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What to Expect

Students who pursue a career in dietetics or nutrition have a wide range of options for learning through field-based internships.They also have many opportunities for jobs: graduates of these programs enjoy employment in a variety of industries and are increasingly in demand.

Jana Hand is a first-year graduate student pursuing a master's degree in nutritional science, and is a candidate for becoming a registered dietitian (RD). Her upcoming year-long internship, which will begin after she completes all of her coursework, will include one administrative, one clinical and two elective rotations.

"The internships are offered at different sites and will fit with the many things that I am constantly learning," says Hand.

She has completed a wide scope of classes that she says she can't wait to apply to her career.

"So far in my studies, my favorite classes have focused on nutritional biology; human nutrition; food science; medical diet and nutrition; therapy counseling in dietetics; cultural food customs; and nutritional assessment lab."

A typical day in a dietetics and nutrition program involves lectures, labs and organization meetings. Group projects are typical in this kind of curriculum, and students find themselves spending a great deal of their time on projects.

"My day involves up to 6 hours of class time (which includes lectures and labs), two hours of studying, including meeting with study groups," she says. "I'm usually working on creating class and group presentations; making patient-education handouts; studying for exams; and writing lab reports, case studies and papers. I study about 12 hours per week outside of class."

Her biggest challenge is completing the necessary pre-requisites while working to pay expenses. She suggests looking for ways to save whenever possible.

"There are a few costs you can't get around like tuition, parking or lab fees," says Hand, "I purchase books and lab supplies online when possible, because it can be less expensive than the campus bookstore."

How to Prepare

Research the schools. Explore the availability of accredited programs and compare the curriculums.

"When I began to explore programs, to my surprise there were only a few local and prestigious universities that offered the specific accredited programs necessary to become a registered dietitian," says Hand. However, through "due diligence" she eventually found a nutritional science program that met her needs.

Have a goal in mind. Know what inspires you. Hand wants to be a clinical dietitian in private practice.

"I will focus on weight loss, individual counseling, disordered eating, diabetic nutrition counseling, and consulting," she says. "I look forward to making a difference in people's lives through the promotion of living a healthy lifestyle."

Test the waters. "Challenge yourself to take science classes like biology and chemistry early on to see if you like it," says Hand.

Take courses in math, psychology, communication, and perhaps a foreign language, too. Learn all you can. Taking cooking classes and volunteering in hospitals, schools, nursing homes, and leadership organizations and programs can help you develop communication and food service skills.

"Try shadowing a dietitian or connecting with ones in practice to ask about their experiences," recommends Hand.


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