After acing your DPD courses, gathering glowing letters of recommendation, and putting together a killer resume, the long road of becoming a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist could get even longer if you did not match to a dietetic internship. The problem with dietetic internships is that so many students apply to so few spots causing great applicants to get lost in shuffle. And don't forget, you are not just competing against your recently graduated peers, you are also up against applicants who didn't match to a dietetic internship last year either! You need to find a way to stand out from the crowd.
In the (hopefully unlikely) event that you don't match to a dietetic internship, you need a Match Day plan B. What are you going to do to increase your chances of getting into a dietetic internship next year? After not matching to an internship, you now have plus or minus 10 months/40 weeks/300 days until you once again click submit on your DICAS application. You need a game plan!
My personal journey of getting accepted into a dietetic internship is extremely long with a few roadblocks along the way. After taking a little longer than I had hoped to graduate from my undergrad in 2013, I applied to the dietetic internship two times before I was (finally) matched to the 2015-2016 Arizona State University Dietetic Internship, my alma mater.
I wanted to write this article for those of you who did not match to a dietetic internship and want to be a better candidate for the next application round. I also wanted to give hope to those who might be discouraged about applying again.
Obviously, this article is from my point of view and I absolutely do not know the secret internship formula, nor do I claim to be any kind of expert for match acceptance. I do, however, want to tell you about the path I took, what I saw fellow successful interns do, and what I tell other dietetic students to try. Every journey is different but if I didn't match to a dietetic internship this year, I would consider the options below.
What to do if you Don't Match to a Dietetic Internship
1. Don't Burn Bridges
When you find out you didn't match to a dietetic internship, you might be absolutely crushed. Trust me, I've been there! While these emotions are 100% valid, one of the worst things you can do is post about your frustrations on social media, or worse, send an angry email to the internship director. As you probably already know, the nutrition community is pretty small and everyone pretty much knows everyone. A nasty sent email or an impulsive social media post could haunt you for a really long time!
Instead of burning a bridge, build one. After finding out you didn't match to a dietetic internship, send the program director an email telling them you appreciated being considered as a candidate and intend on applying to their dietetic internship again. This would also be a good time to ask for feedback on how you could be a stronger applicant next year.
I know of a few interns who were called by an internship program director a few days after match day offering them an open position in their dietetic internship. If you send an angry email to the director, you probably won't get the call offering you an open spot, no matter how high you were on the runner-up list.
2) Become a Diet Technician (NDTR)
One of the quickest and easiest things you can do if you didn't match to a dietetic internship is to become a Registered Diet Technician. After completing your dietetic degree, most states let you sit for the exam right away! Applying to a dietetic internship with NDRT experience on your resume proves to the internship director that you know how to chart, interact with patients, and have solid clinical experience while working side-by-side with dietitians. You'll also have letters behind your name, too!
- Tip #1: Try to get hired at a large hospital. Not only do larger hospitals hire more dietitians (aka casting a wider net for potential letters of recommendation) but they also see a more diverse, critical, and comprehensive group of patients. The larger the hospital bed count, the more you'll show the dietetic internship director that you know your stuff and can keep cool under pressure in a clinical setting. If you can make it in a large hospital, you can make it anywhere!
- Tip #2: Become a Diet Tech at a hospital that precepts dietetic interns for their clinical rotation. This is a great way to show the internship directors that you can handle the hospital's charting and already know their policies and procedures. A few interns from my class were previous Banner Health Diet Techs and were able to hit the ground running during our 10 week Banner Hospital clinical rotation. I, on the other hand, as a non-NDTR struggled with charting for the first two weeks. Another bonus of working at a precepting hospital is that you can offer to train the dietetic interns or show them how a Diet Tech performs patient educations. Training an intern would be a great resume boost and awesome potential dietetic internship interview response. You might also get some one-on-one time with current dietetic interns and get to pick their brain about applying to their internship.
