Whether you’re simply considering becoming a Registered Dietitian or well on your way in an accredited nutrition program, these tips will be helpful to you. I’m spilling everything I wish I knew about how to get a dietetic internship, in hopes to help you reach your goals.
I remember when I first decided to pursue a nutrition degree. I was a young Bachelor of Science student and was feeling unfulfilled in my current career path. I wanted to work towards something, to be in a program where I felt like I was learning applicable skills that could be used in my future. I was passionate about food and promoting a healthy lifestyle, helping people, and feeling like I was making a difference in my work. I scheduled a meeting with my guidance counsellor, who, after talking to for about half an hour, said it sounded like my passions were pointing directly in the career path of becoming a Registered Dietitian.
After explaining how exciting the career of a Registered Dietitian and making me bubble with excitement about my new chosen career path, the counsellor brought me back to reality very quickly… “ Just so you know, only one in five people who complete the nutrition degree actually get a dietetic internship in their first year of applying”. At that point, I was young, and finishing my degree felt far away enough, let alone actually applying for internships. I brushed it off and agreed to switch to the nutrition program.
Fast forward three years, and I was lucky enough to be accepted into every dietetic internship and Masters combined program I applied to, on the first round. I felt like I rigged the system, like something in the match must’ve went wrong. I was ecstatic. I had worked hard for four years and had finally accomplished my goals. I wanted to be accepted into one internship, and never expected to be accepted into five. Reflecting back now, I can identify what I did to see this success.
In this post, I’ll be spilling all my secrets about how to get a dietetic internship, so you can be successful too. Let’s get started.
Volunteer, volunteer, volunteer
Trust me, I understand the struggle of balancing the demanding course load, having a social life, getting enough sleep, and (possibly) having a job can be hard enough as a nutrition student, but I really can’t stress enough how important volunteering is. During my undergraduate degree I spent about eight hours per week (minimum) volunteering for various committees and organizations. In reality, volunteering is one of the only ways that you can get even a small taste of some of the roles that a dietitian might do, and I think it’s one of the biggest factors getting you into the door of an interview for a dietetic internship.
Volunteering is important, but finding quality volunteer opportunities is arguably even more important. Dietetic internships are looking for people who stand out as leaders, who are able to collaborate with others, and who bring innovative and thoughtful ideas to a team. I can’t stress enough the importance of finding a volunteer role that will give you these types of experiences. I recommend sending out resumes and watching for volunteer opportunities that allow you to spend a significant amount of time with one organization (or a few if you have time). That way you can play a more integral role on the team and make a lasting impact. I dedicated my time to 2-3 major volunteering roles and stuck with them for 2+ years to establish myself in the organizations and show consistency on my resume. Try finding volunteer positions that you actually enjoy- this will make it so much easier to show up, be passionate and add value to the team.
Grades matter, but maybe not as much as you think…
Yes, you need to have a competitive GPA. But do you need to be the top of your class? No. Most internships won’t look at applications of students with an average of less than 80% (GPA depends on your school) in either the last two years of your undergraduate degree, or in all four years (this depends on the internship). If you’re trying to get the absolute best grades in your class, this may take time away from doing other things that might help your resume, like volunteering.
Take advantage of the school writing services
Having friends, family or anyone and everyone read your resume and cover letters are good, but nothing can parallel your school’s writing and career services. Many people struggle with the length of their cover letters and being unsure of the most important aspects to include. Those who work at your campus’ writing services have extensive experience cutting down cover letters and ensuring you’re hitting the most important points. I made sure to bring my resume and cover letters to my university’s writing services at least three times before sending them in to make sure that the necessary changes were made, and they were as clear and concise as possible.
Know your options
There are quite a number of options for completing a dietetic internship, including fully integrated programs, partially integrated programs, post-degree internships, and Masters combined internships. Each type of program has their own unique pros and cons- as does each individual internship program. I recommend researching each option and considering carefully which you’d like to apply to. Because getting an internship can be extremely competitive, a lot of people try to apply to the ones that seem “easiest” to get into. I wouldn’t recommend this strategy. Instead, apply to the ones you feel most passionately about. This will shine through in your cover letter and interview and make you stand out.
In Canada, those with an accredited nutrition degree can apply to three post-degree dietetic internships, and as many masters combined internships as they’d like. I personally applied to three post-degree internships and two masters combined programs. My path was a little different than most. I chose to complete a post-degree internship at Nova Scotia Health Authority Central Zone in my hometown of Halifax, Nova Scotia. Immediately after completing the internship, I started a Masters of Public Health in Nutrition and Dietetics at the University of Toronto, which typically qualifies as a Masters-internship collaborative program. Instead of completing the majority of the internship sections I was able to increase my amount of coursework and graduate early.
In terms of which programs are best, it truly is an individual decision based on where your interests lie, what type of experience you’re looking for, the length of experience, and financial considerations.
Adapt each application
One of the greatest pieces of advice I received from a mentor was to make sure each cover letter was unique. I found it easiest to write a “template” cover letter, then adapt it based on each program I applied for. I noted the aspects of each individual program that I felt were highlighted on their websites and brochures and made sure to include my experiences, or why I was excited about those areas. No matter how you do it, making sure each cover letter is tailored to that specific program will show that you’re genuinely interested.
Take time for yourself
Applying for internships can be an overwhelming time. It can be easy to get wrapped up in the competitive atmosphere and forget to take time for yourself. It’s easier said than done, but even practicing moments of self-care can be incredibly helpful. No matter what happens, knowing your worth and being proud of everything you have accomplished thus far, regardless of what happens next, is incredibly important.
I hope this helps you! Leave me a comment letting me know if you’re a nutrition student, or considering becoming one!