What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you think about precepting a dietetic intern? Let’s be honest, as busy business owners, it is easy to focus on the stress of figuring out a new process and the fear of delegating, but having an intern is an opportunity to grow a mutually beneficial relationship that you both enjoy. Really!
Interns inject fresh energy and a new perspective to your business. They also keep you current with the latest research, trends and expand your network.
Here at RD2RD, we feel passionate about our role, obligation and opportunity as dietitians to pay it forward as preceptors. It is part of how we got to where we are today, and a powerful way to impact the next generation of registered dietitians.
In this article, we’ll be covering specifics of how to find the right intern(s) for your business, which preceptor training programs are available, plus an assortment of tools to make the onboarding process as smooth as possible.
If you’re a bit nervous or don’t feel “ready” to host an intern, you’ll be glad to know that ACEND® has a Preceptor Training Program available free of charge. It is worth eight hours of CPE and is complimentary. The eight modules include guidance on how to prepare for your experience with your intern, how to manage time and even how to handle conflict. Once you finish the course, you’ll be given a certificate of training plus continuing education hours.
Tip: participate in the preceptor forum to connect with other preceptors as you move through the course. At the end of every module, preceptors can view past discussions and participate in new discussions that cover the topic. An additional optional eighth module was added to include discussion threads of previous program participants.
For more info: EatRight Preceptors and Mentors Page
For more tips, tricks and strategies to have a wonderful experience hosting interns and students, check out the RD2RD liveshow interview with Dina D’Alessandro, a Registered Dietitian who has precepted more than forty students and interns.
While this is not the primary benefit most preceptors seek when hosting an intern or student, one benefit of being a preceptor is that you’re eligible for eight free hours of continuing education through the EatRight training program.
Plus, you can accrue additional hours as you host students and interns. That can add up and save you money by not needing to purchase additional courses or seminars.
Connecting with the right intern at the right time
Matching with interns is a bit like dating. Do you swipe left? Right? How do you know if the experience will be a good fit for both of you? The best matches offer growth opportunities for you both.
The first step is the preparation that will benefit you and your future intern. Make sure that you have a good understanding of your own business: who you help, the work you do and how you do it, your upcoming schedule and your processes and systems that keep your business humming along.
And if those systems aren’t quite as fleshed out as you’d like, preparing for having an intern can be the nudge you needed to formalize (and streamline) them. This is a business win!
Internship program goals and objectives vary. What makes this matching process a bit trickier is that interns are applying with you before they’ve matched to their internship program. And not every internship program describes goals and objectives using the exact same language.
It is important to ensure that the goals and competencies that the intern must achieve as part of their program are a good fit for the work that you’re doing. Dietitians in private practice might have work opportunities for interns that “counts” for their clinical, outpatient, community and elective rotations. Plus, some elective and specialty rotations are fairly short. This can be an opportunity to boost a future dietitian with more benefits than disruption to your business.
As you’re speaking with prospective interns, check the Commission on Dietetic Registration (CDR) competencies and be open and forthright with which experiences you can, and cannot meet. And if you’re not sure, speak with the program director so that you’re not overpromising experiences to a potential intern. Knowing expectations prevents you from having to come up with a project to meet a required objective midstream or last minute.
The selection process
Having a process of selection saves you time. And it helps if you have systems in place in your own business. Our Preceptor Decision Guide is a free tool to help you evaluate requests more quickly.
What’s on your agenda for the next month? Quarter? Knowing your upcoming projects, travel plans, virtual and in person conferences and client loads helps you to match with the right intern to the right season of your business.
- Ask for writing samples and interview
- Consider only taking one intern at time in order to more easily provide a the experience that they’re seeking
- Work with them for at least two weeks to make it worth it (for both of you)
Other factors to consider include the location of the internship, full-time or part-time, and your usual schedule. There is no right or wrong way to run your business. But being open and forthright about how you and your business works helps to prevent miscommunications and disappointments. Asking your potential intern their preferred methods of communication, expectations and work preferences further promotes a positive experience for both of you.
Student vs. Intern: what’s the difference?
Generally, we consider those who are in their undergraduate program to be students. And interns are in their post-graduate supervised practice. But, they could be both, such as a combined master’s program that includes an internship program.