- Tip #3: Treat everyday at work like it's a job interview. I know this might sound silly because theoretically you already have the job but this is not the time to get too comfortable and let your work and professionalism slide after week 6. Everyday you should be showing your supervising dietitian that you are RDN material. Go the extra mile, treat every chart note like your boss is going to read it, show up early, and always be professional and a team player. It took so much time and effort to get your NDTR credentials and get hired at a hospital. Don't let your boss's comments on your letter of recommendation be about how you only did the minimum, were often late or unreliable.
3) Get your Masters Degree
Full transparency, I did not take this route but I know a few of my friends did and they were matched the following year. Getting a Masters degree is a great way to boost your grades if that is one of the weaknesses on your dietetic internship application. Even a 9-month online master's program shows the internship that your are academically strong and are passionate about continuing your education.
This is also a great opportunity to try and tie your thesis or applied project to something that is unique to your top internship choice or is something you mention in your personal statement. "Not only am I interested in childhood obesity, I conducted a research study on the impact of after school programs and their influence on waistline circumference in middle school students." Bam, bam, bam! Not only are you saying blank is my passion, you are also hitting them with some serious experience that proves you are passionate about nutrition and they need to give you the RDN credentials so you can continue your awesomeness in saving the world from childhood obesity!
4) Go to Culinary School
While this might seem like a far out idea, hear me out. Not all culinary programs are expensive and not all culinary programs take 2+ years. Culinary school was a huge part of my RD2Be journey and was one of the most impactful things I did after not matching to a dietetic internship the first time.
Right after I found out I didn't match to a dietetic internship, I signed up for a two semester culinary arts associates degree program through my local community college. My program was very intense and very time consuming but luckily my work was very accommodating and I was able to still work full time. If you can't go to full-on culinary school because of the time commitment or price, some community college culinary programs offer night classes or online certificates you can earn in one semester. These programs are definitely worth checking out!
Going to culinary school completely opened up my food world and allowed me to not only tell patients what to eat but actually show them too. Remember, a large part of the RDN exam is food service and having a strong culinary background in a professional kitchen will definitely help you get into the dietetic internship. My food service rotation was 6 weeks long and having a strong culinary background made me that much more comfortable and confident in my abilities as an intern.
5) Learn a Language
While this is easier said than done, having a second language on your resume is a huge bonus. I can't even tell you how many times I observed a Spanish only WIC appointment or had to wait to see a patient in the hospital because the interpreter was running behind. I really like that this tip is solely up to you to complete and you can start or stop whenever you want. You can truly learn as much as you want, whenever or wherever!
Whether your learn through a phone app, take a community college class, or check out an audio book from the library, there are so many ways you can add a language to your resume. You don't have to go from zero to fluent in 6 months but just showing the internship that you are making an effort and have some second language skills will go a long way.
6) Join Your Local or State Dietetic Group
If you don't match to a dietetic internship, a great way to boost your resume, network with dietitians, and get more involved is through your local dietetic association. Every state and major city/region has a local chapter of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, which provide networking opportunities, continuing education sessions, and workshops for nutrition professionals and students in your area.
I highly recommend getting involved with one of these groups by offering to put together their newsletter, manage their social media accounts, or fill a vacant board position. If you don't have time to be on the board and actively volunteer, I would at least try to attend their meetings and make connections with potential preceptors (don't forget to bring business cards to the meetings!) Check out the list of Academy of Nutrition State Affiliate groups here! You might need to do some research about the local, city specific groups, but it's worth digging into.
7) Go to FNCE
I'm a huge FNCE fan and have attend every year since 2010, of which the first 4 years I was a student. As a student, I found FNCE to be such an incredible opportunity to connect with dietetic internships, other students, and learn helpful tips on how to apply to dietetic internships.
One of the most valuable student opportunities at FNCE is the Dietetic Internship Fair, where you get to talk one-on-one with 30-40 internship program directors as they advertise their internships to potential students. FNCE also has student specific tracks with incredibly valuable sessions covering a variety of student specific topics. Check out the FNCE student opportunities here! The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics as well as their affiliate Dietetic Practice Groups (DPGs) offer FNCE student scholarships and stipend opportunities, too.
