As the internship comes to a close (I graduate on Friday – yay!), I’ve found myself reflecting on all the things I have learned throughout this past year. Of course, I have learned more about nutrition than I could ever put down on paper: the ability to assess nutrition risk, educate and counsel patients, calculate EN/PPN/TPN formulas, and to write educational materials geared towards numerous different populations, to name a few. When I began the internship, I expected to strengthen my knowledge in the field of dietetics, but I did not anticipate gaining so many life skills throughout the process.
If I had to choose one skill where I have seen the most personal growth throughout the year, I would say teamwork. Although I have always considered myself a “team player,” I previously felt most comfortable working on projects individually. I quickly learned that I would have to step outside of my comfort zone to be successful throughout the internship. At the beginning of the internship, each intern was assigned a partner. My partner, Ben, is extremely creative and clever, and I am organized and systematic. We quickly learned each other’s strengths and used them to our advantage. Together, we were stronger as a team than we would have been as individuals.
Me and my partner, Ben.
As a dietitian, this skill is essential in all workplaces, especially a clinical environment. I witnessed this firsthand during my pediatric oncology rotation. My preceptor and I attended rounds each day with the entire oncology team. Each team member was valued as an integral part of the team. My preceptor was in constant communication with the doctors, nurses, and social workers to determine the best nutritional care for the patient. For example, the nurse reported the intake and output and weight of their patients, which my preceptor used to determine the appropriate tube feeding for the individual.
This one is huge. I have rotated through 14 different facilities this year. You know that awkward, nervous feeling you have when you start a new job? I had that feeling 14 times over the past 10 months! Each rotation and workplace is very different. Flexibility is key to making a good impression with the preceptors. During my rotation at the International Food and Information Council (IFIC), I was asked to switch between tasks often. On one occasion, my preceptor asked me to compile a list of universities that offer graduate degrees in nutrition. At the time I was in the middle of creating a blog post, but, after assessing the priorities of my projects, I was able to switch tasks quickly to assist with the more pressing project.
Flexibility is a skill I know I will use in my career as a dietitian. I found this skill particularly useful at my long-term care rotation. My preceptor had various tasks to do each day. She had to attend numerous care plan meetings, screen and visit patients, and chart on them, including filling out the Long Term Care Minimum Data Set. The meetings were intermittent throughout the day, so my preceptor had to be able to make the best of her time between meetings to fulfill her other duties. Seeing this skill in practice opened my eyes to the importance of flexibility as a Registered Dietitian in all types of workplaces.
You know what they say: “communication is key.” I have definitely found this to be true over the past year. Email has become my best friend. I now know how useful it is to have things in writing that I can refer back to. This helps ensure everyone is on the same page. Plus, email seems to be the communication method that most people prefer. I use email to clarify expectations for projects with my mentors, prepare for new rotations, and network with dietitians I’ve met at conferences and during rotations.
Communication is extremely important when speaking to patients. I’ll be honest, I was pretty nervous when I initially started speaking to patients on my own. My interviewing skills were a little bit rocky at first. With time and practice, I learned the importance of tailoring my discussions with each patient to their specific needs. For example, some older patients were hard of hearing. I would make an effort to speak especially loudly and clearly to these patients. At my pediatric rotation, I used fun metaphors to explain nutrition so it was easy for the children to understand. Communicating with patients in a way they can understand enables them to comprehend their condition and dietary goals, a necessary first step to positive dietary changes.
Me and my fellow interns on our last class day of the internship.
Although, I like to think I have always been pretty good at these skills, I definitely have the internship to thank for helping me fine-tune them and apply them to a work environment. These skills will be invaluable as I start my career. Between the nutrition knowledge and life skills I have gained through the internship, I am confident in my ability to succeed in any workplace.