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  • Rebecca Pumphrey

The Journey of a Dietetic Intern – What No One Tells You About the Hardest Year of Your Life

Updated: Jan 14, 2019

From Hope to Hardship to Hope again

On Friday February 16th, 2018 I received an email with the words every aspiring dietitian wants to read, you’re accepted! It was a massive leap towards my dreams and all that was left is to actually go and do it.

I told my self that it’s only a year, I got this!

That was me, on the day I got accepted into my internship.

Today’s post is me now, about half way through my journey, loving every second but acknowledging aloud the silent struggles that every intern faces.

Where do I begin?

If I were to tell you what I thought the internship process was like before I was accepted, it would be a much different story than the one I am going to tell you today.

Now don’t get me wrong, I am so grateful to be where I am at, but also intend to use today’s article to be fully transparent and reflective of my journey thus far.

So I thought, yeah you get a placement, it’s only a year and you get all this great experience – awesome! Which it is, don’t get me wrong! I am learning so much more than I ever thought possible and I am loving every second of it, it has truly verified why I chose to pursue this career.

But there is a slightly darker side to the internship process, one that may not be publicly discussed as much as perhaps it should.

If you are currently in a dietetic internship, about to start, or thinking about applying, then today’s article is for you.

I’m going to keep it real and drop some hard facts on what I perceive to be the “darker side” of the internship process. It is potentially the most critical and exciting year of your career, but it comes with its fair share of challenges. I believe it is important to be open about the experience and to have realistic expectations of internship in order to prepare for it appropriately.

Whatever it takes, and it will be different for different people, when it’s all said and done the hard work leads us to earning those two precious letters at the end of our name.

But before I get to the good stuff, I want to take a quick second to introduce myself because I realized you guys actually don’t know much about me yet!

Me and My Journey

Hi guys! My name is Rebecca and I have a Bachelor of Science degree in Biochemistry (Nutrition) from Memorial University of Newfoundland and Labrador. It was part way through this degree that I faced the harsh reality that, well, the degree was not going to land me the job I wanted right away, so I applied and was accepted into Mount Saint Vincent University in Halifax Nova Scotia where I am working on completing a Bachelor of Science in Applied Human Nutrition (Dietetics).

After being rejected from the Internship Education Program my first year there, I applied again during my second year. I was a transfer student, so technically these years were my third and fourth. I have been stressed before, just like every student has, but this was a whole new level of craziness. With this being my second degree, I was feeling the pressure to bring together an amazing application. I wish you could see my agenda for those two years. Between classes, volunteering, being apart of various groups, being on executive teams, working part time. Whoa. Thankfully, due to my hard work, dedication, and all that cheesy stuff, I was ultimately accepted into the Internship Education Program at MSVU. Many tears were shed (unfortunately there is photographic proof) and many thank-you emails were sent.

That takes us to this summer, where I am currently in my second of three placements.

I had just completed my clinical internship back home in Newfoundland.

Some of you might be thinking, well that’s great you get to move back home, how easy! Well… moving is never easy. Not only did I have to leave behind amazing friendships with an incredible group of ladies in Halifax, I also had an entire apartment of things and furniture to move!

This brings me to struggle number one… money.

As a dietetic intern, you do not get paid, which can make this experience a bit more complicated. Moving is not easy or cheap, especially when you have to rent U-Haul’s, drive, pay for ferry tickets, but it’s the first step. Now you have an entire year ahead of you without any income.

Oh, did I mention that I have to move everything back to finish my last placement in a few months’ time? So double all those moving costs.

Now I don’t want to complain, because we all have to go through it, but I honestly never realized how much the financial aspect would affect me and it’s important to be open and honest about it.

I’ve always been as independent as I could possibly be, I’ve had a part time job since I was old enough to have one and worked through university. Throughout my placement, I found myself getting ready for work and thinking – wow, I’m going to work an eight-hour day (again), and get absolutely nothing for it, I’m actually paying for this eight-hour day. I would have ups and downs about this. Some days I would wake up and be jumping out of bed I couldn’t wait to see what would be happening at the hospital that day, what I would learn. Others, I felt unmotivated, and very overwhelmed with seeing my bank account get lower and lower without anything coming in. I was close to home, but when you don’t have an income you can’t afford to put gas in your car to get there. It’s more than just not getting paid. It’s not working to support myself. I felt I was losing my independence that I have had for so long.

