Navigating Clinical Dietetics: An Intern’s Guide to Personal Growth

-By Alexandra Long

I’ve been told by former dietetic interns that your clinical rotation is the hardest. “Good luck!” they’d say. “You’ll get through it!” Why did everyone anticipate I’d need these good tidings? I did well in my medical nutrition therapy courses in school; I have a strong clinical interest and was looking forward most to the clinical rotation. I assumed a smooth transition from my studies to the application of medical nutrition therapy with real patients. What other skills would I need?

As I am currently in the 9th week of my clinical rotation at Holy Cross Hospital in Silver Spring, MD, I can say that my undergraduate studies provided the knowledge base I needed, but did not prepare me for the complexities of the diverse patient population and medical conditions. This rotation has helped me connect the details in the progress of patient care. For example, I have a better understanding of how a specific lab or medication relates to the patient’s disease state.

While acclimating to the clinical rotation, I’ve learned these four strategies to make the most of the time spent:

  1. Push myself outside of my comfort zone.

Before my internship, I did not have any experience with patient interaction. Knocking on doors and speaking to patients was not something that came easily to me. By reminding myself that I’ll only be able to help someone when I build a rapport, I gained the motivation I needed to see more patients and provide better care.

  1. Take every opportunity to learn.

I’m fortunate to be at a teaching hospital with a preceptor that values interdisciplinary care. She organized for me to observe wound rounds,  PEG tube placement, esophagram, and barium swallow, and sit in a gestational diabetes class. Two of these experiences helped me in ways I hadn’t anticipated.

  • While following the wound care nurse, I witnessed the debridement of pressure ulcers and maintenance of ostomies. From observing the amount of tissue and muscle loss in some of the wounds, I understand the importance of nutrition in the healing process.
  • As dietitians work closely with speech language pathologists, seeing their work first-hand with an esophagram and barium swallow helped me better understand the need for modified-texture diets.
  1. Remind myself I’ll grow with time.

I’ve had growing pains throughout my clinical rotation. There will always be room for improvement, and I’m constantly striving to reach my next goal. Without challenging myself, I’d fail to realize my full potential. After each week, I look back to where I started as a reminder of how far I’ve come.

  1. Remember to take care of myself while taking care of others!

It’s easy for me to become engrossed in my work, but I don’t want to burn out. I try to take time every day to do something that I enjoy. I’ve found that walking helps to relax my mind and relieve stress.

By following these guidelines, I know that I will get through my clinical rotation. I have so much to learn from my preceptors. Constructive criticism may be difficult at times. However, I’ve learned to appreciate the feedback as I know my preceptors’ intentions are to challenge me to grow. The former dietetic interns were right – it has not been easy. I have learned a lot already, and I am proud of my growth.


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