Students matched to the program are set to gain hands on experience in dietetics practice through the internship, which has been granted candidacy status for accreditation by the Accreditation Council for Education in Nutrition and Dietetics (ACEND).
Interns had to be a graduate of a four year accredited bachelor’s program, meeting competencies for dietetic education, according to Dr. Theresa Crocker director of the program and assistant professor in the Department of Community and Family Health.
Applicants are ranked on academic performance, work and volunteer experience in the field, interpersonal skills, leadership potential, self-direction, quality of references and compatibility of applicant goals with the mission of the program.
“This is a competitive process with more applicants nationwide than there are slots to fill,” Crocker said.
Interns are also working toward a master’s in public health degree with a concentration in nutrition and dietetics.
“Our graduates are not only going to be graduating prepared to be entry level registered dietitian nutritionists, they are going to have that core MPH foundation as well, so they’ll be really ready to go out there and transform practice with what they have learned,” Crocker said.
According to Crocker, the newly defined concentration is geared toward dietetic interns who are on the pathway to becoming registered dietitian nutritionists or registered dietitian nutritionists who have at least two years of experience and wish to pursue advanced training with an MPH degree.
“This cohort has a very strong science background,” Crocker said. “So, these are not nutrition classes for the general public.”
The integrated program is 20 months long and requires a minimum of 1,200 hours of supervised practicum falling into three categories: clinical, community and food service.
Clinical rotation partners include Tampa General Hospital, Moffitt Cancer Center and John Hopkins All Children’s Hospital. Food service experiences will also take place at Tampa General Hospital.
However, it’s the community experience that Crocker says sets the program apart from others.
“We have a public health focus and population health frame for it,” Crocker said. “So, interns get to do a lot of unique rotations, for example they are going to be interning at Meals on Wheels, Feeding Tampa Bay, The Dairy Council, USF Health Services, Davita, James A. Haley V.A, the Florida Department of Health, and with registered dietitians who are entrepreneurs in private practice.”
Also unique to COPH’s program is the international experience interns will experience as part of the program, the first being in Panama at a malnutrition clinic.
According to Crocker, the profession as a whole is moving toward requiring a minimum of a master’s degree for entry level positions, and soon will require a graduate degree to sit for the registration exam.
“We are well ahead of the curve already, having an integrated program, because our graduates will not only have an MPH and CPH, but will be able to sit for the registration examination for registered dietitian nutritionists,” she said.
Samantha Wholley, a student intern accepted in the first ever cohort for the program, said the combination of the internship and master’s program attracted her to apply.
“The integrated MPH/DI [dietetic internship] is a rarity; a lot of programs are set up so that you complete your dietetic internship separate from gaining a master’s degree,” Wholley said.
Wholley earned her undergraduate degree from the Department of Nutrition with a focus in dietetics from the University of New Hampshire.
“Nutrition and dietetics is my passion because I have seen firsthand what a positive impact teaching people how to have healthy and meaningful relationships with food can have,” she said. “With this being a new program that the University of South Florida has to offer, I hope to contribute to its success and adhere to the goals set forth for all interns and students. I hope to make long lasting connections that can aid in facing the nutrition-related problems in my community.”
The internship will match a new cohort every spring, filling six available slots. RDNs with two years of experience may apply by the fall application deadline to be considered for the MPH portion of the program.
Story by Anna Mayor, USF College of Public Health