Such a question was asked by a student during my time with Miami University students, and it's been rolling around in my head ever since.
What did I write about in my essays for internship applications??
I remember researching each internship and I remember struggling with writing the essays.
But for the life of me I could NOT remember what I actually wrote.
Being the digital pack rat that I am, I found it.
And I'm slightly appalled at how vague the essay was.
I had forgotten, at the time that the question was asked, that the essay was written from specific questions needing an answer:
1. Why do you want to enter the dietetics profession?
2. What are some experiences that have helped to prepare you for your career?
3. What are your short-term and long-term goals?
4. What are your strengths and weaknesses or areas needing improvement?
From where I'm standing now, I would love to read essays that allow me to get to know a potential intern. The excellent point was made by the Miami University DPD director that the application lists all your experiences, while the essay can give what I"ll call the "human element" to those experiences.
So below is my ACTUAL essay!
No making fun of me!!
I'll critique it as we go and say what I would have done differently now that I am 4 years removed from the process and older (not by much!) and wiser (hopefully much wiser...) I'm very critical of myself so this is actually sort of a fun exercise for me....
Dietetics is a dynamic and multifaceted field with applications relevant to every human being. Food and nutrition are the foundation for healthy living, conversely, food can also contribute to chronic disease. Nourishing one’s body is far more complex than one would believe because of the current food environment and lifestyle trends. The increase and prevalence of chronic disease associated with nutritional factors, combined with the vast array of cultural beliefs related to food and health have led to need for greater focus on preventative nutritional health.
Note: I wanted to demonstrate my understanding of the field. Looking at it now I'm thinking... this is exactly what I would hope every single student comes out of their undergrad understanding. It doesn't dazzle in my opinion. It's okay, but its not GREAT. Introductions are tough. Write them last or be willing to change them while editing.
A wide range of skills are required of a practitioner in order to be successful with an intended audience. It is my belief that science related to nutrition and health is still in its infancy, and as science progresses, it’s curiosity with the link between food and health will lead to an increase of required knowledge in order to be successful with patients; it is certainly not a completed science.
What I still like about this paragraph is that I mentioned the bigger picture and the understanding that the field is always growing and I'm willing to grow with it. This is the second paragraph and I still haven't answered the first question though. I probably could have cut the first paragraph and started here. Often this is the case with many essays. Look at your work very critically and see if you're procrastinating on getting to the point. I certainly was.
My interest in food and nutrition began when my mother was referred to a dietitian for high cholesterol. The dietitian was successful in using foods, instead of medication, to lower my mother’s cholesterol. The use of foods, rather than prescription drugs, put self-efficacy of health back in my mother’s hands, and avoided the side effects she likely would have experienced.
If I had cut the first paragraph I would have had more room to go into more detail. This is the honest truth of how I became interested in nutrition, its a very simple story, but I could have talked about how that interest grew into a passion. I could have mentioned my own struggle to bounce back from malnutrition after surgery and the difficulties of losing 30 pounds in 1-2 weeks from being so ill, and how I was effected by the loss of muscle. I could have discussed how I found myself researching nutrition in my spare time even though I was in the physical therapy degree program and that prompted me to switch majors.
As the foundation to my education, my didactic program fulfilled the requirements for eligibility to an internship program, however, it is my work experience and volunteerism which enriched my knowledge base and better prepared me for an internship and subsequent career. These opportunities allowed for the application of concepts learned in the classroom, as well as hands on experience which taught lessons that must be learned outside of the classroom. For example, a job shadow of a clinical dietitian at Saint Anthony Hospital in Gig Harbor, Washington, acquainted me with the difference of approach to a patient and the variety of factors which influence decisions in a clinical setting versus a classroom case study
This is all information in my application, it doesn't really need to be repeated.
A year of food service work experience on tray line teams at both Bozeman Deaconess Hospital and Penrose Hospital, have allowed me to apply food safety concepts in a food service setting. Some of these concepts include prevention of cross- contamination, time-temperature abuse, and HAACP plans. In addition, I’ve been able to observe the capabilities of a commercial kitchen to comply with patient wants and diet specifications, as well as menu cycles. These jobs also required problem solving and critical thinking skills related to food safety and patient orders to ensure accuracy and safety. For example, a patient on a dysphagia diet ordered cheesecake, which was not available at the time. With the dietetic technician’s approval, I substituted a pudding pie because of its similar consistency. In addition, while working as tray pass, I noticed a fluid restriction sign on a patient’s door; however, there was no note of a fluid restriction on the patients tray menu. I brought this to the attention of the nurse, and the matter was sorted out. When this occurred for a second time, I began asking questions in the diet office to be sure this isn’t something that is being overlooked, it wasn’t, it simply was a matter of the computer software design.
The examples are the best parst of this paragraph. I showed problem solving skills that will directly related to the internship and growth towards competency for entry level practice. I recommend looking at the description for entry level practice competencies to get an idea of how your undergrad experiences relate. Some other things I could have talked about are overcoming my fear and awkwardness of face to face interaction with patients.
