because every internship program is so different, and everyone’s experience is different. Another part of it is that all anyone talks about are their clinical rotations – what about food service? Community? Orientation? Projects? Homework? AHH!

I’m going to do my best to share with you the ins and outs of the dietetic internship, because the more you know, they more prepared you’ll be. Again, every program is different, and there are some things I can’t share (HIPAA, you know the drill). But here’s my experience – feel free to share yours too in the comments below, or ask any questions you have!

My “derp I’m really doing this now” face

Orientation

If you’re in school and/or applying to the internship right now, here’s something to hold on to – the morning of the first day of my internship was MAGICAL. Getting ready and putting on my professional clothes, getting into the car with my professional work bag (no more backpacks for me!), walking into the building knowing that I had earned that degree … it all felt so good. Also surreal, because I had been working towards this moment for four years and here it was. I had made it, and I could relax just a little bit.

I knew the first few weeks would be didactic (y’all, that means classroom time – I still didn’t know this until the director told us on day one), so I was prepared for powerpoints and lectures. Unfortunately, I was not prepared enough – this was not like school. Mostly because we were in class ALL DAY – 9am to 3pm on our butts in the dark. Luckily some of the presentations were more interactive, and next week we’ll have some hands-on learning.

Day 1 with our fearless leaders

As an intern, you’re kind of in this weird limbo between a student and a professional – you know a lot, but you also don’t know a lot. That meant we were thrown a ton of information that was also pretty technical, because we’re past the plain-language stuff at this point. Lots of abbreviations, medical terminology, and recalling “basic” info we learned over the past several years. It took all of us a minute to get back into the swing of things, but the knowledge was still in there underneath the foggy summer brain.

Throughout the week we refreshed on the nutrition care process, food service management, oncology, cardiology, motivational interviewing, HIPAA, professionalism, school nutrition … and I’m probably forgetting some others! It was an onslaught of information. We also learned what will be expected of us as far as homework and projects throughout the internship – here’s an idea of what you might be expected to do outside of rotations:

  • A case study project and presentation
  • A social marketing campaign (cool right?)
  • Practice exams for each of the three domains (clinical, community, food service)
  • Several modules for clinical covering general med, critical care, cardiology, endocrinology, oncology, etc.
  • A clinical quiz
  • A giant food service module with calculations galore
  • A food service quiz
  • Plus the various projects assigned by each rotation, especially in community

I started to see why they suggest we don’t work during the internship – you’re basically a full-time employee and a full-time student.

My lunch on Tuesday was so pathetic it made me giggle hysterically

I was put into the delightful position of having to move out of my house in the two weeks leading up to the start of my internship, so my meal prep game wasn’t at the level it normally is (which is not that great anyway, let’s be honest), so I ended up throwing whatever was in the fridge into my lunch bag each day. Luckily they fed us a few meals throughout the week, and dietetic interns always have food they want to share! Next week I’ll have to be more on top of my food game … let’s see if that happens …

Thursday was a great day because not only did I find out my first rotation, I got to see some of my favorite people at the Greater Atlanta Dietetic Association social! Some of us from the internship went, along with our director and coordinator. It was a great chance to get to know them and see my friends in other internships throughout the state! I really should have networked more (or at all), but I had so much fun and loved seeing my sweet beautiful friends.

My Nerds For Life from the left: Alicia, me, Allie, and Jenn!

Friday we had a medical terminology quiz, which I studied for for about a week or so. Luckily for me I worked for five years as a veterinary technician at a teaching hospital and know my way around anatomy and medical abbreviations. I think I did pretty well, but keep reminding myself this is not school anymore! No GPA, no letter grades, just pass or fail.

Next week will be more orientation and we’ll also find out the remainder of our schedule for the internship. My first rotation will be in clinical at a hospital, which I’m super excited about! I also found out that my food service rotation will also be in a hospital, which is what I was hoping for!

Right now I have so much swimming around in my head as far as things I need to do and yes, it is extremely overwhelming. This experience is not like any other I’ve had, and I’m still feeling out what’s expected of me and how to navigate my way though it.

I consciously made the decision that I do not want to approach the internship in the same way I approached undergrad. I really put my mental health on the back burner for most of those four years which was a huge mistake. I let my perfectionism and anxiety get way out of control and consume me. Not anymore friend! I meditated each morning when I woke up and then again either when I got home if I was feeling rattled or before bed. I brought calming essential oils with me in my bag to use throughout the day (I was not the only one with this idea – I love RD2Be’s!), made sure I drank enough water and ate enough food, and spent time outside on my breaks. I also started taking a multivitamin (Smarty Pants Women’s Formula, I really like these!) because I know I might not have as much time to prepare and eat fresh food.