The rules and regulations about payment vs. volunteering may vary between the students and interns, so it may be important to distinguish between the two as you do your research about labor laws and compensation.
Is this paid or unpaid?
This article is not legal advice (I’m a dietitian, not a lawyer), but I can recommend that you do your homework with regards to your local labor laws.
Helpful link: US Department of Labor Fact Sheet for Internships
It is your responsibility to know your local labor laws. In addition, you need to know the rules of the internship program that you may be partnering with to host interns or students. Rules can vary for students who are still in undergraduate programs vs. those who are in their internship.
If your students will be volunteering with you to gain experience and network, our Online Dietitian Volunteering Program Toolkit is your next shopping stop. This tool is perfect for dietitians with virtual practices!
And while it may not be considered formal “payment,” most interns would appreciate not having to pay for lunch or metro fare to come to your office. Therefore, as a dietitian, consider providing support as much as you’re able within your budget and local labor laws.
In contrast with Registered Dietitian Interns, Clinical Nutrition Specialist (CNS) preceptors get paid for their time precepting their interns. Interns are required to complete 1,000 hours of supervised practice before being eligible to sit for their exam.
Help: What about the paperwork?
Even if you’re a one-dietitian shop, you’re still an “entity” in the eyes of internship agreements. In order to host interns for their supervised practice experience, you’ll sign an Affiliation Agreement with the internship director. These internships will likely be valid for a while before you need to review and renew.
And it is a good idea to review the program’s student handbook to understand their guidelines and your responsibilities, including time that the intern is expected to be in class while interning with you.
You may have a better sense of which potential interns are the best fit if you ask for their resume and writing sample as part of their application process.
Time logs can be recorded on paper or digitally, but are important to have to keep everyone accountable.
Consider both a mid-point evaluation and final evaluation, even if the program only requires the latter. This is an opportunity to make sure that both you and your intern are on the same page and that course corrections can be made in a timely manner.
Tip: Make sure to look at the evaluations supplied by the internship program early to ensure that you can evaluate your intern on every required experience.
What about part-time vs. full-time hours?
What if your business is full-time, but you can’t supervise an intern full-time? Or maybe your practice is part-time but your intern needs full-time. What to do?
Firstly: don’t panic. Your interns are professionals and can provide value to your business and gain experience, even if you’re not together in person for 40 hours a week. Think about projects that you can delegate to them (and make sure that the internship director is aware of your schedule in advance. Together, you can come to a mutual agreement on the intended hours and experiences to have during your time together.
Keep reading for intern project ideas that will help to boost your business and flush out their schedule with assigned projects.
Tips for managing your interns
Having an intern is an opportunity to delegate. Which can be easier said than done, but gets more comfortable with practice.
But at the end of the day, having the chance to delegate some of your work is of value to you and your business. It is a chance to practice management skills, provide thoughtful leadership, instruction and expectations.
You and your intern may wish to track hours, even if it is not specifically required by their internship. Having hours tracked is helpful both in the moment to see how long it takes the intern to complete projects (helpful if you’d like to hire a Virtual Assistant in the future) as well as when writing recommendations in the future. For example: this intern worked with me for 120 hours last spring.
Consider storing key documents for your intern in the cloud, not just on your personal computer. Google Drive is a wonderful free tool to keep spreadsheets, materials, schedules and expectations for the week. It is always available and lets your interns be more independent by having your business materials available for them to access.
If your intern is working remotely, we recommend having a quick status update at the end of day. What got done, what questions do they have, what did they learn.
Pay attention to the purpose of the internship. While systems make things easier, each student and new project offers the opportunity to improve and fine tune your procedures.
Shall we discuss all of the wonderful things your intern can help you with? There is so much more than handout making!
In this day and age, it is important to have projects that your intern can work on remotely. This offers flexibility both to you and your intern as you work together. Here is a big round up of projects ideas that you can ask your intern to do.
Note: be clear on the rules and expectations of the internship director with regards to virtual work before assigning it to your intern.
Guest blog posts – many interns would love to have a published piece in their portfolio. See below for specific guidance on partnering effectively with your interns who wish to write a blog for you.