8) Apply to a Ton of Internships
If you didn't match to a dietetic internship this year, I would expand your internship options by applying to additional potential programs. Applying to more internships can be time consuming and expensive, but you now have a year to research and save up for potential out of state options.
If you are able to temporarily relocate for a dietetic internship, you open up a whole new world of potential internships, increasing your chances of acceptance. I recently heard one of my undergrad classmates finally got into an Idaho dietetic internship after applying to local Phoenix internships for four years. Traveling to another city or state for a dietetic internship is not ideal but sometimes you've got to do what you've got to do!
9) Think Outside of the Box & Lean into the Unconventional
You'll have to bare with me because this one is a little more 'big picture' and abstract. As RD's2Be, we like to follow a straight and clear path. We are pretty Type A, favor predictability, and rarely venture off the road. I am here to tell you that you might need to step off that 'picture perfect' path and do something unconventional. You don't have to step off that path forever, it can even just be one foot off into something different, but be open to trying something that scares you or puts you out of your comfort zone.
It's hard to say what that 'thing' will be because finding it will be unique to you. But when you do find it, you'll know and it'll turn your world upside down. This 'thing' might not be directly related to nutrition but I promise you, it will make your dietetic internship application shine, boost your resume, and give you unique talking points for your internship interview.
Some of these unique, unconventional ideas include but are not limited to: Volunteering at a homeless shelter, self publishing an E-cookbook, starting a podcast, start a blog (!!), volunteer on a farm, apply for a grant, volunteer to mentor a teen from the Boys and Girls Club, come up with a product to sell at a farmers market, offer to do a weekly food demo at a local low-income pre-school, host a weekly 'nutrition talk' at your local church or gym, volunteer for an abroad medical mission (even if you are just managing the charts), join Rotaract, the Kiwanis Club, or Toastmasters... as you can see, the sky is the limit!
ADDITIONAL TIPS FOR FINDING YOUR 'IT FACTOR':
1) The more niche and specific you can get, the better. Focusing on diabetics, celiac disease, low-income children, mental health, ect. will help define your passion and make for a great personal statement.
2) Try to choose something that can produce an outcome or result from your action. Doing something just to do it is great but if you are able to really tie a number as a result of your action, that's something important to highlight. This could be "Taught 12 classes to over 300 children in 6 months" or "Oversaw the distribution of over 12,000 pounds of food donations to three different homeless shelter locations."
3) You have to stick with it. Showing consistency is invaluable and if you only volunteered two or three times at a homeless shelter, that is not nearly enough to tip the scale in your favor. Whatever 'thing' you choose, you have to do it consistently (I recommend at least bi-weekly) to show that you are committed.
10) Get Professional Help
Sometimes it's hard for us to see what is so plainly right in front of us. You put your best dietetic internship application forward not knowing exactly what that the program will think of you or how you stack up amongst the competition. Your application could have a big red flag or a handful of tiny tweaks - you'll never know unless you let a professional to help you through the application process.
I recently became an affiliate for All Access Dietetics, an online membership resource for dietetic internship hopefuls. All Access Dietetics is a membership site with one-on-one Get Matched Coaching, with the goal of you matching to a dietetic internship.
I personally did not use All Access Dietetics when I was applying to internships but in April of 2019, 96% of their Get Matched Coaching students matched to dietetic internships! That statistic is incredible and when they asked me to become an affiliate, I knew I had to share their program with you. Let the professionals help you with your application, they've been helping dietetic internship applicants match since 2008!
With all of these tips, I hope you feel like you now have a game plan! It's ok if you don't match to a dietetic internship, that is out of your control. But where you go from here and how you prepare for your next steps is entirely up to you.
COMMENT BELOW WITH ANY QUESTIONS OR COMMENTS - LET'S GET THE CONVERSATION GOING!