So far, so good! I’m excited to see what the next week brings, and then after that, rotations start! I’m pretty nervous but also excited to get started. I’ll fill you in next week!



Writing a Personal Statement

One of the hardest parts of the DICAS application – okay, THE hardest part – is the personal statement. I wasn’t exactly sure what to write at first, and it felt like my story was way too complicated and long to fit into 1000 words. Depending on your writing style, you may have trouble even getting close to 1000 words. Either way, I’m going to help you out with some specific tips on how to write your personal statement! I also included my own statement at the end of the post, because there are so few examples online of a personal statement specific to the dietetics program.

Start Early

Okay, honesty time – I did not start my personal statement early. This is because I know myself pretty well as a writer and I’m not afraid to say that I’m confident in my skills! I’ve been writing for over 20 years. However, I realize that most people are not writing on a regular basis, and they certainly aren’t writing about themselves.

So all that to say, if you’re nervous about your personal statement, start writing it now. I don’t care if you have six months – start now. Carry a tiny notebook with you so you can write things down when inspiration hits. Keep a notebook next to your bed and a notebook next to your shower – I would often have ideas first thing in the morning or while I was shampooing my hair! Write every single idea down, and let things roll around in your head for a while. Then, about three months out from your deadline, really buckle down and begin your brain dumps.

Brain Dump

This is how I begin any writing process – no restrictions, no thinking, just WRITE. I strongly recommend hand writing this portion, but do what feels most natural to you. Don’t let yourself be intimidated by the blank page or screen – if you don’t know what to write, write “I don’t know what to write”, or “I’m afraid I won’t have anything to say”, or “How do I even start?” and go from there. Guess what, no one will EVER see what you write! So go crazy, be honest, and get everything out of you head and onto paper.

Outline

Tear or print out your brain dump and have it close at hand. On a new sheet of paper, begin by writing out general headlines. I found it helpful to use my program’s topics that they wanted me to cover as my headlines, which were:

  • Why do you want to enter the dietetics profession?
  • What are some experiences that have helped to prepare you for your career?
  • What are your short-term and long-term goals?
  • What are your strengths and weaknesses or areas needing improvement?

Most programs will have questions very similar to this, but check your program’s website for specifics. Once I have my headlines written down (you can do one headline per side of paper to give yourself enough room), go through your brain dumps and and notes you took early on and place them where you think they should go. If something can apply to more than one headline, put it in both spots for now.

This will be your master page of notes and ideas you’ve had so far, as well as what you know you need to talk about (your headlines). You can highlight things you think are really important, move stuff around, and come up with an outline that makes sense to you at this stage. Everyone likes to do their outline differently – you can use full sentences, bullet points, whatever. Just create a guide that you’ll use going forward, and remember that IT WILL CHANGE and that’s okay.

Step Away

Time for a break! Once you have your first outline, put everything away and leave it for a few days. Honestly, I gave myself at least a week between each early stage – the brain dump, outline, and first several drafts. It helps to clear your head and gives you time to remember things you may want to include. Every time you come back to it you’ll have fresh eyes and a new perspective.

Rough Draft(s)

You will have many, many drafts of your personal statement. I recommend saving each one as a separate file – there were times when I wanted to go back and use something I had erased only to find out I hadn’t saved it separately. Oops!

I chose to write a first rough draft, then write an entirely new second draft. This allowed me to combine parts that I liked from each of them to come up with a pretty solid third draft. Techniques I used to help everything flow together:

  • I was telling a story, rather than writing an essay. What’s your story? Why are you here, and what are you passionate about?
  • What’s your personal timeline? When did the important parts of your life happen, and how did it influence where you are today? This will help you structure your personal statement in an organized way. If you look at mine below, I started with a present-day intro, then chronologically went through important parts of my life starting from childhood. I think this is a useful technique to help you stay on track and make it sound more like a story.
  • What are some experiences you’ve been a part of that make you an asset to dietetics? You may really need to think outside of the box on this one if you haven’t worked in the medical/nutrition field, or if you don’t have a lot of volunteer experience. Were you a receptionist who had to deal with difficult clients? Do you have a child with food allergies that you had to learn to manage? I’d bet you’ve had plenty of experiences that directly relate to dietetics, even if it isn’t obvious at first.
  • What is your passion? Get down to the root of why you’re in this program. You want to be an RD. Why? Because you want to help people? Why? Let them see what drives you at your core – for me, it’s empowering people who feel unfixable to be their own biggest advocate and expert. That was not obvious to me at first – it took a lot of “why’s” to get to that realization.

