Friday, April 1, 2011

Women, Food and Good Company

The past few weeks have not been lacking for inspiration but I have resisted the urge to blog for fear that the real overwhelming issue on my mind would seep in and take over any attempt for a cohesive discussion of anything else. The looming question: (where) will I get a dietetic internship?

The dietetic internship is not something I fully understood when I entered the field of nutrition. It is a requirement of the American Dietetic Association that after completing the bachelors or masters level coursework in dietetics, students spend 1200 hours in supervised practice before they can sit for the exam to become a registered dietitian (RD). While it certainly makes sense for students to be exposed to clinical nutrition settings before entering the field, the dwindling number of internship positions and growing number of people entering the field of dietetics has led to the supply and demand imbalance:
More than 50% of applicants will not find placement for an internship, which is conducted via computer matching, and candidates can re-enter the pool for up to five years. This only increases the applicant pool every subsequent year (as evidenced above) and floods the market with nutrition degrees who are prevented from practicing and serving in the field. At a time when public health outcries call for nutrition education and more emphasis on food and diet, the ADA's internship system is a disservice to its cause.

Some universities have coordinated programs in dietetics, which means that admission to their program ensures your placement in their dietetic internship. I now see the repercussion of attending a school that does not have a coordinated program and in retrospect such a decision is difficult to justify. Internships are unpaid, with a handful providing modest stipends. Most, instead, have hefty price tags, with some tuition exceeding the cost of a year's graduate tuition. I was horrified to learn that they offer no financial aid or living expenses money. When I first met with my advisor a year ago she jokingly asked if I had a rich husband. I later learned that she wasn't really joking.

Beyond the financial pressure is the psychological stress. Having spent over six months now agonizing over the internship, the sheer weight of that pressure casting a shadow over my entire year, I can't help but wish I were guaranteed a position next year, in the same city where I studied, where I want to live, where I have a social network and a strong committed relationship. Instead, I wonder if and where I might end up next year. Which coast will I be on, if any? Will I start my internship in June, July or September? If I don't get an internship should I start looking for a job? The uncertainty was reassuring at first. It's out of my hands. I did my part and now I just wait. But the waiting slowly dissolved into the torturous "what-if" downward spiral of thought.

After working hard throughout the winter to perfect personal statements, complete applications, nail interviews while simultaneously satisfying the demands of a rigorous course load, part-time work and volunteer schedule, I was looking forward to spring break. But with no plans to leave the rain-slogged Northwest it was hard to unwind and relax, despite more free time on my hands. In fact, this simply gave me meant more time to wonder what the future holds. I tried yoga. When the rain let up I went for runs. I watched movies and television, read books and magazines. My mind kept coming back to the same thing. Then I left town. Everything changed. Just a few hours south in the crunchy northwestern parts of Oregon I spent time with friends, ate good food and forgot my fears. I rode my bike around Portland and counted the number of birds I saw adorning pretty much everything (okay I didn't count but should have!). I left my laptop at home and rode around in the rain. I spent hours in the car listening to old mix tapes. I sat around with smart, funny women, reading tarot cards, playing games and laughing at the absurdity of the internship process. Discussing fad diets and nutrition issues. Remembering all the reasons I do love this field that I rededicated my life toward three years ago.

Food is about communion and being with people and sharing, nourishing, giving life. A few weeks ago I'd read Geneen Roth's Women, Food and God. I like my friend Ginger's review of it, and like her I found its underlying message was positive. Overall, though, the book was lacking. God was lacking. The author's credentials seemed to be lacking. But mostly the "women" were lacking. Peppered with anecdotes from some of the women Roth has encountered through her retreats and classes, the book doesn't provide the reader with a sense for these women in all their glory. They are abused, looking for love, depressed and masking their emotions with food and detrimental eating patterns. They seemed deflated, one-dimensional case studies, cautionary tales to glean lessons from. Over the last week though I've learned that there is no substitute for spending time with real, strong women, honest about their shortcomings, regrets, fears, hopes and dreams. Returning home I am not so much afraid for the internship announcement on Sunday as I am excited. Excited to start planning for life after June, to jump the next hurdle, to be one step closer toward practicing my profession, to put this application experience behind me and embrace the next.


  1. I love your evaluation of Women Food and God. Women WERE lacking. I think that the relationship we have with our group of friends: supporting, non-weight obsessive, valuing intellectual conversation and humor - is inspiring and beautiful. I hope we can spread this positivity as we head across the nation in our internships next year....

  2. I am honored to be your friend and so excited for you, Rebecca. I think that as future nutrition professionals, it's imperative that we take the first step to set up support networks and honor our relationships foremost (a concept that I firmly believe, but have been struggling to act on during grad school). Honor my spirituality or relationship with a Higher Power. Honor the journey and my small part in it. Otherwise it's just so easy to get lost in my own head, my own body, even in my own experience causing imbalance, depression, loneliness... I know I have encountered so much peace and joy getting to know and spend time with you ladies at school, and I think it's a big part of why this whole experience has been so positive (probably a huge part, actually!). I agree with Ginger - let's show our directors and future colleagues what we think health REALLY looks like!