True or False: “DIs are paid positions because we are like employees, right?” Most of the time, this is false. A very popular thought to ponder is how you are going to pay for a DI. Possible expenses include: application fees, computer matching fees, printing costs, mailing costs, travel expenses, and then eventually the tuition, insurance, books, lab coats, room and board and other program- related costs. This is astronomical for interns and college students who do not get paid! It’s unfortunate that there are financial limitations in many programs. And even with a stipend, some students still find it hard to cover even the most basic of costs.
I vividly remember hearing about a DPD director telling a class of dietetic seniors about the time she was on food stamps during her DI. My mouth dropped immediately. What? Is it that bad? Well for me, I survived on all student loans, and knew many interns that did the same. I lived in a comfortable apartment and COULD afford groceries, thank goodness. I’ll be in some debt, but I look at my loans as an “educational investment.” I am confident that my return on investment will be exponential! Even so, financial costs for DIs seem to be high on the list of deciding factors for many applicants.
Here’s a Rundown of Financial Sources
First, complete the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics Foundation scholarship application. Next, check out your local and state dietetic associations. This includes the state you are leaving and the state you are entering if they are different. Scholarships are a GREAT way to get your school paid for without having to pay it back. Be creative with Google too. Try “nutrition scholarship” or “dietitian scholarship” and see what might come up. Throw in names of your respective states or cities too. You just never know. Some programs have scholarships specifically for their interns. Others have state scholarships that are not as competitive as national scholarships. They are definitely worth applying to. Let’s say you work on an application for 5 hours. Then, you get awarded a $500 scholarship. You basically just got paid $100 per hour! NICE!
They could be federal student loans, private student loans, or personal loans. Ask the program directors which loans are available to you during the internship. Do you know if the internship program has applied to the government for educational loan status? Also, is deferment possible for your undergraduate student loans?
Federal Family Education Loan (FFEL) Program:
- Low interest rates
- Loans deferred while student is enrolled in an eligible program of study at least half time
- Not awarded on basis of need
- Interest begins to accrue at the time you receive the loan (the “disbursement date”)
- Interest accrues from the disbursement date until you pay off the loan in full
- You can pay the interest or allow it to accumulate and capitalize
- Awarded on basis of financial need
- Federal government pays interest on the loan until you begin to pay it off (when you become less than a half time student)
You might suspect there is no easy solution for the financial burden that comes with DIs, but definitely explore your options. You might find that it IS possible to get a little financial help and also feel settled about the fact that your bank account contains only borrowed money. Maybe then you will want to soak up everything the internship has to offer and get your money’s worth!
I have one last piece of advice on money: I hear a lot of interns say that one of the challenges of an unpaid internship program is that you feel like you are working for FREE. If they are having a bad day, it is easy to complain about that fact that they are free labor. It basically becomes the scapegoat for their frustration. But I have a thought for you that will nip this bad attitude in the bud: Remember that this internship is the one last step you need to take until you reach your goal of becoming a registered dietitian. You are still paying for an education. Did you complain that you weren’t getting paid to study in college?
As you move along through the program, focus on the end goal of the internship: to be a competent entry-level registered dietitian. Also, think about all of those people who didn’t get matched. How lucky you are to even be in an internship? Many institutions lose money on providing a DI through liability or lost time teaching, among other reasons. In fact, that is part of the reason that there aren’t enough spots available to everyone that applies. Therefore, you know the people guiding and teaching you at the hospital are dedicated to the advancement of the field. Be thankful for this. Stay motivated, positive, and complaint-free. This should make for a more beneficial experience.