Dietetic Internship Evolving for the Future

Vegetables, fruit, salmon on cutting boards on a wooden table.

UB’s Dietetic Internship was the first such program in Western New York when it began in 1999. 

Now, it’s moving into the future as a pilot program for the “future education model” for a graduate degree in clinical nutrition, developed by the Accreditation Council for Education in Nutrition and Dietetics’ (ACEND). The opportunity comes as the accrediting organization revamps its standards to address trends, such as growing requirements for work with interprofessional healthcare teams, significantly affecting practice of registered dietician nutritionists  (RDNs).

Notably, ACEND revised its standards for students seeking to become RDNs to a master’s degree at minimum “to adequately prepare graduates with the complexity, depth and breadth of knowledge, skill and judgement needed for future practice.”

UB’s Dietetic Internship program was reorganized into the new model in 2021 and joins a select few graduate programs across the country piloting the new standards and competencies. The pilot “provides us a virtual space to interact, ask questions, share tools, and discuss marketing and recruitment ideas,” according to Program Director Nicole Klem, MS, RD.

Ultimately, the pilot will segue into UB’s launch of the Clinical Nutrition two-year master’s degree program, providing combined graduate coursework and experiential learning to develop the next generation of RDNs. That is slated to begin in fall 2022. Students who have a bachelor’s degree in any major and want to pursue a graduate program for RDNs can apply.

“Instead of students needing a bachelor’s in nutrition to enter a dietetic internship program, the MS in Clinical Nutrition program integrates the process into one step for the graduate degree and RDN education,” Klem explains. “Also, the shift to a having a bachelor’s degree in any subject means we can affect diversity in the profession by recruiting from non-traditional programs like language arts, communications, and others.”

In addition to the skills upon which students are currently assessed and evaluated, “we also will now have enhanced RDN competencies that will stretch the professional preparation of MS RDN students,” Klem said. Graduating students will be prepared to sit for the exam leading to an MS RDN credential. They’ll also enter the workforce with greater abilities in prescribing medical nutrition therapy and counseling; in global, community and public health; in leadership and administration; and in research and product development.

“We can be creative about expanding the professional footprint using these new standards,” Klem added.