Editing

Once you have a rough draft that you feel pretty good about (if you don’t feel pretty good about it, that’s okay too!), find as many people as you can to read and edit it for you. Ask people who are in the field – students, RDs, teachers – as well as people outside of the field like family members and colleagues.

Let me tell you, I am good at taking critiques but these critiques were still challenging for me. This is probably the most personal thing you have ever, and will ever, write. If you get a critique that gets to you, immediately step back and call it a day. I owe much of my final draft to a critique from a family member that I was (initially) pretty affected by. Because this is such a personal subject matter, that might happen. Just step back and come back to it once you’re able to be more objective.

It’s also important to remember that people who have not written a personal statement for a dietetic internship might not know what’s important to have in there. I got a few critiques recommending to remove the section I had written answering “What are your weaknesses or areas needing improvement” because they didn’t think I should be focusing on that stuff. Guess what, it’s required! But what that told me is that there was something about that section that wasn’t working. Instead of removing it, I reworked it and got a much better response.

1000 Words

For many people, the 1000 word limitation is a big challenge – some people go way over, and some are way under. My first full rough draft was almost 2000 words and I didn’t think there was any way I would ever get it down. I felt like every part of my statement was vitally important! Here are some helpful ways to cut words when you’re way over:

  • Look for repeats. I had some sentences that weren’t exactly the same, but communicated the same idea. For instance, a running theme in my statement is personalized nutrition. Much of my initial draft talked a LOT about this, and even though it all felt very important, I had to make the decision to distill it down to one or two sentences.
  • If there is anything that feels even slightly negative, cut it out or reword it. Even your weakness should not feel negative or bring the reader down. If it’s negative and not necessary to the paper, cut it out.
  • Look for extraneous words that aren’t vital to the flow of your sentence. Often times people (me!) use words like “that” and “had” unnecessarily, and it can add up. For instance, “I knew that this was the program for me” sounds nice, but “I knew this was the program for me” means the same thing and eliminates one word.
  • Look for ideas you can combine. I struggled adding my big weakness, anxiety, into my paper organically. I had a section where I discussed intuitive eating, and I realized that practicing intuitive eating helps me alleviate anxiety. This allowed me to work in my few sentences about how I handle my anxiety in a way that flows better, PLUS it allowed me to eliminate a few words by combining ideas!
  • Know where to use words, and where to spare them. Look for the things that are most impactful and memorable in your statement. For me I decided this was my podcast, and my personal experiences with dieting and health problems. I allowed myself to use more words with these topics, and I made the conscious decision to cut back on everything else. Things got left out that I really liked, but my main focuses – podcast and personal health story – got priority.
  • Again … you WILL have to leave things out. At first it might feel impossible, but what I ended up doing was copying my 2000 word personal statement into a new document and cutting it up mercilessly. I knew my longer version was still available if I needed it, and this allowed me to be ruthless with my cuts. I ended up really liking my shorter paper!

My tips for fleshing out a shorter paper:

  • Keep asking “why”. Do you want to help children learn how to form good eating habits early on? Why? Go through every single sentence in your paper and ask why. If there is more to the story, write it down!
  • Be more descriptive. This is a piece of academic writing, but it should be pleasant to read and memorable. Being short on words means you can add some descriptors to make your writing come alive. Change “I was nervous to apply but knew it was what I had to do” to “My hands shook as I slipped the envelope into the slot, but I knew this was the first step on the path to realizing my purpose”. That’s 12 extra words, plus it puts the reader in your shoes and adds emotion to your essay.
  • Don’t hate me for this piece of advice, but start from scratch. Open a blank document and write an entirely new rough draft. It’s okay if it strongly resembles your existing paper – the idea here is to get you to say things differently. As you’re trying to remember what you wrote before, further details about the story or situation may pop into your head that you’ve forgotten. Once you have your fresh rough draft, pull it up side-by-side with your old one and see what you can add!

