Dietetic Career Spotlight Interview: Wanda Siu-Chan, MS, RD, Dietetic Internship Program Director at San Francisco State University
By TALI SEDGWICK, RD on NOVEMBER 1, 2010
NutritionJobs: You have been the Dietetic Internship (DI) Program Director at San Francisco State University (SFSU) for over 5 years where you program and coordinate supervised practice experience for 10-12 interns annually and maintain 50+ preceptors in clinical, food service, skilled nursing and community facilities around the San Francisco Bay Area. How has the landscape changed since you have been a DI Program Director?
Wanda Siu-Chan, MS, RD:
Getting into internships has become extremely competitive. I really feel for the many applicants who are certainly well qualified for a dietetic internship, but do not get matched. Because of the large number of applicants vying for limited spots, especially on the East and West coasts, the applicants who are generally matched have very high GPAs and extensive work and volunteer experience.
I know that future Dietetic Interns out there are eager to know some tips for getting into their top program choices. Can you give us your top three tips? First of all, make sure you keep your grades up. I firmly believe that someone with a 3.0 would be an excellent intern, but with the competition, it’s very difficult to get in with less than a 3.3, and into a competitive internship with less than a 3.5. You need to start taking grades seriously right from the beginning. Secondly, many internships really consider work and/or volunteer experience. Work and/or volunteer experience demonstrates a true interest in the field of dietetics and also an ability to translate what you’ve learned in school in a work setting, which is what is required in an internship. Dietetics work/volunteer experience is the best, but other types of work experience that demonstrate the ability to take responsibility, the ability to work with people, and communication skills are considered as well. Lastly, be realistic about where you apply. Review carefully the Dietetic Internship Applicant Guide, which your Didactic Program Director (DPD) can provide for you. The Guide gives details about average GPAs, number of applicants, etc…for most internship programs. If you don’t come close to the types of applicants they have been accepting, then you probably won’t be admitted. Sometimes, it is a good idea to take a year off after you complete your DPD and get some good work experience. If there were one or two classes that you did poorly in, you could also consider re-taking those courses.
What skills do students need to learn along the way and do you have any suggestions on how to learn these skills? Being able to effectively and professional communicate with patients, clients, supervisors, peers, and members of the healthcare team and community are critical in your success as a dietetic intern. I think this is why work/volunteer experience prior to the internship is critical. Group projects in DPD courses are also helpful. Time management is also critical to one’s success in an internship. For example, in our program at SFSU, interns take 6 units of graduate coursework and are in internship rotations 32+ hours per week. Interns need to be very efficient with their time as there are projects, papers, exams, and assignments for both the courses and for their rotations. Applicants can prepare by learning early in their college career to be organized and plan ahead with regards to schoolwork, assignments, and exams.
Can you give us suggestions on where interns can learn these skills?
They can gain clinical skills by volunteering or working in a hospital also working with WIC, Meals on Wheels are good for community nutrition experience. Gain experience with customer service and food service by working in a restaurant or cafeteria. Join your local dietetic association to get a feel for the field, go to events and meetings, network, etc. Be a part of your school’s dietetic association for opportunities in leadership, volunteering, putting together programs, writing, etc. Be a Peer Counselor or health advocate on campus with student health services.
I hear more and more students talking about Distance Internship programs. Can you share your opinion about these types of programs? I think it takes a very motivated and well-connected person to succeed in a Distance Internship. Typically, the intern must get a commitment from several potential preceptors prior to even applying for the program.
What would you say to an applicant that did not get in to any DI program?
It really depends on why the applicant did not get in. If they were borderline with regards to GPA or work/volunteer experience, I would recommend working on those and then reapplying the following year. Our program accepts a significant number of people who are applying for the second or third time. Applicants should also review the Applicant Guide and consider applying to less competitive internship programs.
With all of this in mind, what are your predictions for the future of dietitian Internship programs?
I think the future is a bit unknown. ADA is concerned that there are many more applicants than available internship slots. However, internships cannot easily take more interns as it is always a challenge to find good preceptors to take interns. That being said, I think the quality of internship programs in general will improve. ADA recently increased the required total hours of supervised practice to 1200 hours and also updated the required competencies and I think this will result in interns being more prepared for the workplace.