There is no such thing as a nutritionist. Let’s start there.
Any shaman or internet personality or even doctor (God forbid) can put up a sandwich board on their front step and advertise their services as a nutritionist. This requires no credentials or professional schooling. All you need is some well-rehearsed rhetoric about food/nutrition. It need not be evidence-based, practical, or even safe.
Now Presenting: The Registered Dietitian (RD)
In brief, there is a whole set of rigamarole (read: expensive, bureaucratic hoops) to which one must subject themselves, and their loved-ones, to become an RD. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics – AKA our governing organization/God and Commander/sometimes piggish professional piggy-bank – boils down this process nicely here. My translation is as follows:
How to Become a Dietitian
- Win college and earn your Bachelor’s degree.
Be sure to sacrifice any and all social/self-care opportunities immediately as they arise. You NEED that A in Nutritional Biochem. I am not kidding. The Kreb’s Cycle is your friend now.
- Complete a dietetic internship.
Sub-steps include a) apply, b) cry, c) be accepted, d) bleed dry your savings account and actual veins, and then finally e) complete ~1200 hours of practice as an unpaid intern in various work settings, supervised by various RD preceptors.
- Study your brains out, pass the RD Exam.
Sell your clothes and dig all the change out of the couches in your life to register for the exam. Take the damn thing. Voila!
- Participate in ongoing professional education
To maintain the credential, stay current on the latest nutrition research and practice guidelines to be, you know, legitimate and earn mad RD brownie-points.
True, RDs can now choose to call themselves RDNs, Registered Dietitian Nutritionists. I believe this effort was made in an attempt to 1) make the title sound more wellness/food oriented and a touch less clinical and 2) to reclaim what is arguably the most controversial N-word out there.
Now, I don’t want to make a blanket statement here. RDs can work in a number of sectors: public and private, research or culinary, inpatient clinical and outpatient counseling. To say that all dietitians are the same is to say all donuts are made equal. And that is madness. All foods can fit, we eat for reasons beyond just hunger, and every single person is different. Most of the RDs I know and cherish devour gluten, lactose, sugar, butter, etc. Yanno, the good stuff. I’ll soon be among them, bagel in hand. And above all, I love to advertise that RDs train extensively in active listening, behavior change, and client-centric counseling. They aren’t the food police, y’all. Or, at least, they oughtn’t be.
Why do we do it? Why do we go broke while working for free and lose allllll the sleep and spend who knows how many shifts interrogating innocent clients about the characteristics of their stool? Because we love food and health and life, honestly. And we want to inspire the same in other people. It’s no secret that our food and healthcare systems are imperfect and that their dysfunction touches each of us, whether direct or indirect. RDs can play a crucial role in mending our collective disconnect between food, health, and the environment.
The (Distance) Dietetic Internship
Having just finished my final rotation, I am currently bumbling along in the early stages of step 3, studying for so long in local coffee shops that I am *politely* asked to buy something – in addition to the cheapest item on the menu I purchased 3+ hours ago, I guess – to which I respond by flouncing out the door, empty pockets wafting in the breeze.
However, way-back-when (post-college… barely a year ago) we all applied to accredited internships via a large sad black hole of the internet called DICAS and awaited Match Day while stress-eating various snack foods. Collectively, I assume.
Now. Here’s where things became interesting for me. I was accepted to Wellness Workdays (WW) – a distance internship. Here’s the skinny on distance programs versus traditional internships.
I was stunned, to say the least. I only applied to WW at the behest of several concerned, albeit well-meaning, professors. I did so fully expecting that I would be matched with a fancy shmancy Boston program. When I was matched with WW, though, I was instantly walloped by the endless possibilities of internship paths I could create for myself.
Thus back in March 2015, I began punctuating my shifts in the UNH Catering kitchen with calls to the West Coast in search of RDs who might take me on. No luck, no luck, no luck… and then! An angel in Medford, OR returned my call from Providence Medford Medical Center. Yes, of course she would take me on for my clinical experience. Lindsey was still a new RD herself and eager to start molding intern minds. You’ll get an earful about that angel later on, for she deserves volumes writ about her encouragement and wisdom. She is shown below with my other Rogue River Valley WonderWoman, Katie Dodd.
With my big ‘ole clinical rotation secured, I got ambitious. So. Here’s how I set the damn thing up:
Clinical (400 hours, Sep.to Dec. ’15) – Providence Medford Medical Center in Medford, OR
Long-Term Care (80 hours, Dec. ’15) – Veteran’s Affairs in White City, OR
Worksite Wellness (240 hours, Jan. to Feb. ’16) – Plus One at Facebook in Menlo Park, CA
Food Service (200 hours, Feb. to Mar. ’16) – San Quentin Prison in San Quentin, CA
Community Nutrition + Elective (280 hours, Apr. to May ’16) – Center for Well-Being in Santa Rosa, CA
Creating this malarky was a part-time job, I’ll tell you what. The futile navigation of institutional phone trees, hours spent on hold, and frequent dead-ends. But I can now confirm that it was all worth it. I still remember my hysteria when I first heard back from my prospective Facebook preceptor: my best friend/omnipotent queen Caroline and I were playing Settlers of Catan and munching on these RD-approved chickpea blondies.
Phew. That’s about all I have in me for now. Thanks for reading this far! Your comments are welcome down below. Let’s chat! And don’t be shy about using the contact form to shoot me any in depth questions you might have about any of the processes I described above.
- Specifics about each of my wild rotations. I’m still processing most of them.
- Where and how I lived for my various rotations (Spoiler: My family is my #WORLD.)
- Tips for any prospective distance interns on how to elbow your way into just about anywhere. Even prison.
- Travel updates! The Oregon sun is kissing on me as we speak.
Be well and stuff.
A word about the cover photo: Those dingy veggie slippers were a gift from two of my favorite humans – UNH Rowing alums Corey and Ian. These lovebirds schemed and got these blank canvases for me along with a bundle of colorful paints and two incredible handwritten letters on the day Ian and I (along with our other 3 roomies) were moving out of our college house. The intent was that I would go to town and paint the shoes with some kind of fabulous artistry. Essentially, it was the most thoughtful gift in the entire world, you sweet people! Too bad that I failed. I have yet to paint them. I vacillated for months about the perfect way to adorn these little guys and nothing ever seemed even remotely good enough. But! They proved to be the only para-professional shoes I owned, thus I ended up wearing them to nearly every day of my internship, from Facebook to prison to Oregon and back again. Thank you, Ian and Corey, for supporting me all these months. Thinking of you.