Dietetic Interns: A Return on Investment
Sylvia Emberger, RD, LDN
Corporate Nutritionist, Ahold USA
No doubt about it, with the growth in supermarket dietitian positions, there is a need for training future candidates that can hit the ground running and make a mark in the industry. You might even have dietetic interns knocking on your door, asking if they can do an elective or enrichment rotation. Should you say yes, make sure you are following through on providing a quality experience.
Make it official
Whenever interns come to work with you, their status in your company needs to be defined. They will have access to proprietary information and are representing your company. The dietetic internship director will provide an Affiliation Agreement, whichis a legal contract that spells out the responsibilities of the internship program and the facility (your store or office) accepting the interns. This contract needs to be reviewed by your company’s legal department and to make sure that the terms are mutually agreeable and liabilities are adequately covered.
Provide meaningful experiences
To maintain good standing with the Accreditation Council for Education in Nutrition and Dietetics (ACEND), all dietetics education programs need to provide a curriculum that will meet certain competencies and learning outcomes. If you agree to train interns, meet with the internship director to determine which competencies will be met by the activities you provide. You will need to plan and organize supervised practice experiences – not just observations – that are meaningful, will help interns develop critical thinking skills and acquire the knowledge and tools that will provide a good foundation for entering the profession.
Facilitate learning and provide mentoring
Provide a detailed written curriculum for each activity which will provide the intern with guidance to enable them to work independently. List resources, including books, journal articles and websites which will benefit them during their career. Stress the importance of doing research to verify that information they are providing is evidence-based. Include interns in meetings, if possible, to provide a glimpse into the retail environment. Most of all, expect professionalism from your interns by modeling your commitment to high quality service and taking time to discuss the importance of values and character.
Monitor progress and provide feedback
The internship director will provide evaluation forms and competency checklists or you might be involved in creating these. Provide interns feedback on a regular basis, not just at the end of the rotation, so that they can progress in their learning.
Support for preceptors
You may be asked to participate on the advisory committee for the internship. This will enable you to collaborate with other preceptors to ensure that program goals and objectives are being met. It’s also a great venue for networking and for keeping a pulse on the future of the dietetics profession. You don’t have to embark on this adventure without help. The Commission on Dietetic Registration offers a free, comprehensive Online Dietetics Preceptor Training module.
A win-win experience
If you’re hesitant about the time commitment, keep in mind that dietetic interns can help you with your projects. They can bring fresh perspectives and ideas to enhance the work you do. Best of all, when you teach someone else, you are challenged to learn and grow professionally, which can be the greatest reward.