Preparing registered dietitians

As a doctoral student, faculty member Deborah Myers decided her dissertation would focus on why dietetics students have difficulty securing the post-baccalaureate internships they need in order to take a national registration exam.

As director of the dietetics program at Bluffton, she also decided to do something to address that problem.

The result is a Bluffton-based internship program that, in its first year, has enrolled eight dietetics graduates who are gaining clinical practice at sites in Bluffton, Lima and Findlay, Ohio, and with Mennonite Disaster Service.

Dietetics internship now offeredThe first participants in the yearlong program include 2012 Bluffton alumni Amber Swaney and Jessica McDonald; Joanne Pannabecker, a Bluffton resident who holds bachelor's and master's degrees from universities in New Zealand; and graduates of Purdue, Central Michigan, Michigan State and Ball State universities, along with a San Francisco woman who graduated from the University of California-Davis.

In a highly competitive field, only about half of dietetics graduates who apply for an internship secure one, says Myers, noting that there are "not enough internship positions open nationwide."

During a fall 2010 sabbatical, the professor of food and nutrition devised the preliminary plan for Bluffton's new program that is now accredited by the Accreditation Council for Education in Nutrition and Dietetics.

With its focus on community and public health nutrition, the internship program is in keeping with the university's history and mission, says Jennifer Little, the internship experience coordinator. "The internship fits our mission of service," notes Myers, adding "not only is it needed, but it's also a wonderful extension of our undergraduate program."

Dietetics majors get experienceThat program, which dates to 1985, has been growing for the last 15-20 years, Myers says. And "traditionally, Bluffton has a very strong record of placement," consistently above 80 percent for competitive internships.

Successful completion of an accredited internship is required for eligibility to take the national registration exam. Passing that exam leads to state licensure in Ohio, allowing an individual to begin practicing as a registered dietitian.

Of the initial eight interns, one is a man and five are living in Riley Court. "We wanted our interns to be an integral part of campus," explains Little, who came to the university in March after eight years as a clinical dietitian at Bluffton's Mennonite Memorial Home.

Among the sites hosting the interns are St. Rita's Hospital in Lima, where Bluffton undergraduates have also done clinical work; Lima City Schools, where the interns are promoting nutrition with fourth graders; and Ohio State University Extension-Hancock County and Allen County Head Start, two places where combating childhood obesity is a focal point, as it is in Lima City Schools.

Hosts also include the university's athletics department, Bluffton Hospital and Mennonite Disaster Service, in a pilot program for feeding volunteers at disaster sites.

The program will lead to additional benefits, such as an expanded relationship with Bluffton and surrounding communities, Myers and Little say. It will also get Bluffton's name "out there with organizations that will employ our graduates," Little points out.

And, beyond that, "it will give Bluffton national exposure," adds Myers. "It's definitely a feather in our cap."