The 6 Pro Tips That Will Help Aspiring Dietitians Thrive In Clinical Internship

Since yesterday’s post on active listening was well received I decided to elaborate further on some of the tips that I believe all aspiring dietitians should keep in mind to improve their counselling capabilities.

I know that 1-on-1 counselling is one of the most highly anticipated skills that future dietitians cannot wait to develop, and it tends to be most likely to occur during a clinical rotation.

For aspiring RDs, that first opportunity that you get to interact and directly affect patients/clients and it can be equally both infinitely daunting and exhilarating. 

For this reason, my student family health team rotation was the most challenging, rewarding and insightful experience that I have ever gone through.

My guess is that most of you will view yours in very much the same way.

Although I’ve obviously worked with hundreds of my own clients 1-on-1 since then, I always draw on the lessons I learned during my training and in doing so have come up with six tips for success in a clinical counselling setting.

1. Work on active & effective listening: In many contexts, listening is the first step to learning and 1-on-1 nutrition counselling is all about learning as much you can about your client ( and from your preceptor) in a short period of time. What your client has to teach you is even more important than what you have to teach them, and that is certainly true of your preceptor as well haha. If you can’t listen effectively, you will NOT be able to act effectively and this will hinder you greatly. Listening is so important that I wrote an article on just that topic  alone ( you may have read it already!). I highly recommend you read it before moving on -> find it here

2. Over prepare: During your clinical rotations ( where 1-on-1 counselling will be most likely to take place) you will be afforded much of the respect and responsibility afforded to staff dietitians. Do not take this lightly. Diligently prepare ahead of time for your tasks of the day and ensure you have the requisite level of confidence and competence on the particular conditions you will be helping to treat in your patients/clients. If you are seeing someone with elevated cholesterol, you better know the combination of foods that lower cholesterol ( if you don’t, here they are). The best way to impress both your patient and your preceptor is to be well tuned to the evidence in your area of practice.

3. Don’t be afraid to say you don’t know: In a perfect world you will be able to effectively answer every query that comes your way.. In reality, you won’t even come close ( as a student AND as a professional). While you should over prepare to be as knowledgeable as possible, the only thing worse than not knowing the answer ( which is , in fact, totally acceptable) is making one up just for the sake of saying something. Please do not ever say something, especially to a patient or client, just for the sake of saving your skin.  Admitting you don’t know, as much as it hurts, is incredibly admirable.

4. Embrace constructive criticism: Depending on your background and previous experiences you may or may not be accustomed to criticism. You will be after your a preceptor looks at your first few 1-on-1 counselling sessions. Let’s face it, being called out on your short comings isn’t fun, but it is a crucial part of your growth and development. Your preceptor is, at this point in time, a superior practitioner than you are and you cannot let your current deficiencies effect your long term development.  We humans generally like to avoid the discomfort associated with criticism and the best way to avoid it is by avoiding the mistakes or shortcomings that led to it in the first place. We do that by diligently learning from our mistakes ( see #5).

5. Don’t have two bad days/learn from your mistakes: Building on point #4, it’s important to accept the fact that you will have bad days. Pretending or telling you that you won’t is silly. Internship and especially clinical rotations are challenging.  And that’s totally okay! So what do I mean when I say don’t have two bad day in a row? I mean that , when you do have a bad day, be sure to reflect and address the things you could have done better that way you don’t have ever have a bad day for the same reason twice in a row.  Don’t ever forget that there is no greater than adversity to bring out the best in you ( to quote Malcolm X).

6. Don’t be afraid to speak your mind:  Just because you are not a registered dietitian yet, does not mean that you don’t have valuable insights that can benefit a patient/client. If you are well prepared and your points are sound and relayed professionally, this can help you gain both respect and credibility. The system isn’t perfect and neither are your preceptors. Although you should always respect their seniority and experience, they could easily forget to bring up an important actionable point or leave something out that should be said to the patient.

Well there you have it folks.

I know how important the 1-on-1 component of any rotation is is to aspiring dietitians so I wanted to put something out there that hopefully provided a few valuable insights.

I wish you all the best of luck.

Until next time,

Andy De Santis RD MPH