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Volunteering Improves MSU Dietetic Internship
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- One of the last things college students look for is more work and responsibilities, but some at Mississippi State University do just that, and call it rewarding.
Each semester, students from MSU's dietetic internship program volunteer an hour a week at Crossroads International Friendship House in Starkville to teach cooking and nutrition to spouses of international students. Jessica Partridge, now a registered clinical dietitian at Arlington Memorial Hospital in Texas, was the first volunteer.
"I tried to do themes, such as Southern cooking or Thanksgiving, and demonstrate recipes as well as talk to them about nutrition information and the American culture," Partridge said. "The rewards were to meet the foreign ladies and to be a friend to them."
Diana Bridges, director of the Friendship House, said this spring marked the fourth semester volunteers from MSU have offered programs at the house.
"The program is quite popular, with 15 to 25 people at each meeting," Bridges said. "The students like that there are easy American recipes to try, and they enjoy casseroles that can be made quickly. Many are adventurous and try the recipes on their own at home."
Dr. Sylvia Byrd, director of MSU's dietetic internship/graduate studies program, said this work builds skills and looks great in student portfolios. Not that graduates need help getting jobs.
"Mississippi State's job placement rate for dietetic interns is 100 percent," Byrd said. "If we had more graduates, I could place them, too. I get at least one call a week from companies looking for employees."
MSU's three options for those entering the dietetic internship prepare students to be eligible for the registered dietetic exam. Each option requires 1,000 hours of supervised work experience and 10 hours of graduate course work. The options offer full-time or part-time studies, and a combined master of science in nutrition.
Byrd said admission to the dietetic internship program is competitive; MSU accepts 24 students a year. Of the 203 dietetic internships in the country, only three take more students a year than MSU. But graduates typically have their choice of two or more jobs.
"The highest starting salary of a MSU graduate was $40,000 a year, while the average starting salary for graduates is about $32,000," Byrd said.
While salaries are good, getting to that point is challenging. In addition to courses and research, interns have five 96-hour rotations at the MSU Extension Service, Baptist Memorial Hospital in Columbus, Oktibbeha County Hospital in Starkville and Oktibbeha County Health Department. Another 520-hour rotation is spent at North Mississippi Health Services in Tupelo.
Renee Taylor, chief clinical dietitian/diabetes educator at Oktibbeha County Hospital, is a site coordinator for MSU's dietetic interns. She volunteers her time to work with the program.
"We have two new interns each month who are here for a total of 12 days," Taylor said. "When they come to us, we give them a packet of assignments and case studies that they must complete on schedule as preparation before they work with our patients."
The interns' work at the hospital includes conducting nutrition assessments for cardiac rehabilitation patients, working with the diabetes educator, making dietary in-service presentations to the hospital's food service staff, performing dietary staff relief their last day and completely managing a theme day in the cafeteria. This theme day requires interns to select, order, receive, prepare and price the menu.
"The hospital benefits from these internships by having a greater ability to serve the community," Taylor said. "We believe very strongly in educating the public on health and nutrition, and we increase our manpower and can reach more people with dietetic interns."
Vicki Dodd is an MSU dietetic intern from Winfield, Ala., currently working on her rotation with the Extension Service.
"A unique thing about the MSU program is the rotation with the Extension Service, something a lot of internships do not have. It is totally different from working at hospitals," Dodd said. "We're actually helping design some of the educational materials and games for the Family Nutrition Program Extension is developing."
Traditionally, most dietitians have gone to work for hospitals, but that trend is changing, Byrd said. MSU graduates have gotten jobs with contract food service companies, universities, health departments, school food services and a dietary supplement company, among others. Internships and volunteerism play a big role is securing these jobs.
"You learn a lot more when you're actually doing the work," Partridge said.