Dietetic Interns: Maintaining Wellness and Morale During The Pandemic
Updated: Apr 3, 2021
Last year at this time, I was weeks into my Iowa State Dietetic Internship. Though the coronavirus name had been tossed around among my colleagues at different sites, I went along doing my hours and assignments completely unaware of the havoc that was forthcoming. Then in March, right after I wrapped up my community rotation, life as I knew it was completely and abruptly interrupted. Not only was I required to finish the remainder of my internship remotely, but so many of the experiences I was used to enjoying became unavailable or drastically modified.
Though we have entered a new year, the virus is still far from contained (and, quite terrifyingly, mutating into multiple variants) and many of the delays and changes we’ve grown so weary of remain in place. These limitations have been incredibly tough on all of us (a massive THANK YOU to all of our essential healthcare workers who tirelessly provide care during this awful time), but it is a particular challenge for dietetic interns. Being an intern is A LOT of work in normal circumstances, but the additional restrictions due to COVID both inside and outside the workplace have forced us to cope on another level entirely. I know that there are many interns who are struggling as they work through their programs while trying to keep the other aspects of their lives as healthy and enjoyable as possible. I decided to use my experience as a Dietetic Intern during the pandemic to design a list of strategies in the hopes that it helps current interns and RDs2Be stay motivated, mentally strong, and resilient as they navigate this extraordinary endeavor.
Obviously, we all cope in different ways, so I urge you to use the following recommendations as a starting point to build what works best for you!
TOP 5 TIPS FOR DIETETIC INTERN WELLNESS AND MORALE
1) REGULARLY CHECK-IN WITH YOUR SUPPORT SYSTEM. I cannot stress how important it is to stay connected with your loved ones and peers as you take on internship challenges and studying for the RD exam. The workload you have as an intern is often overwhelming, and when you are so busy it can seem like you are alone with these challenges. I got extremely lucky to have a community of practice in my ISU DI, all of us were based in California and we regularly communicated through a group text chain and video chats through Google Meet. It was massively helpful to have such kind, hardworking people in your corner and also have your experience validated by others. Schedule time each week, even if it’s just a brief FaceTime call, to connect with your fellow interns and also with your family, friends, and significant others/spouses.
2) MAKE TIME FOR YOUR HOBBIES AND SELF-CARE. A 50-hour per week schedule can feel like there just isn’t any time left for you and your needs, but putting yourself on the backburner is a quick recipe for burnout. Partaking in pandemic-safe hobbies and self-care practices will replenish your energy and well-being and prevent feelings of burnout and overwhelm. As a nutrition and healthcare professional, you cannot give to your clients and patients what you don’t give yourself. One hobby that I picked up was reading for pleasure, which was a tremendous help to my mood, sleep, and overall resilience as the pandemic raged on. Coincidentally, soon after I attended FNCE 2020 where speaker Neil Pasricha stressed the value of reading at least 20 pages of fiction per day for boosting wellness and creativity! If you’re looking for inspiration, a few of my personal favorites are My Not-So-Perfect Life by Sophie Kinsella, A Cuban Girl’s Guide To Tea and Tomorrow by Laura Taylor Namey, and Ready Player One by Ernest Cline.
3) DON’T FORGET TO EXERCISE. We have all been there, too pressed for time and tired from all of your commitments to fit a workout in. But when it comes to exercise, a little can definitely go a long way. Regular habits like commuting, spending long hours at a desk, and doing repetitive household chores are incredibly stressful on our muscles and our mind. A fitness routine, even if it’s just twenty minutes of yoga or seven minutes of a resistance workout, can help counteract those negative effects on our physical and mental health.
During the early period of lockdown, my search for online workouts led me to an awesome website called YogiApproved.com. The site offers hundreds of online yoga classes for every skill level, practice type, and workout duration (great for those who only have time for a quick class!) with encouraging, fun instructors. But what ultimately sold me on this Colorado-based local business is their partnership with an incredible organization called Trees for the Future, every time a member completes a class on the site a fruit-producing tree gets planted in West Africa. So a major shout-out to YogiApproved for helping their members feel good while doing good!
4) KEEP NUTRIENT-DENSE SNACKS ON HAND. There were countless times when an assignment, particularly ones involving the NCP, took me much longer to finish than I anticipated. While I could occasionally meal prep for the week, often I found myself reliant on food that was either quick to prepare or ready to go so I could have the fuel to get my work done. You have already have so much to think about and take care of as a Dietetic Intern, Food should not create any additional stress, so stock up on ready-to-go snacks that are either shelf stable or freeze well. My personal go-tos were nuts/trail mix, low fat yogurt, granola bites, and chocolate covered blueberries.
5) TAKE BREAKS DURING ASSIGNMENTS AND STUDY SESSIONS. I know that this can feel counterintuitive when you have looming assignment deadlines and what feels like encyclopedias worth of material for the RD Exam, but trust me, it’s critical. Your brain needs to rest to be able to retain all of that information! I used five and ten-minute break “spurts” to divert my eyes away from the screen, complete brief meditations, and mindfully enjoy a snack and/or beverage. It’s a simple and straightforward way to return to your work refreshed and better than ever!
Please know I am rooting for you as you complete this incredible opportunity to become a Registered Dietitian. Stay safe and take care of yourself during this uniquely demanding time.