Social media content creations – Have your intern write five unique introductions for each of your best ten blog posts and then you’re ready to schedule new posts for months!
Instagram takeover – Let your intern take the reins! Just be clear on your brand message and any guidelines you’d like them to keep in mind.
New handouts – While the internship should encompass more than just handouts, this is a common activity for interns to do. Plus, we have Canva templates you can use!
Presentation creation – presentations are a great way to get your name out in your community, attract potential clients and engage with your group classes. If you need new presentation materials, have your intern get the creative juices flowing. Our How to Create Engaging Workshops Live Show walks you (and your intern) through the 4E method. And, the Build a Perfect Workshop guide sets you both up for creating presentations with confidence.
Draft protocols – Tell students how you approach specific patient populations and have the student organize your expertise into a resource. All of your years of experience are in your head, but not necessarily written down. Establishing protocols helps you to teach specific nutrition content to your intern and sell them on RD2RD. For published example on RD2RD is the Treating SIBO protocol.
Facebook Live – Your intern can use a Facebook live to promote an upcoming event or group class, a new blog post. She can talk about your business and available services or even what it is like to be an intern and the route to credentialing. Your intern offers a new voice in your marketing efforts and may attract new clients, too!
Group class – your intern may appreciate the opportunity to work in a group setting. The vibe and dynamics can be really different from one-to-one work and it is helpful (and fun) to practice. Offering a free group class might also connect you with your next new client!
Calculating recommendations for patients – With permission from your clients, your intern will appreciate the opportunity to sit in on your nutrition counseling appointments. And while not all clients will be comfortable with an intern participating in their session, your intern can still practice making recommendations once the appointment is over. You can review what information was shared in the appointment and ask your intern what they would have said and recommended. Plus, this might offer you a different perspective on the best approach to patient care
Conducting a mock nutrition counseling session – Interns do want the chance to practice their nutrition counseling skills. Role play typical, unusual and your most challenging client scenarios and let your intern counsel you.
Cooking demo – Cooking demos are a fun environment to learn new skills, try new recipes and even get to know new fruits and vegetables. Your intern can lead the demo or capture videos and photos from you leading and then work with you to create social media content of you in action.
Calling insurance to check benefits – The more dietitians are comfortable networking with insurance companies the more our patients can benefit from medical reimbursement. Let your intern take some of this administrative work off of your plate so that they learn critical reimbursement skills.
Make a new opt-in – Your intern might have a great new idea for an ebook, menu plan or recipe guide. Canva is a great tool to make these digital goods quickly and professionally.
Lit review – Ready to dive into the latest research in your niche? Ask your intern to get started with the lit review. Bonus: they may have access to full articles through their school that you don’t via google scholar or PubMed
Video production – Want to start making and posting TikTok content? Instagram Reels? Partner with your intern to make videos to boost your social media presence. Conferences and outings – Be sure to invite your intern to anything that might interest them, including networking opportunities with physicians, seminar and conferences.
Blogging tools for you and your intern
SEO, which stands for Search Engine Optimization, is something that may feel just as mysterious to you as it does to your intern. SEO helps your website to grow so that clients find your practice. You or your intern can work through our 30 Day SEO challenge workshop and learn together!
Interns can also write for you and there are two options to consider. Interns can guest post and/or ghostwrite: creating a blog post but channeling your voice. To make it easier to channel your voice and brand, ask interns to hand copy a few of your blogs, which means rewriting your favorite blogs down on paper, by hand. This process makes it easier for your intern to authentically capture your voice for ghostwriting.
You can also task your intern with writing HARO responses to boost your media mentions. Our guide walks you through exactly how to do them, effectively and quickly.
Key takeaways about hosting interns and students
As a dietitian business owner, taking on an intern might feel overwhelming. But with the right tools and resources to connect with the right intern at the right time, creating effective onboarding processes and management systems, hosting students and interns can truly be beneficial for your business.
Interns inject fresh energy in your business and give you a nudge to create and streamline your business processes. Plus, they’re eager for the very experiences that help to boost your business. Hosting students and interns is our chance to support our future colleagues and give back to our field.