Dietetics internship expands to new international locations

Iowa State University’s dietetics internship program will expand its international reach to as many as four additional countries around the globe, including an opportunity to improve community nutrition in Dharwad, India.

The program is helping to meet a global demand for dietitians.

“There’s a huge need for training in international roles for dietitians,” said Erin Bergquist, instructor for Iowa State’s dietetics internship. “Our interns see a level of malnutrition and poverty that is not present in the United States.”

The dietetics internship program at Iowa State is the largest of its kind in the nation, accepting up to 160 interns per year. It’s also the only such program geared toward improving nutrition in underserved communities.

The program first offered rotations in Asesewa, Ghana in partnership with the University of Ghana and McGill University. The program now offers placements for interns in Dharwad, India, where they will live and work with students from the University of Agricultural Sciences, Dharwad.

Program coordinators also plan to expand to Uganda, Peru, and Spain as approved in January by the Accreditation Council for Education in Nutrition and Dietetics.

“The student demand is there,” Bergquist said. “We’re always looking to expand.”

Solving complex problems

The program is accredited by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Graduates have gone on to placements in the Peace Corps and international dietetics work. The program boasts a 97 percent job placement rate.

Completing the international internship program is a confidence booster for aspiring dietitians, Bergquist said.

Service learning opportunities help interns gain leadership skills and solve complex problems. They also prepare dietitians to serve at-risk communities in the United States.

“We have low-resource areas in the U.S., so it’s important for the dietetics professional to have an understanding about how to work within different population groups,” said Jean Anderson, director of Iowa State’s dietetics internship program.

Interns work with communities to improve diet diversity. They help reduce malnutrition by providing nutrition education to mothers and families. And they get first-hand experience in community assessment and intervention.

“Our interns can really get a feel for a community’s unique set of challenges,” Bergquist said.

Unmatched cultural experience

Collaboration between U.S. interns and dietetics students in the host country is a key goal of the program. Interns live with local graduate students and experience one another’s cultures.

“It’s a two-way learning experience,” Bergquist said. “The cultural experience students get is unmatched.”

Anderson said this experience allows students to gain a greater understanding of others from a global perspective.

Interns in Ghana work primarily with infants and mothers. They also partner with 4-H Ghana to promote school gardens and sustainable agriculture.

In India, interns will focus on improving nutrition for school-age children.

A one-of-a-kind program

A person must have a bachelor’s degree and at least 1,200 supervised practice hours to become a registered dietitian.

Iowa State’s dietetics internship allows students to complete their practice hours while being based in Iowa, or elsewhere in the nation or world. The program is a full-time, 25-week distance program offering supervised practice in medical nutrition therapy, community nutrition, and food service management. It focuses on health promotion and technology. 

Students gain hands-on practical experience in preparation for becoming registered dietitians. The program is a major selling point for dietetics majors.

“It certainly helps ISU attract higher quality students,” Bergquist said.