It was a long journey to become a registered dietitian, let me tell ya that right now. But to be honest, I wouldn’t have changed a thing. I learned so much along the way, from doing Running Start in high school to working with the OSU football team’s dietitian during my dietetic internship, it was the biggest learning curve of my life and I’m so grateful for it!
My parents thankfully “forced” me to simultaneously take college courses at a nearby community college during my junior and senior year of high school, which allowed me to graduate HS with my Associate of Arts degree and 90 college credits. This was huge going into college because it helped me get into higher level courses. Most freshman obviously come in with zero credits, making it harder to be qualified to get into certain classes. Of course, me going to community college during high school wasn’t the best for my social life since I only had 2 classes at my HS. But hey, it’s worth it now haha.
I chose Oregon State University after realizing how interested I was in nutrition. I researched their dietetic program and knew it was one of the top in the area. It was also far enough away from home where my entire graduating class didn’t flock to, but still close enough to drive back to on the weekends, if need be. Which I did… most weekends during my freshman year. But that’s because I’m such a homebody, plus this was only Bridger and I’s second year of dating and it was HARD. I love being with my family so that was a real adjustment.
The 90 college credits helped significantly when it came to lessening my load. I was able to take just enough classes to be considered “full-time.”
Dietetics in college is extremely science-heavy. Something that didn’t necessarily come easy for me, so I really had to work at it. Biology, anatomy (ugh), biochemistry (yikes), physiology– I also had a minor in exercise sport science, organic chemistry. Very science-heavy. If you’re even considering this major I suggest taking a few basic science classes to see if you like them or not 🙂
One thing you may not hear about prior to getting involved in dietetics is the stress of applying for a post-grad dietetic internship. This is where you get real-time, in-the-field kind of experience. 1200 hours to be exact. Not to mention how competitive it is around the country.
My stress started during junior year when professors began to talk about this integral part about becoming a RD during their classes. Not only did I feel unqualified at the time, the comparison trap was REAL in my cohort of fellow dietetic students. It seemed as though they were involved in every research experiment, nutrition club meeting, hospital seminar, professor side project, cooking demonstration, volunteering opportunity at food banks—and I wasn’t! Was it too late for me to start building my resume? Was I not going to be chosen for my lack of experience? These questions ate me up inside until I figured out what I could do between then and being chosen for a dietetic internship.
I met with my nutrition professors to get to know them on a personal level, offered any assistance with side projects they were handling, asked my friends and family at home if they knew of anyone I could shadow while I was home during breaks, volunteered with Food Hero at OSU doing recipe testing for their site. That’s all I had to do before my resume looked a little more crisp. This was a great way to gain skills that would prepare myself for my internship anyways, so it was a win-win. For those going through the same program, do not compare yourself to the others in your class. Truly, this is the case anytime in life, but stay in your lane and focus on YOU. Everyone has something unique to offer and hopefully, the internships will see that. Also, NETWORK. I was never one to put myself out there, but being in dietetics, it’s almost a necessity to be outgoing and sociable.
I had the opportunity to shadow several incredible dietitians, which eased me into thinking I wanted to be a RD consultant as opposed to working in clinical. It was so fun for me to watch how motivational interviewing was put to use in the real world vs. having mock consults with the student sitting next to you in class who you’ve known for the past 3 years.
I came back more confident than ever, ready to start my last year of college. I chose not to apply to a standard dietetic internship (DI), which could be located anywhere across the country. I took a chance and chose to push towards a distance DI. This kind of program would allow me to choose the preceptors and facilities in my location of choice—aka close to home! The only time I’d have to travel to the program base would be for their 3-day orientation before I started my internship. And of course, during the internship I’d be required to send monthly packets of my assignments, timesheets, and signatures from my preceptors to the school. I definitely recommend this track to anyone applying. The ability to tailor your internship to your own interests makes it so unique and honestly made me so much more excited about the process. Another plus is that a lot of distance DI’s accept a higher number of interns, meaning you have a higher chance of acceptance compared to standard DI’s where they may only accept 6 total individuals.
Distance DI’s are much more work than applying to a conventional DI because it’s required to have your entire list of preceptors, facilities, schedule and paperwork filled out at the time you send in your application in February. Way more planning and organization up front. I initially started looking for preceptors (RDs or professionals in the field who would agree to let me intern with them for a specified amount of hours) in September and wasn’t completely finished until the beginning of January, the time to send in applications for the DI. Like I said before, it all depends on your connections and who you know to create more possibilities of working relationships. I had my heart set on the University of Northern Colorado’s Distance DI and made sure to email/contact the director and assistant director of the program to introduce myself and let them know the certain aspects of their internship I was drawn to. This is big when it comes to applying– set yourself apart and make a connection with your program(s) of choice! Amy Baird, the administrative assistant personally made sure all my documents were collected and organized correctly. She was so great!
My stress levels senior year were beyond at this point. Don’t get me wrong, I felt better after the pressure of filling out applications, writing my personal statement, getting letters of rec, and submitting my application, but then the waiting game ensues. I took a gamble applying to not only a distance DI, but to one internship overall.
Match Day was in April. I remember it was 4pm on the dot, the time that everyone was waiting for, I opened my email on my computer to see the results…… NO MATCH. I felt so small in this moment. Like I worked up all through college until now only to get rejected. The only thing on my mind was fear and embarrassment of having to face my classmates the following day.
The next 2 weeks were tough seeing everyone else get accepted and excited to start the next chapter.. One thing they don’t necessarily prepare you for in school was if you don’t get matched.
I knew I couldn’t just give up, so I gave the Univ of Northern Colorado DI director a call and we discussed why maybe I wasn’t chosen, what I could’ve done to stand out better compared to other applicants, what I could do in the future, etc.. She assured me I didn’t do anything wrong, I wasn’t matched due to the high volume of applicants this year. I told her I was still very interested and if anything came up I’d be 100% committed, no matter what. She was kind enough to offer her contact information for any future recommendations or advice when applying the next year.
2 months post-Match day and I had started to look into becoming a DTR (Dietetic Technician, Registered). This is a common route typically taken by those who didn’t match with a DI. It shows they’re still interested in the field of nutrition and are making steps in the right direction to become a registered dietitian.
It was at this point I received a call from UNC letting me know that one of her interns had just bailed that morning and I was offered her spot. Let’s just say it didn’t feel real!! I quickly accepted the offer and booked my flight for orientation at the end of the month.
Not getting matched was probably the hardest thing I’ve ever gone through in my life, but I know if I gave up afterwards I wouldn’t be where I am now. The second chance at an internship made me more appreciative for the experience than I think I would have been if all went well and was matched first time around.
For those going through this same process or deciding if becoming a dietitian is for you, I hope I don’t turn you away from the program! I think if I was more aware of how competitive things were from the beginning, I would’ve started building my resume sooner and wouldn’t have to rush. If you have any specific questions, leave them below 🙂