Multiple Applications, Multiple Statements

If you’re applying to multiple internships, you’ll need to tailor a personal statement to fit each one of them. Go to the open house and take notes on what you like. Read the website and guidebook if provided. Talk to current and past interns. You really need to figure out why you want to go to that program and let them know – and if you want to go there because it’s convenient or cheap, you’re gonna have to find a new reason =D

I’ll be honest, a big part of why I initially wanted to apply to my program was because of convenience. It’s the school I completed my undergrad with, it’s down the street from my house, and I’m comfortable there. However, I knew I needed better reasons than that, so I went to the open house and spoke with the people involved in the internship. I fell in love with the opportunities provided through the program and said so in my essay. Don’t pander, but make sure they feel like you didn’t throw darts at a board.

The Final Draft

Alright, here we are. This is it. You’re about to be done with the hardest part of this whole DICAS process. The first thing to know is that uploading your personal statement to DICAS is not an irreversible action. If you decide you want to change something, you can delete and re-upload anytime you like before you hit submit. That being said, don’t drive yourself crazy making edits.

Once you have your final draft, ask your generous editors if they would mind reading through your statement one last time. Here’s the caveat though – ask only for critiques relating to grammar, spelling, and flow. At this stage, you don’t need any input on the actual content of your paper. You’ve probably been reworking and rewriting this thing for weeks if not months, and you need to be confident in your story. All we need to know now is if there are any glaringly obvious errors.

Once you get your edits back, review them, incorporate them, and upload it. Guess what? YOU’RE DONE.

I’d recommend reading through your uploaded personal statement one final time before you hit the “submit” button, but not before. You need to be done and move on so you can finish the rest of your application and, I don’t know, take a shower? You’ve put in a lot of work on this statement, so let yourself be done.

Below is my own personal statement. Clearly this will only help you so much, as all of our stories are so different. However, I remember desperately looking for examples when I was writing my own, and there are none. If you have any further questions or tips for other RD2Be’s, leave a comment below! Good luck and be confident =)


My Words to Life University – Example Personal Statement for DICAS

Taped to the wall above my desk is a scrap of paper from a fortune cookie – “In a gentle way, you can shake the world.” – Mahatma Gandhi. When I am struggling, I read those familiar words and remember what brought me here.

As a little girl, I suffered from a slew of health problems that became my version of normal. Migraines, depression, abdominal pain, fatigue, and asthma brought me to several doctors, and when I didn’t get better, I began hiding my health problems. These issues followed me like a sneaking shadow through my school years and, eventually, led me to drop out of the Art Institute of Atlanta in my second quarter. I desperately needed help, but I did not know where to go. I felt unfixable.

I stumbled upon the Paleo diet in my quest for answers. I consumed countless books on nutrition and tried every diet I could find to alleviate the pain. Eventually, a stint of the Whole 30 diet triggered a major episode of binge eating disorder that would take years to overcome. A desire to be pain-free quickly spiraled into an obsession with being thin.

While these challenges were difficult to overcome, they left me with a resilience and level of compassion that I would not otherwise have. My frenzied journey through dieting taught me that people will do seemingly illogical things when they are desperate. They may have the best of intentions, but the messaging they are bombarded with via advertisements and self-proclaimed experts sets them up for failure. Eventually, people stop trying because they assume not that the diet is broken, but that they are. I knew that I had to help people who felt unfixable like I had, and I thought I could do it through food.

With this fire inside of me, I started school to become a Registered Dietitian and began finding ways to develop my skills and knowledge outside of the classroom. I began writing articles for a website called Healthroot to spread evidence-based nutrition and hone my writing skills. I developed and taught classes on how to stay healthy after a natural disaster to overcome my fear of public speaking. I educated myself on intuitive eating so that I could help my future clients, and myself, alleviate anxiety around food. Anxiety is something that I put daily effort into managing, but I do not see it as a weakness – it is simply another hill to climb. And I honestly cannot be entirely ungrateful for anxiety. It has forced me to build lifelong habits that will persist even as the worry fades, like practicing daily self-care, exercising, and being kind to myself.

In January of 2018, I started The Nutrition Nerds Podcast with a fellow student that now has over 1,000 weekly downloads. Our goal is to dispel nutrition myths, discuss new research, and promote the field of dietetics. Running this weekly podcast has taught me skills that I can carry into my career. Perhaps one of my biggest lessons has been learning how to distill complicated nutrition science into something understandable and applicable to real life. Covering over 150 different topics in the past 56 episodes has required reading and interpreting scholarly research, applying knowledge I have learned in class, and discerning fact from fiction. Health professionals, students, and the general public all listen together, and that is exactly how we wanted it to be – accessible and interesting to everyone.