Being 25 years old, this was hard to accept.

So money is definitely struggle number one.

The second hurdle I came across, and am still experiencing is an emotional one. Loneliness. I struggle with this mightily, and although I know I have it pretty good compared to other interns in this program because I am fortunate enough to be a few hours away from home and still have friends here, including my boyfriend who has moved in with me (although he works away for a month at a time).

For myself, and especially other interns, no one really prepared us for the role the social emotional component plays.

There is so much going on with the process of applying, and then the excitement of acceptance that you don’t stop to think about how you’ll feel when you move away. We are well aware when we apply that you are expected to move at least once, and it could really be anywhere that there is a placement offered.

Like many other interns, I spend my time working eight hours a day, coming home to an empty apartment, making supper, cleaning up, getting lunch ready for the next day, going to bed and repeat. If you’re somewhere new and only there for a few months, how do you build relationships and a social life?

That leads me to the third and final challenge, which is is finding myself in a sea of previous interns. 

Thankfully, I think I've overcome this hurdle while in my first placement, but when I started out it took a toll on my confidence. I can be a timid person sometimes, I'll keep to myself and get my work done. What I struggled with this summer was comparing myself to other interns – the worst thing you can do.

But hey we're all human and it happens.

Let me explain a little further.

The intern just before me was amazing and brilliant, everyone had loved her and loved to talk about her positively. She did excellent work, was friendly, and got to know the other dietitians on a personal level. She was also in my program at MSVU so I would be the one they would ask about how she was doing, what awards or scholarships had she won. 

Being fresh and new, I felt that I would never live up to the students they have seen before. Should I be looking for scholarships to work on? What extra work can I do to show that I am interested and willing to work extra hard? Should I be staying late to work on extra projects?

This placement is popular, and there have been many interns before me. Some I know, some have been hired after they've graduated. Naturally, your supervisors are going to talk about these interns, the projects they've done, how wonderful and resourceful they were. So here I am, first starting out, and trying to live up to all of these other amazing students and wanting to stand out so that when they see my application come across their desk sometime they'll remember me and my work.

A dietetic internship is a competitive process, with my skills and knowledge I made it through. I had to keep this in mind throughout my placements. I really needed a confidence boost every once in a while, a reminder to myself that my skills and knowledge got me through two degrees and an acceptance into the most critical part of becoming a dietitian. Rebecca, relax, you're a smart girl, enjoy the opportunity, work hard and don't over think it!

Trying to stand out professionally will be a working progress as we go through internship and throughout our careers. It is important to be yourself, and show that you are a hardworking and a very capable future dietitian!  

My advice to you

Reflection is an important part of dietetic practice and I felt strongly that a piece like this needed to be written both for the benefit of myself, and of those who are, or will be, in similar positions.

There are things about internship, like the lack of pay, that I can’t help you with.

But the things that don’t come easy are the most appreciated, aren’t they?

Yes, internship is all about learning, gaining valuable skills, working on dietetic competencies. It can also be difficult emotionally, and of course financially.

I wrote this blog today because I feel strongly that interns should be encouraged to share their own stories.

We all go through a very unique process together and should not be ashamed to share not only our highs, but also our lows with each other. In doing so we can build a strong support system for current and future generations.

I can honestly say that I would not have made it this far without my friends who are also going through internship and facing these same obstacles. They are my support system, they are the ones that can sympathize with me and then remind how this is our passion, this is what we love!

I hope reading this post has made you think; wow I am so glad I am not the only one on this emotional roller coaster. For those of you who are about to begin, get excited! This is a crazy year but in the end we’ll all be able to reflect back and enjoy all the hard work we put in to get the career we love.

Stay tuned for more genuine experiences of internship, and soon enough – the struggles of finding a job.

A big thank you to Andy De Santis and his Kaleigraphy program for helping write my first article!

- Rebecca

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