Front row: Ellen Shanley (left) and Elise Cotrone. Back row: Dean Gregory Weidemann (left) and Commissioner Sean Connolly.
A dietetic internship is an essential component of the education of students planning to pursue a career as a registered dietitian (RD). In addition to didactic coursework, students must complete 1200 hours of supervised practice in a program accredited by the Accreditation Council for Education in Nutrition and Dietetics of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
“Our program would not exist without preceptors in the field,” says Ellen Shanley, director of dietetics in the Department of Allied Health Sciences. “Dietitians in the field are willing to mentor our students. They want to give back, and working with students enriches facilities by exposing clinicians to the most current advances in the field.”
To provide a variety of internship opportunities for students, UConn contracts with more than 80 sites that include hospitals such as Hartford Hospital, UConn Health, Manchester Memorial Hospital, Johnson Memorial Hospital, William W. Backus Hospital, Norwalk Hospital and Middlesex Hospital, as well as community health centers, nursing homes and school districts. Students complete rotations in various areas of practice including clinical nutrition (medical nutrition therapy), nutrition counseling, community nutrition, school nutrition programs, research and food service management.
The newest internship partner is the Connecticut Department of Veterans’ Affairs (DVA), now accepting interns from UConn and the University of Saint Joseph (USJ). While UConn students previously had been interning at the federally managed Veteran’s Hospital in West Haven, this is the first association with the Connecticut State Veterans Home (soon to be known as the Rocky Hill Veterans’ Center).
“Elise Cotrone, the DVA dietitian, previously mentored UConn students while she was at a different site,” says Shanley. “She called me this summer, ready to take on students. It’s just outstanding that she contacted us to once again mentor our interns.”
“It’s an exciting time for the Department of Veterans’ Affairs as we officially partner with UConn and USJ to welcome their interns to the Rocky Hill Campus,” says Commissioner Sean Connolly. “My staff is dedicated to the mission to ‘serve those who served’ and will provide the necessary tools for students to excel in their fields as they learn more about our veteran population here and in the state.”
“High-quality practicums are critical to our dietetics internship program at UConn,” says Dean Weidemann. “These practical work experiences are a vital step for our students to meet the rigorous standards needed to become a registered dietitian. We are very pleased to be partnering with the Department of Veterans Affairs to help meet this critical need for our students.”
CAHNR students have two choices when pursing an undergraduate degree in dietetics: the Coordinated Program offered by the Department of Allied Health Sciences (AHS), and the Didactic Program in the Department of Nutritional Sciences (NUSC).
Students in the AHS Coordinated Program spend their first two years completing prerequisite and general education coursework, followed by two years of didactic coursework in dietetics and supervised practice experience, then complete a six-week externship. Students graduate with a BS in dietetics and are able to sit immediately for the national RD exam.
In the NUSC Didactic Program, students spend four years completing didactic and other coursework, graduate with a BS in nutritional sciences and then complete a ten-month supervised internship. The NUSC program allows students greater flexibility to pursue research or a minor degree, complete courses that will allow them to apply to a professional program such as medical or dental school or study abroad.
The Department of Allied Health Sciences also offers a dietetic internship program for students who have completed a bachelor’s degree before entering the program. The program currently includes graduates from the College’s Department of Nutritional Sciences, the University of Rhode Island, Cornell University, Indiana University and the University of North Florida.
By Kim Markesich