This past summer, I worked at a children’s diabetes camp under the supervision of a Registered Dietitian. This is perhaps my most challenging, yet rewarding experience which helped prepare me for the career ahead. My responsibilities included assisting with menu planning and purchasing for special diets, production of special diet meals, creating meals from the ingredients available, and prevention of cross contamination for both food safety and food allergies. In addition, when children who had food allergies needed an immediate snack, I was responsible for providing the appropriate food. Beyond my responsibilities, effective communication with the children, and the ability to build trust was key. Many of the kids had been recently diagnosed with Celiac Disease and were afraid to eat anything despite my assurance that the items were gluten free. To remedy this, I began keeping the labels and packaging at my table so I could show them the ingredients and gluten free label. By the end of the week I had earned their trust and they no longer asked to see the labels
An example of building rapport and working with children while the previous paragraph gave examples of working with adults. This paragraph gives the details the application did not.
My short term goals are relatively typical for a new dietetics graduate. The first goal is to complete an internship and take the RD exam. Other goals include completing CPE credits toward my Dietetic Technician and registered certification in order to improve knowledge and become familiar with the CPE process. I also plan to attend FNCE for the first time this year, and participate in the leadership of the local dietetic association. Additionally, I will begin Spanish courses within the next two years.
Looking back on this I wish I had talked about post-internship goals. Because once accepted into an internship half of the goals I mentioned become irrelevant. I could have expanded on wanting to attend FNCE and talk about what I wanted to achieve by attending. I could have mentioned wanting to learn more about X,Y or Z, why I want to learn those things and what I plan to do with that information.
Because I have many interests within the field of dietetics, my long term goals are rather general, however I have thought through the two career tracks I am most likely to follow. Regardless of the track I choose, I will complete a Master’s degree appropriate to the area I work in, publish research in a nutrition related peer-reviewed journal, work overseas, and work with a non-profit to bring nutrition education to the children within my community. If there is no such non- profit in the community I choose to settle in, then I plan to build one from the ground up.
The first career track I’m considering is to become a clinical dietitian in a hospital setting, and to specialize in diabetes. I will complete the requirements to become a diabetes educator and a sports nutritionist, as well as become a certified personal trainer so I can eventually work closely with diabetic athletes and type II diabetes in both children and adults. The second career track I’ve considered is hospital food service. My ultimate goal, which is inspired by Greg Mortenson and the Central Asia Institute’s efforts to build schools across Pakistan and Afghanistan, is to be able to help build hospitals in underserved areas overseas. If this is the track I choose, my Master’s degree would be in applied anthropology so I can better understand the culture for which I am working as it relates to nutrition.
It's amazing how things change. I really am no longer pursuing the majority of the things in this paragraph, however I was genuine in my interests at the time and I demonstrated an expansion of my knowledge and awareness to areas outside of nutrition by talking about Greg Mortenson and the Central Asia Institute. I had attended a lecture by him during my undergrad years and read a book he authored and had my eyes opened to some very new and worldly ideas. I still think this is a very interesting idea, however my goals and interests have changed. My husband majored in Anthropology which introduced me to many of the concepts and challenged many views I held of the world. I always felt this set me apart, especially since I hadn't traveled overseas and grew up in similar towns even though I moved often; there was little diversity or exposure to different view points.
My strengths and weaknesses are very similar to each other, and at times my strength may be a weakness. For example, I am very detail oriented and excel in planning, delegating, and time management. However, between delegating a task and wanting the end product to be exceptional, I find myself micromanaging, with the end result being that I end up doing most of the work on my own. This is especially true of my behavior when it comes to working on group projects. Also, I am a very effective communicator with peers and supervisors, as well as through mass communication methods such as presentations, articles, and the use of other information technology. However, I am not as confident with the skills associated with interviewing patients. I feel I could benefit from the mentorship of several dietitians and also by observing their methods of interaction with various types of patients. Specifically of interest to me is how they choose to acquire information from a particular patient, and the ways they communicate and work with uncooperative patients.
Don't be afraid of your weaknesses. It shows maturity to be able to identify and admit to them. A person who isn't willing to identify weaknesses is a person who may not be willing to work on them and become a stronger professional. It's okay to admit to them. It also tells the preceptor's what you can work on as an intern. I would much rather understand the weaknesses and strengths of my interns than find out by surprise by having some sort of task completed incorrectly or not at all or some reason. Preceptors and interns work together in order for interns to grow. If my intern is shy then I need to know that is a weakness of theirs so together we can come up with a plan to work through it. Also, I'll look at their growth as something positive versus a scenario in which I know nothing of the shyness and instead critique as if shyness were no issue. Give your preceptor the chance to grant you credit for the growth you experience in your internship and the ability to give you pointers on those weaknesses. Interviewing was very difficult for me. I struggled with it. One of my preceptors didn't know I considered this a weakness and I was thrown in before I felt comfortable. I should have spoken up. I ended up having a very awkward and unproductive experience and it haunted me for a few days, which set me back a little bit. If I had been upfront I would have had a much more positive experience .
So there you are! That's my application essay! One thing I did not do was tie in ideas, values, and focuses of the facility. I had researched those things before hand but didn't utilize them. Some examples of things to look for are: specialties of the facility, characteristics the internship director is looking for in an intern (you can email and ask the director if you're not sure!), and examples of working with a specific population common at the facilities you'll work with.
Hopefully some of the critique gives you some pointers on things to do and not do!