by Tyler Boatright
Something about being a dietitian attracts the most type-A, overachieving, go-getters. This is a huge advantage for most of us during our lives as undergraduates, and probably helped us secure a spot in these internships, but those characteristics can quickly cause someone to sacrifice their mental health to finish a paper or project. I’ll be the first to admit burnout will run rampant if you’re not able to set strict boundaries, prioritize your health, and set aside time for some valuable mental maintenance.
I have found this dietetic internship to be a period of tremendous discovery and growth. During this time, I’ve had moments when I’ve felt demotivated and exhausted. Initially, these feelings would sneak up on me, but I have learned to take a few minutes every evening to reflect on how my day went. This practice has helped me notice when I’m feeling overwhelmed, which is an early warning that I’m getting close to burnout. I have found that getting this early warning has enabled me to start taking steps to prevent burnout.
Feelings of frustration, a lack of motivation, and fatigue are obviously not consistent with performing at your best. That makes intuitive sense, and is in line with findings in a 2018 Gallup Poll, which found that 77% of US employees experience some degree of burnout, making them 63% more likely to take a sick day and 13% less confident in their job performance.
While completely avoiding all levels of burnout is impossible, especially as an unpaid intern, I have found ways that have helped me minimize negative feelings. Some strategies I’ve adopted include keeping a positivity journal where I track positive thoughts to help shift my perspective, and leaning into healthy coping mechanisms, like exercise and meditation. These are positive outlets that helped me minimize frustrations and avoid fatigue. I’ve also found that it’s incredibly important to take advantage of “off-the-clock” time and become as effective as possible to avoid unnecessary work. These strategies helped me maximize my ability to recharge during downtime and kept me sharp and engaged for longer. Lastly, I have found that if I’m feeling burnt out, it’s important to communicate that to my teammates. They may or may not be able to help me out, but good communication is always important.
I was ready for the professional development that has occurred during this period of my life, but I was surprised by the amount of personal growth I’ve experienced. Within the last few months I’ve realized that I work my best when I stay positive, avoid stretching myself too thin, and remember the importance of mental maintenance. Dietetic internships are more than just rotations, projects, conferences, and lectures. They are also a time for us to learn how to practice achieving a work-life balance and adopting healthy coping mechanisms to help make that possible.