April 29, 2016

Sometimes in life it’s the serendipitous moments that lead to the biggest discoveries.

It has been a long journey, but the results are worth the effort.Through happenstance and hard work, the Dietetic Internship (DI) at the University of Minnesota capitalized on what seemed to be a daunting task, turning it into the nation’s only program solely focusing on working with eating disorders. 

Started in the 1990s, the DI at Minnesota was strictly for graduate students, accommodating just three to four individuals per term. Current Dietetic Internship Director Carrie Peterson took over the reins in 2000 and helped spur a renaissance of the program.

Steady improvements progressed under her guidance but in 2011, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics issued new DI guidelines that forced her to look critically at the direction the internship was heading.

DI Class of 2016

Dietetic Internship Class of 2015-16

Besides increasing the number of hours each intern was required to complete, all programs were required to develop a major emphasis area. 

Enter serendipity. 

Peterson was brainstorming for a specialization area, and finally struck the right chord when she brought up the issue in a conversation with former intern Jillian Lampert. 

“Jillian was an intern of mine at the University of Minnesota Hospital and Clinic in 1995, and has remained a close friend for years,” noted Peterson. 

Lampert, who worked [and is currently the Chieft Strategy Officer] at The Emily Program, were tossing around ideas regarding the new guidelines and emphasis area when they looked at each other in a light bulb moment. 

“We looked at each other simultaneously and said that our programs should join forces to make eating disorders a major emphasis,” said Peterson. 

The duo started working out the details the same day, and the rest is history. 

“A lot of dietetic internships may offer 1-2 weeks of eating disorder education, but that doesn’t fully help an intern prepare for what they will experience in the field,” said Peterson. 

Partnering with The Emily Program, an eating disorder treatment facility headquartered in the Twin Cities, provides unique opportunities allowing interns to be fully immersed in the field and put them above their peers who receive less training in this specialty practice area. 

“As a clinician who hires dietitians, it’s really hard to get training in eating disorders and that is why I was so excited about it,” said Lampert. “Our partnership allows us to train people so they have the experience they need to be successful in treating eating disorders.” 

According to the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA), in the United States alone more than 20 million women and 10 million men suffer from a clinically significant eating disorder at some time in their life, and its prevalence continues to grow every year. Many cases go unreported, and those that do seek treatment may have difficulty trying to find a safe place. However, The Emily Program is working to change that. 

The “five core items of treatment” as explained by Lampert help patients recognize that eating disorders are bio-psychological and go beyond just a relationship with food. 

“We help patients by addressing not only nutrition skills, but behavioral, emotional and psychological needs in addition to making sure they have the support from their network to seek treatment and continue after they leave the program,” said Lampert. 

DI interns are immersed in the experience of treating the whole person, and after nine weeks of intense learning they come away not only with a wealth of knowledge, but also a strong understanding of whether or not they want to continue in the field. 

“Even if interns decide that they do not want to work with eating disorder patients, they still come away with a great knowledge base of how to handle client care if they do encounter someone dealing with such challenges,” said Assistant Program Director Doreen Lindblom. “It helps them in all walks of dietetics.”

Lampert agrees. “Those that want to stay with eating disorders after completion of the program really have their pick of jobs at an eating disorders facility because they are so far ahead of their peers training-wise,” she explained. “And those that don’t want to stay in the field benefit because wherever they end up they will most likely interface with people that have eating disorders. They may end up being the only health professional on their team with that knowledge, so they can help others understand how to work with these individuals.” 

Graduates have gone on to successful careers after completion of the program, and their success also raises awareness and name recognition for the DI. 

“If you search for ‘eating disorders’ and ‘dietetic internship’ we’ll be the first ones to show up,” said Peterson. “But we now go beyond that because we have previous interns who are spread across the country sharing their experience, driving an increase in interest. And the passion and drive they demonstrate shines with their employers, so those individuals are also looking at our program and connecting interns with us.” 

That passion drives continual growth for the program, keeping the University of Minnesota Dietetic Internship ahead of the competition for years to come.

“Myself and Doreen both both attended the University of Minnesota, and went through University internships so it is near and dear to our hearts,” said Peterson.,” said Peterson. “We have a passion to see the program and our students succeed no matter what path they choose in life.”

In fact, the program is one of the largest and most successful dietetic internships in the country, with an RD exam pass rate of 97 percent. 

And what’s next? 

The DI recently absorbed an internship formerly managed by Fairview, allowing for a diversification of specialization options for its interns. It now operates a two-track internship, allowing interns to focus their specialization toward either eating disorders or medical nutrition therapy (MNT).

Leveraging relationships with community partners is also a key area that will help the program continue to grow. In addition to its relationship with The Emily Program, the DI is also working with University of Minnesota Health and several other high-profile organizations in the Twin Cities to meet the needs of both interns and the communities in which they live. 

“Our program is well entrenched in the community,” said Peterson. “So no matter which path our interns take, they know they will be getting a top-rate education and experience.”