Distance dietetic internships are a great way to obtain the supervised practice experience needed to sit for the Registration Exam to become a Registered Dietitian. The overall curriculum and end goal of the distance dietetic internship is similar to a traditional dietetic internship. Interns complete rotations that focus on clinical, community, foodservice, and possibly a separate concentration such as management or nutrition education. The difference is that in most cases students are required to find their own preceptors. A preceptor is the individual (in many cases a dietitian) that you will be interning for. It can be challenging to get individuals to commit to working with you so far in advance and for so many hours, but we have compiled 5 tips that will help you overcome those obstacles and create the internship experience of your dreams!
1. REACH OUT TO SOMEONE IN YOUR AREA WHO HAS DONE A DISTANCE INTERNSHIP
Knowing someone who has already completed a distance dietetic internship is invaluable. Even if they live in a different area than where you are going to be completing your internship, talking through the process and asking them questions will be extremely helpful. If you are lucky enough to know someone that lives in the same area as you, ask if they are willing to share contact information for their preceptors with you. These preceptors may agree to work with you too, or they may provide you with contact information for other individuals to work with.
2. START EARLY
It took me nearly 10 months to have all of my preceptors lined up, scheduled in specific time slots, and to obtain all of the proper documentation. The internship application is only open for 2 months, so if you wait until the DICAS application is open to start contacting preceptors you are too late. I recommend reaching out about a year from your Match Day. This is very early and many people will not have calendars dated to the time that you are asking to work with them. That being said, you will have plenty of time to face occasional rejection, go through your list of plan B preceptors, and not stress because of time throughout the process.
3. SET FOLLOW UP DEADLINES FOR YOURSELF
I learned this trick from my previous life as a Sales Manager. Follow up is key when asking individuals for something, even if it is their time. Set a reminder in your planner or phone for 1 week from your first point of contact to follow up if you have not heard anything yet. Setting these follow up dates immediately after the initial e-mail, voicemail, or phone call is made will prevent anyone from slipping through the cracks that may not have responded to your message initially. It will also make you appear organized and self-motivated, which is two selling points as to why these individuals should WANT to work with you.
4. MAKE EVERYTHING AS EASY AS POSSIBLE FOR YOUR PRECEPTOR
This goes along with rule number 3. Keep in mind that these individuals are extremely busy, and asking them to have you intern for them for 50, 100, or 400 hours can be a bit stressful. Make sure to keep e-mails succinct by utilizing bullet points and bolding important information, and provide all necessary information for them.
5. GET CREATIVE WITH YOU YOU ASK TO BE A PRECEPTOR
Ideally, all of your preceptors will be Registered Dietitians but in some cases that is just not realistic. Think about other ways that you can fulfill the requirements in areas that do not require you to work with a dietitian. Another way to get creative is to think about more “fun” or “non-traditional” dietetics jobs and reach out to those RDs. I got creative by reaching out to the dietitian at a local university, the executive director of a non-profit organization, and an RD that has my dream job!