I love saying the words: “I am a registered dietitian.” These words don’t just give me two cool credentials after my name (RD), but it reminds me that, with the help of God’s sovereignty and grace, I am able to accomplish whatever I put my mind to. Looking back 6 years ago when I started my undergrad, being a dietitian seemed so far fetched and I’ll be honest, I there were times I didn’t think I could do it. Well here I am, “Theresa Gionta, RD” willing to help you develop a healthy relationship with food.
I grew up in an Italian family, where food is the main focus of every gathering. I have always had an interest in food, exercise and nutrition. I knew I wanted to be a dietitian because of my strong passion to learn and help others develop a healthy lifestyle with eating. Now, I am a strong advocate for eating both vegetables (kale) and sweets (cookies: because I love cookies), making healthy eating a lifestyle that establishes a balanced diet. Hence, my blog name ! Getting to this point of my career has been a dream come true, especially when I look back on all the hard work it took to get here. I praise God for His hand in all of it!
Let me give you some background on what is required to become a dietitian. After completing 4 years of undergrad, you must apply for a dietetic internship. This is where the scary moments of doubt and discouragement play in. Before applying, we are told there is a 50% match rate for interns. That means only half of the students will actually get into a program each year. Beginning the application process was one of the most challenging obstacles I had to conquer.
The application process has a lot of factors, one of them being my personal statement. I remember in my undergrad, I walked into my counselor’s office with a mediocre personal statement. My counselor told me to edit this personal statement (and there was a lot to edit) so that it “flowed more.” I thought, “how am I going to make this personal statement ‘flow’?” I am a nutrition student not an English major. Then something clicked– “I know people that majored in English!” So I had them help me revamp my essay. After a long process of pruning and sculpting this blob of clay into a masterpiece, I finally submitted it. This personal statement along with letters of recommendation, grades, experience, etc. were all submitted to my three internship choices.
After the submission process in February through DICAS, we patiently wait for “match day” in April where we see if we got matched to a internship program or not. Well, match day came and I was checking the website like a crazy person. Finally, the results showed and I got matched to my first choice: Oakwood University! I was on the moon! I couldn’t believe it! Full of relief and gratitude, I thought, “This time next year, I will be a dietitian!”
Starting my internship was one of the scariest, God depending years of my life. I learned how to work in different areas of dietetics by growing my knowledge on topics such as tube feeding calculations: using the Penn State equation to calculate calories for a patient on a ventilator, assessing muscle fat wasting, how to do a plate waste study, how to properly speak in front of people about various nutrition topics etc. The following are some pictures to give some imagery to how being an intern looks and some of the projects I was expected to make.
The following are some tips for future interns based on what I learned through my internship:
- Be on TimeIt is NEVER okay to be late to a rotation. Give yourself AT LEAST 1 hour more than you think you need to get there because you never know what kind of traffic you will hit or if you’re going to get lost (some rotations are hard to find). Try not to be early either because preceptors might not be ready and they say that specific time for a reason. Try to be no more than 15 minutes early.
- Never Assume You Know AnythingThis is the worst thing you can do at a rotation. You are there to LEARN and how can you do that if you think you know everything? You can’t. So, be open to listening before speaking and ask questions to clarify topics you may not understand. I got marked down for one of my rotations because I didn’t ask enough questions. I guess I didn’t know what questions to ask at the time or there was not enough time to ask them, but moral of the story is: DON’T BE AFRAID TO ASK QUESTIONS. Once it came time to study for the RD exam, I wish I would have asked more questions. The preceptors have volunteered their time to teach you, so take advantage of the learning process.
- Always Dress Nicer Than You Think You Should “Dress for the job you want, not the job you have.” Make sure you dress as though you are already a dietitian. How do you want people to perceive you? I can tell you, as an intern, you will gain a lot more respect if you dress nicer than you think you should. For girls, wear a dress skirt or pants, top and blazer with close-toed shoes. DO NOT wear jeans, leggings, t-shirts, tennis shoes, open-toed shoes, tank tops or excessive piercings etc. Extra Tip for Girls: do not come to your rotation with wet hair! It’s unprofessional. For guys a dress shirt and dress pants always looks nice. DO NOT wear jeans, shorts, sandals, tank tops or logo/plain t-shirts, piercing etc.
- Bring a Note Pad and Pen With You AT ALL TIMESTake as much notes as you can!! Don’t be ashamed if you have to ask a preceptor to repeat something or slow down so you can write down what they are saying.
- Be a “Yes” Man (or Woman)You want to be as open as possible to various opportunities that your preceptor offers. Be prepared and willing to take on tasks you might not “feel” like doing because these tasks can be amazing learning experiences. For example, I participated in the “Senior Saturday” (pictured above) for 8 hours on my Saturday while doing my rotations 5 days a week and I got 8 extra hours of invaluable experience taking BMI and assessing the health of elderly people (65+) living in Huntington Beach. This gave me a head start going into my clinical rotation.
- Keep it ProfessionalThe world of dietetics is very small so it is very likely that you will encounter people that can make or break your career. Always speak positively about people and NEVER engage in gossip. Treat all preceptors and fellow interns with respect and dignity because you never know who is going to interview you one day. Always keep conversation about completing the task at hand and never speak negatively about it. Preceptors are watching to see how you interact with themselves, staff and fellow interns because depending on how you act, shows your character , which indicates how well you are able to work with others.
Feel free to e-mail me if you have any questions about how to become a dietitian, the application process, the internship experience or if you just want to say hey! –Email: firstname.lastname@example.org