Long before starting this podcast and going back to school, I worked as a veterinary technician for five years. Working in that field taught me many things I can carry into dietetics, from medical terminology to writing assessments. However, my most valued skill from that time was learning how to leave difficult, sometimes heartbreaking situations at work. I struggled for many years with how to go home and enjoy my evening after spending hours assisting with a surgery that did not have a happy ending, or how to leave a room after euthanizing someone’s pet without breaking down. Over time, I learned how to protect my heart while remaining compassionate and caring.

I found my work as a veterinary technician extremely rewarding but felt pulled to work directly with people. Food kept coming into the picture as a tool that could have a massive impact, both negatively and positively. When I decided on dietetics, Life University was an institution that resonated with my belief that it is our job to support our bodies, not sabotage them. I found a family of fellow dietetic students and a faculty that I truly respect and admire, and I am excited to further my journey with an internship with Life University. I am particularly interested in the partnership with Walden that pursues the connection between nutrition and mental health. Another exciting prospect is to work with Be Well Nutrition. Valarie Evanoff ‘s career is one that I greatly admire, and her mentorship would be an important stepping stone towards my goal to open my own practice. 

After passing the RD exam, I plan to gain two years of experience in clinical while building my private practice part-time. Long term, I will work as a functional and integrative dietitian specializing in mental health and mind-body wellness. Because I have experienced a wide variety of health issues, and have been on countless diets, I feel that I can be of service to people who feel that they have nothing left to try. I also plan to continue writing and podcasting in order to provide accurate, free nutrition information to the public. Later down the road, I would love to lead a Ted Talk!

In a gentle way, dietitians can shake the world. When we empower people to be their own fiercest advocate and learn what works for them as an individual, we can make big changes. That is why I am here, and that is why I hope to continue my education through Life University’s internship.

DICAS Tips and Tricks

Make sure you grab my free resume template download before you leave!

When I was filling out my DICAS application, I read every blog post and watched every video I could find looking for advice. And while there are a lot of great resources out there, none of them answered all of my questions or provided specific advice. So here are my own tips and tricks that I used while filling out DICAS in Spring of 2019. I hope it is helpful to you!

Still Far Out From the Application Process?

Great! You can start getting prepared now. The sooner you have this stuff in the back of your mind, the better! Helpful things that will set you up for success if you’re not ready to apply yet:

  • Every time you volunteer, keep track of the dates, how long you were there, the supervisor’s name and contact info, and a brief description of what you did.
  • Go ahead and create your resume and keep it updated as you go through school and gain new experiences.
  • Look for leadership roles, either through school or in the community.
  • Internship programs love innovation – if you have a cool idea, DO IT. Make it a reality! My friend and I had a crazy idea to start a nutrition podcast, and we actually did it. That really made us stand out as unique candidates.

Start Early

If you are applying for Spring like most of us, do yourself a favor by starting to get your stuff in order in September. You’ll need to start thinking about how you’re going to gather the following:

  • MONEY (for transcripts, application fees, etc.)
  • Recommendation letters
  • Transcripts
  • Inspiration for personal statement (like, why are you even doing this?)
  • Stuff to put on your resume
  • Emotional support (Who can you go to for a pep talk? Who can help you edit your personal statement? Which professors can you go to for advice?)

Once You’re Ready: Get Organized

I do not like the way DICAS is organized, so I made myself a personal checklist of every single thing I needed to do before I hit “submit”. Here it is in all its glory:

This helped me stay organized and helped me to be 100% sure I wasn’t leaving anything out. You can see I added check-boxes for each step along the way. Having this on the bulletin board above my desk really helped me stay on track, plus what’s better than checking things off a list?

I made sure to include all fees I needed to pay on that list as well as where that money was, which brings us to….

Start Saving For Those Fees!

Each part of the application process requires money from you.

