Dietetic Internship: Eastern Illinois University

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You know it’s a good school when their administrative building looks like a castle

Happy Tuesday! After working on this blog for a couple months, y’all I am so excited to finally bring an article to you that is part of the whole reason I started this site! Today, I present to you an interview with Patrick H., a dietetic intern presently at Eastern Illinois University (EIU) in Charleston, Illinois. He’s been spending the past year or so working towards earning his M.S. in Nutrition and Dietetics and the end of his dietetic internship.

Patrick didn’t always know he was going to be a dietitian. Originally, he planned to become an EMT through a certification program at a junior college. For one of his required courses, a basic health and wellness class, he needed to write a report on a disease. He chose a GI disease. Patrick ended up diving so deeply into researching for the report that his professor recommended he think about dietetics instead! So he switched gears, got his Bachelor’s in Dietetics through a DPD (Didactic Program in Dietetics) at a Californian university, and ended up at EIU.

Plot points in life can often be simply summarized in a sentence or two, but a lot of hard work went into Patrick’s journey to EIU. Before learning he would be attending EIU for his internship, he had to complete seven lengthy personalized applications to various schools/hospitals around the country, interview with EIU, and endure the stress of Match Day. The effort paid off though, when he got accepted into the program!

Eastern Illinois University’s dietetic internship is an 18-month program tied to a Master of Science in Nutrition and Dietetics. The program accepts 25 interns, 16-18 in the spring and 7-9 in the fall, and about 55 students apply every year (45% of applicants get accepted). Besides time spent learning about foodservice, clinical, management, and community nutrition position, the internship concentrates on nutrition education. Students accepted to the program will spend two semesters taking graduate courses, then almost eight months focusing on the different rotations. EIU’s DI is affiliated with nine medical centers in the area; interns are matched up with those centers and, except for a few rotations, will spend nearly all of the hands-on portion of their internship at that property. Because of this, interns at EIU have time to develop relationships at their sites. This doesn’t mean your rotations become routine. “Any day could be different,” Patrick explains. “If there’s a really interesting patient with a rare condition or needs really specialized nutrition therapy, you can get pulled from whatever rotation you’re in to observe.”

So far, Patrick has worked in a couple rotations at his site, including foodservice and management, and he shared with me his experiences at those sites. With management, he told me, “So far, I’ve helped conduct an interview and followed the onboarding process, sat in on meetings regarding the joint commission visits and audit process, and other things in that realm.” As for foodservice, “You shadow all the positions in the kitchen and get a lot of hands on experience with preparing specialized meals, serving trays to patients, dietary restrictions, and other things of the sort.” Again, even in both rotations Patrick learned a lot and found a lot of variety.

Out of all the rotations he’s completed, Patrick’s favorite has been clinical. He personally enjoys the chance to not only interact with patients and dietitians, but also to mentally challenge himself through applying medical nutrition therapy.

As Patrick has some time left in his internship, he has some thoughtful advice for dietetics students considering an internship. For one thing, grad school requires you to grow in your skills (time management, communication, motivation) in a shift like what you may have experienced between high school and college. Your coursework may or may not be harder than college, but it will definitely be more in-depth and require much more self-motivation. Your professors hold your hand even less than they did with your undergrad coursework (yes, it’s possible!). Patrick told me that being in grad school is more like having a job, in terms of workload and responsibilities. Surviving a graduate program is entirely possible, but you will definitely need to grow and adapt in order to successfully finish.

Because of this, it’s important to have a solid emotional foundation going into a program. At EIU specifically, Patrick is part of the 50% of his class who aren’t from the Charleston-Mattoon area, let alone Illinois. If you’ve attended a school far from home, you may have already experienced this, but moving far away to start a new phase of life is stressful in and of itself. You might not have a support system in place when you arrive. Because of that you will likely be very close to your fellow interns as you’re experiencing the same things. Wherever you end up grad school can be pretty taxing, so Patrick recommends that you manage your time so you can have some down time to relax. Self-care should be a priority! Keep in touch with friends and family, carve out time for something you enjoy, and talk to your fellow interns or the school counseling services (which EIU does offer) about how you’re feeling. Don’t push yourself too hard in the first half of the internship only to falter and burnout later. Keep your eyes on the prize and remember that it’s only about a year and a half.

Finally, where does Patrick plan to go after he’s completed his internship at EIU? First, he wants to take the CDR exam to officially become a dietitian. He’s also waiting right now to here from a couple of prestigious PhD programs he applied to (best of luck to you, Patrick!) If not, he would like to work in the field of pediatric oncology.

Are you interested in learning more about Eastern Illinois University’s Dietetic Internship? Feel free to visit their site at
https://www.eiu.edu/dietetics/! And if you want a more detailed look at the specifics of their internship, I also have a link to their DI handbook right here.

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