Topic 5: What to Expect as a Long-Term Care Intern by Jessie Donaldson

          At some point in your educational career as a dietetics student, you’ll likely serve as an intern in a long-term care facility. Some classes may even require you to gain supervised experience as a student before your dietetic internship begins. I recently had the opportunity to work with my preceptor, Doreen Rodo, in this capacity for one of my classes. This class taught me a lot about what to expect as I enter my dietetic internship, and I hope my insights can be of help to others as they enter clinical rotations.

What Makes a Good Preceptor?

          When selecting a potential RDN to work with, interns should consider the qualities that make a successful preceptor. RDNs who choose to serve as preceptors are typically drawn to it because they want to help. A good preceptor has a desire to foster growth and educate future RDNs. Patience is a clear virtue here, as students and interns will likely ask a lot of questions. The RDN may be busy but taking the time to answer questions will produce a better intern by the end of the rotation.

          Though an effective preceptor understands an intern is still learning, they will also encourage as much independence as possible. Giving some autonomy whenever possible allows the intern to adapt to a role they may be intimidated by, and this builds confidence over time. The RDN will always review the work of the intern, which offers the chance for feedback and corrections, and also serves as reassurance that the intern is learning under the guidance of an experienced professional rather than going it alone.

How to Be a Successful Student or Intern

          It is important for interns to consider the expectations of their preceptors and strive to meet them. As I touched on above, preceptors are typically happy to help students by answering questions, giving insights based on their experience, and offering guidance when judgment calls are needed. When the time comes that a preceptor corrects an intern’s work, a successful student will accept the feedback with appreciation and not defensiveness. It’s important for interns to not be embarrassed or afraid to make mistakes; the RDN doesn’t expect perfection. It follows, then, that the intern should view the RDN’s input as an opportunity for growth rather than criticism.

          Asking questions is not only okay, it’s expected of students. An intern who doesn’t ask questions may be perceived as either disinterested or irresponsibly overconfident. However, a delicate balance should be found between being a learner and being an active participant. Interns should find the confidence to assert themselves and take on projects or duties that may lie slightly out of their comfort zone, but that they are capable of. It would serve a student well to remember that they can alleviate some of the RDN’s workload by being productive rather than passively waiting for the RDN to give them assignments.

          Finally, all students and interns should remember the basics of being a good employee, especially those with little to no work experience. Always be punctual, dress in a way that’s appropriate for the setting, and be prepared with all of the resources you’ll need. And don’t forget to pack a lunch and some water! Being overly hungry or thirsty can undermine all of your other efforts to succeed.

Maintaining a Positive Preceptor-Student Relationship

          Both preceptors and interns can contribute to the success of their relationship by managing expectations. It may be helpful for both parties to discuss their expectations from one another before the rotation starts, to get started on the right foot. When it goes well, this experience can produce a collaboration where the student learns from the RDN and the RDN benefits from having an extra hand with their work and the fresh perspective that a student can bring.

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