  • DICAS requires $45 for the first school you apply to, along with $20 for each additional school. These fees are paid after you hit that submit button, so make sure the money is in your account and you have a Visa or Mastercard handy (No Amex, checks, or cash allowed).
  • D&D, the matching service that you also need to sign up with, requires a $55 fee at the time you sign up.
  • Each internship you apply to typically has their own separate fees payable to the institution itself. Check each program’s website for specifications, but typically you need to have a check in the mail postmarked by the day the application is due.
  • Another thing to be prepared for is that many programs require a deposit once you get accepted in order to hold your spot. This can be hundreds of dollars, so again, check with your specific program so you don’t get caught off guard.
  • And of course, transcripts usually cost money. Some colleges offer a certain number of free copies, so check with your school.

First Things First: Transcripts

Do this as soon as possible! DICAS requires that you use their special transcript form, and they want a physical copy mailed to them directly from your institution. Not all schools are willing to provide physical copies, or allow you to attach a form to your transcript (which again, DICAS requires), so give yourself plenty of time to figure all of this out.

Don’t be afraid to call and ask for help from the institution you’re requesting a transcript from. Another good resource for figuring this part out is the DICAS help section on the website. You can even call DICAS and they’ll walk you through whatever you need help with. Use those resources!

Next Up: References

Another thing to do as soon as possible. Most schools want two letters of recommendation from academics (so a professor or the director of your program), plus one letter from a work colleague or boss.

You will send each person a request through DICAS; they will then be able to go onto the website and type their recommendation directly into the system. Also give a heads up to the people writing your recommendations that they will not be typing a free form letter. Apparently, DICAS wants them to answer certain questions about the student instead.

Make sure you’ve asked your chosen people if they are willing to write you a reference before you send the request, as it will email them automatically. And no, you can’t see what they’ve written =).

And here’s an important tip: don’t ask someone unless you’re positive they’ll write you a glowing review. Teachers notice when you’re consistently late or talk during class, and they will include that in your reference!

Here We Go: The Personal Statement

This is honestly the most time consuming and challenging part of the entire application process. DICAS wants you to answer:

  1. Why do you want to enter the dietetics profession?
  2. Discuss experiences that have helped to prepare you for your career.
  3. What are your short-term and long-term goals?
  4. What are your strengths and weaknesses or areas needing improvement?
  5. What other information do you consider important for the selection decision?

Make sure to check with your specific program’s instructions to determine whether you need to include anything else in your statement. You should start on your personal statement as soon as you can and work on it over a month or two … or three … or four. Give yourself lots of time to fine tune!

Since the personal statement is such a huge part of the process, I’ve written a separate post about it HERE – make sure you check it out!

Next Up: Session and Coursework

This is where you can really get yourself in a pickle. You need to list all of the courses you’ve taken that are listed on your school’s DPD Course List. This list can usually be obtained from the director of the dietetics program at your school – they will email it to you, and you will upload it into the DICAS system yourself. Make sure, if it isn’t already, to convert the DPD Course List into a PDF so that it cannot be altered in any way.

Again: You do NOT need to list each and every course you’ve ever taken! Just the ones on your DPD Course List.

Specific tips for this part of the process:

  • Make sure you list everything exactly as it appears on your official transcript, not how it appears on the Course List! I know, it’s so confusing.
  • I chose to order official transcripts from each school for myself just for this part. Print them out along with a copy of your DPD Course List.
  • Make sure you enter each course by term – semester or quarter. Classes you haven’t taken yet need to be entered into future terms.
  • Double and triple check that you have everything listed correctly in this section, as there are a lot of little pieces where you can make mistakes.

I found it helpful to go in the order of my transcript (since it was already in the right order). I started by crossing classes out on my transcript that weren’t on my DPD Course List. Then, I highlighted the course on both my transcript and the Course List once I had entered into DICAS.

A snippet of my school’s DPD Course List. I highlighted each course in yellow once I had entered it into DICAS, then again in orange once I had double checked it for accuracy.

Part of my personal copy of one of my official transcripts. You can see I crossed out courses not on my DPD Course List. Again, yellow highlighter when entered, orange when double checked.

On To: Volunteer and Other Experience

This is a biggie. Programs want to see that you are involved in your community and have taken on leadership roles. You can put experiences you’ve had in this section that are both volunteer and paid – I think a mix of both looks best!

If you haven’t kept good track of your volunteer hours, start looking for this information ASAP! Look through old planners, old emails, and your school’s social media platform (if applicable) for times you lent a helping hand.

If you work full time, have kids, or other circumstances that make it hard for you to volunteer, that is completely okay. You are not alone in that – the dietetics program is full of people with families and other obligations! One of the ways I gained experience was by freelance writing for health and nutrition websites. I did this from home when I could fit it in, and it looked great on my application (plus it was a valuable, paid experience!).

