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Students who graduate from an accredited Didactic Program in Dietetics (DPD) and wish to earn their Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN) certification must successfully complete an accredited dietetic internship (DI) program before they are eligible to sit for the national board registration examination. There are four types of programs available: traditional DI program, distance DI program, dual M.S. degree/DI program, and Individualized Supervised Practice Pathway (ISPP).

Common characteristics of each program include: complete a minimum of 1,200 hours; each student must have experience in the areas of clinical, community, and food service management; and, with a few exceptions, all DI programs charge tuition and fees.

Traditional DI Programs

  • The traditional DI program refers to a supervised practice experience that is arranged by the DI director of the program. The DI director sets up the practice experiences with the preceptors at the different facilities to ensure the students get experience in clinical and community nutrition and food service management. These often are referred to as “rotations.”
  • Students are expected to meet all of the competencies and to complete assignments to document they have met all of the competencies. Students will have face-to-face meetings throughout the experience with their DI director to ensure everything is going smoothly.
  • Most programs are full-time programs; students should treat this experience like a full-time job and expect to work at least 40-50 hours per week.
  • View the DI program website to learn more about the specific characteristics of each DI program

Distance DI Programs

  • For the majority of distance DI programs, students are responsible for setting up the supervised practice experience with the RDNs at the facilities. The DI directors of the distance programs provide guidance for the competencies the interns are supposed to meet while they complete their experiences, as well as help the interns set up affiliation agreements and other logistical details. Students will complete their assignments and correspond with their DI directors online.
  • There are a few distance DI programs that set up the experiences for the students, but the correspondence with the DI director will occur online. It is possible that there will be a few face-to-face meetings with DI directors.
  • Students who choose this type of internship need to be assertive, willing to approach individuals see if they are willing to set up a practice experience with them, and be able to work independently. It is helpful to have arranged the contacts prior to applying to the DI program.
  • These programs are offered as both full-time and part-time programs. Students who attend a full-time DI program should expect to work 40-50 hours per week and to treat it like a full-time job.
  • Individuals interested in a distance DI program should visit the websites of the DI programs they are considering to learn more about the specific characteristics of the program.

Dual Master's Degree-DI Programs

  • Dual master's degree-DI programs are typically two-year programs that, once completed, the student has a master's degree and is eligible to sit for the national board registration exam. These programs are very rigorous. In addition to fulfilling the requirements of a traditional DI program, the individual is taking courses and fulfilling other requirements to obtain his or her master’s degree.
  • These programs are typically full-time programs and students should expect to work 50-70 hours per week, including weekends, to complete their assignments.
  • The arrangement of these programs will vary. Some ask the students to complete the DI internship portion the first year, then complete the course work toward their master’s degree their second year. Others ask the students to begin their master’s degree the first year. Some programs ask students to fulfill their duties for the internship during the day and then take graduate courses at night.
  • Students who choose this type of internship need to be ready for the demand of graduate-level work, have the ability to juggle multiple tasks and meet multiple deadlines, and expect to have a heavy workload.
  • Individuals interested in a dual master's degree-DI program should visit the websites of the programs they are considering to learn more about the specific characteristics of the program.

Individualized Supervised Practice Pathways (ISPPs)

  • An ISPP is an alternate pathway that provides students with a supervised practice experience that is tailored to meet their needs and, upon successful completion, qualifies them to sit for the national board registration examination. ISPP's are offered by programs that have either a dietetic internship or a DPD program and will likely be managed by the director of one of the two programs.
  • There are specific criteria an individual must meet be to be eligible for an ISPP:
    • The individual must be a graduate of an accredited DPD program who did not match to a dietetic internship, but who possesses a DPD verification statement, OR
    • The individual holds a doctoral degree; the director of the programs may require additional course work prior to the start of the ISPP depending on the individual’s educational background.
  • Most ISPPs will require the individual to set up the experience with the preceptors (similar to a distance DI program). There are a few who have made the arrangements with the preceptors (similar to a traditional DI program). This information should be available on the ISPP website.
  • Some of the advantages of the ISPP include:
  • The individual may be able to count previous dietetics-related experience toward their ISPP. For example, if an individual worked as an intern for an extension agency the summer after they graduated and they were accepted into an ISPP the following January, the director of the ISPP may let them count some of those hours toward their community hours.
  • If the individual is currently holding a part-time job in a nutrition-related field and they want to do a part-time ISPP, they could count their current work experience toward their ISPP hours while earning money in their job.
  • It is important to note that these exceptions must be negotiated with the director of the ISPP prior to the start of the ISPP.

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