In the fall of 2015, I started my DI at Teachers College, Columbia University. Anxious? Sure thing. Excited? Without a doubt! While I’d had numerous jobs in the nutrition field before and during grad school, there were many sides of nutrition and dietetics that I had yet to experience and I was very ready to dive head first into this unknown side of my profession for the first time.
The DI at TC is divided up into four modules: 15 weeks of clinical, 15 weeks of community, 6 weeks of food service, and 5-6 weeks of research/independent practice. The fall and spring semesters are for clinical and community, with half of the class starting with one module in the fall and completing the other in the spring. Summer months are spent completing the remaining two modules.
I was fortunate enough to be presented with a unique opportunity to intern at a single site for 15 weeks in the fall, which would satisfy 10 weeks of community time and 5 weeks of clinical. This site was the Institute for Family Health, a group of outpatient family health clinics that offers appointments for primary care, dentistry, women’s health, podiatry, and nutrition. I have spoken about my time here in another post if you want a more in-depth look at my awesome experience here. *Update- I now work here as a dietitian!
On the flip side, I spent my spring semester finishing my clinical rotation at the Hackensack University Hospital Center at Palisades, which was great exposure to working in a medium size hospital that served a diverse population and treated a wide variety of patients. I saw and treated patients with everything from congestive heart failure, uncontrolled diabetes, renal failure, cerebral palsy, sepsis, COPD, cancer, pregnancy, and so much more. While I stuffed my brain full of valuable clinical knowledge, I also learned that a hospital is maybe not the place for me. Prevention has always been my practice and treating patients who had landed in such a poor state nutritionally was difficult for me to feel passionate about. I knew it was important to prescribe them the proper diet while they were in the hospital and ensure that they were meeting their nutrition needs, but I struggled knowing/assuming that much of what I educated patients on was going in one ear and out the other and that their chances of making major lifestyle and diet changes once discharged was slim. Overall, a great learning experience, but perhaps just not for me.
With clinical behind me, I just had 5 weeks more of community left to round out the spring semester. I spent those weeks at City Harvest, where I taught nutrition basics courses to staff at childcare centers and Head Start programs throughout the city, distributed produce at Mobile Markets, and created mini culinary lessons to be conducted at these distributions in the future.
I felt very lucky to be placed at the sites where I had practiced so far, but there are a myriad of clinical and community sites all across NYC, New Jersey, and Westchester that my fellow interns got to practice at. Some of those sites are: New York Presbyterian Hospital, Hospital for Special Surgery, Brookdale Medical Center, Advantage Care Physicians, Monte Nido Eating Disorder Center, God’s Love We Deliver, Terrence Cardinal Cooke, United Way of New York, East River Gastroenterology, Super Kids Nutrition, and Savor Health. This is only a fraction of the list, and this expansive network of nutrition organizations is certainly one of the reasons why I chose to attend the TC DI and I think it’s a huge selling point.
With what seemed like the biggest hurdles out of the way, I jumped into food service with a happy tummy where I soon realized that this rotation really meant eating and helping prepare delicious food every day for free! I was placed at the Ford Foundation, whose food service is run through Restaurant Associates. I was not anticipating enjoying food service as much as I did, but it was a fun and engaging rotation where I learned a lot about recipe development and product purchasing, as well as how to manage a food service program and catering department for a large organization.
Choosing where to spend my independent practice/elective rotation was a toughy since I’d been hearing my classmates’ presentations on so many amazing sites! One of the sites that stood out most to me, and which was an area of dietetics that I’ve always been interested in, was East River Gastroenterology and Nutrition. The one and only Tamara Duker Freuman, MS RD CDN is the sole dietitian on staff at Dr. Goldstein’s private practice in East Harlem and she is literally an encyclopedia of knowledge and advice when it comes to GI nutrition. With her I never got bored of talking about people’s poop, their cramps and bloating, and their seemingly crazy food sensitivities. I also appreciated my time with her as it gave me another opportunity to solidify my note writing skills and nail down how to write a subjective assessment.
While I would have loved to talk bowel movements every day of the week with Tamara, she only works three days of the week, and so I decided to spend the rest of my elective time back at the Institute for Family Health where I would get more exposure to diabetes and counseling, and they would get more exposure to me as they were looking to fill a vacant RD position…
Graduation and Take-Aways
While a year of unpaid work may at first leave you feeling disgruntled, questioning why you’re putting yourself through this, and broke, remember you’re certainly not alone. But if you go into your internship year holding on to those feelings and focusing on just “getting through” the rotations you think you’ll hate and grumbling about the sometimes busy work types of assignments, then you’ll be wasting a valuable year of learning the practical side of our unique field, maybe finding new interests and passions, and building your professional network. I couldn’t have been more proud on graduation day and I knew the sentiment in the room was mutual among my fellow interns. While no one maybe had the dream experience, we collectively felt that the TC DI was a strong program that helped prepare us to take on the field of dietetics.