Nutritionists help clients develop healthy nutrition programs by making dietary modifications, planning meals and recommending recipes. In many cases, they work with patients who have special dietary needs and use proper food plans to help manage disease. Many nutritionists choose to become certified by the American Dietetic Association (ADA) and earn the Registered Dietitian credential, which can help improve employment opportunities. Nutritionists must complete a dietetic internship as part of the certification requirements, so it is important to understand internship guidelines before entering a program.
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To apply for a dietetic internship, candidates must have at least a bachelor's degree from a program that fulfils the ADA's coursework requirements. Classes typically include food and nutrition sciences, biochemistry, microbiology, anatomy, chemistry, culinary arts and food service management systems. Because competition for dietetic internships is fierce, candidates may be required to have a minimum grade point average (GPA) of 3.0. Some internship programs may also require candidates to submit Graduate Record Exam (GRE) scores, and may enforce minimum score requirements for those as well. Dietetic internship candidates must also present letters of recommendation.
The internship program that certification candidates complete must be accredited by the Commission on Accreditation for Dietetics Education (CADE), which is the accrediting branch of the ADA. The CADE has several status levels for dietetic internship programs of which candidates must be aware. Developmentally Accredited programs have not been previously accredited or had a site visit, but have been implemented as an appropriate program by the CADE Eligibility Requirements and Accreditation Standards (ERAS). Programs with Candidacy for Accreditation status are internships that have not yet been accredited but have had one site visit and have been deemed appropriate by the ERAS. Accredited programs have had a minimum of one site visit and have proved compliant with the ERAS. Programs that have been designated with the Probationary Accreditation level have failed to comply with the ERAS, and programs with the Accreditation Withdrawn Status have failed to comply with the ERAS within a specific time period. Candidates can check the accreditation status of internship programs on the ADA's website.
The ADA requires nutritionists to complete at least 900 hours of supervised practice during their internship. This can take anywhere from six to 24 months depending on whether the nutritionist works a full-time or part-time schedule. Candidates who work a mostly full-time schedule typically complete the internship within a year.
Dietetic internships must take place at ADA approved locations. These include health care facilities, such as hospitals and nursing homes, community agencies or food service corporations.
Dietetic internships usually include rotations in various areas of clinical dietetics practice, so interns receive experience in a wide range of fields. Rotations typically include medical nutrition therapy, public health nutrition, dialysis medical therapy, research, marketing and a speciality area of the intern's choosing.
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- American Dietetic Association: Registered Dietitian
- American Dietetic Association: Registered Dietitian CADE Fact Sheet
- American Dietetic Association: Dietetic Internships
- Loyola University, Marchella Niehoff School of Nursing: Dietetic Internship Programs
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