If you aren’t a member of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, now would be a great time to join! This looks good on your application (and it may even look unusual if you aren’t a member) and many internships require membership before you start anyway. Students get a discount, so take advantage of it while you still can!

A few ideas for ways to gain experience:

  • Volunteer at your local food bank
  • Shadow a local dietitian
  • Join the nutrition club at school
  • Volunteer at your school or community garden
  • Write health and nutrition articles for your school’s magazine
  • Attend FNCE or another nutrition conference
  • Attend meetings for your local AND chapter
  • Become a tutor
  • Develop a class on basic nutrition or meal planning (make sure you follow myplate) and teach at your local community center
  • Keep seniors company at meal time at a local assisted living center
  • If you can / want to, find a job in food service
  • Make some extra cash doing people’s grocery shopping or meal prepping
  • Help with or start a recycling program at your school

Next Up: That Resume

Use your resume to consolidate all of your education and experience. When looking at my friends resumes, my biggest advice was always to focus on the related experience you gained from each entry. This may not always be obvious!

For instance, my previous career was as a veterinary technician. I focused on my experience typing SOAP notes, creating a training manual, and working in a medical setting. I left out things like taking x-rays because, while cool, it’s not related experience.

Look for areas in your previous or current jobs where you:

  • were a leader
  • trained others
  • created materials (manuals, hand-outs, brochures)
  • communicated with clients/patients/customers
  • took accurate records
  • were an entrepreneur
  • worked with food in pretty much any way

Emphasize these points, and leave out less relevant duties. You want to stick to a few important tasks you were in charge of.

The fun thing is that resume is a place where you can really stand out. The formatting, style, and design are fully up to you! I chose to use my resume as a way to show a little bit of my personality, because I love being creative with design. Below is a downloadable template of the resume I used:

Just be sure that your resume lines up with everything you input manually on DICAS. I realized some of my dates weren’t consistent between the two, and I’m glad I caught it before I hit submit! Speaking of that…

Before You Celebrate: Triple Check Everything

Yes, really. Here’s how I went about this:

  • Once I had everything entered into the system, I went through each category on the computer looking for errors.
  • Then, I printed out my application (you can do this under “program designations”) and put it alongside printed copies of my transcripts, resume, and DPD course list to double check everything on paper.
  • After doing that, I set everything aside and looked at everything again the next day with fresh eyes.
  • And THEN, I submitted it.

You’ll drive yourself crazy nitpicking and rechecking everything one zillion times… plus, it can be really scary to hit submit. Once you’ve triple checked everything, you’ve gotta be confident and be done.

Finally: Be Confident

This application process can be really, really stressful. If you are in the thick of it, know that you will finish and hit that submit button. Reach out to fellow students to help you out. Maybe work on your applications together in a cozy coffee shop. You can do this! Once you break it down and look at one chunk at a time, it becomes much more doable.

And because I’m all about that sweet, sweet self-care, here are some ideas to keep you sane during DICAS season (because yes, there is always time for self care!):

  • Take a short walk outside
  • Play with you dog, cat, or kiddos
  • Leave a little early for school and grab a coffee at your favorite place
  • Give yourself a mani/pedi (Yes guys too! Take care of those nails!)
  • Take some deep breaths and roll out your shoulders
  • Make a dinner date with your friends who are also applying to DICAS (Broke? Share a plate of apps and a pitcher of beer / margs)
  • Clean up your desk space and add a bouquet of fresh flowers
  • Cook yourself you favorite meal
  • Go outside and put your bare feet in the grass (grounding!)
  • Have a warm cup of tea

Need More Help?

DICAS actually has a customer service number you can call! If you have any question at all, dial them up and ask. They’re the experts, after all! You can also ask your advisor, or the director of your dietetics program if it feels appropriate, although they won’t always have the answers (it’s probably been a while since they used DICAS after all!).

Also, don’t forget that each page of the application has an “instructions for this section” link at the top right corner of the page. They instructions aren’t always detailed, but it can be a good starting point if you aren’t sure what you need to do.

The End!

So there you have it! I wish I had something like this while I was applying, and I hope it’s helpful to you. If you have any of your own tips and tricks to add, make sure to leave a comment below! Let’s help each other out =)

Good luck and try not to stress out too much! This will pass, and at some point this will all be behind you. You can do it!