What Do I Do If I Don’t Get into a Dietetic Internship? Alternative Career Ideas for Nutrition and Dietetics Students
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If you’re stressed about life after graduation from a dietetics program, know you’re not alone. With the tough coursework, stiff competition and limited dietetic internship placements, and the impending unpaid internship itself, it’s far from a joy ride.
I’ve been there. I vividly remember the 12-hour days delivering trays in a hospital food service department every weekend to get dietetic work experience, the study groups for organic chemistry, and the endless oral presentations. But what I remember most was the feeling of uncertainty throughout my entire time in the DPD program.
Aside from the uncertainty of getting accepted to an internship, I found myself unsure about being a dietitian altogether. Don’t get me wrong, you’re certainly not tied to working in a medical nutrition therapy or clinical setting as an RD. I was just ready to stop spending valuable time in a classroom and start gaining professional experience (and making money).
I’m not here to persuade or dissuade you from going either route. My objective with this article is to shed light on options after graduation. Whether you’re a dietetics student planning for the future, or you didn’t get into a dietetic internship this cycle, stay optimistic. There’s a ton of opportunity for nutrition and dietetics graduates. Let’s take a look at a few alternative career ideas.
If you’re anything like me, you entered the dietetics program as a former athlete or someone interested in fitness. But for some reason, personal training is perceived as gym-bros wearing sweatpants forever and never earning much money. This can cause college educated individuals to shy away from it.
While the average personal trainer salary is in the $30,000s annually, that number is hard to quantify as many trainers work part-time and have multiple sources of income like we’ll talk about below. If you’re shying away from personal training because of the salary number, don’t. I know plenty of trainers making 6-figures and even 7-figures in some cases. If you’re good, the sky’s the limit.
To get started, I would look into an NCCA accredited certification. The big players like the NSCA, ACSM, NASM, and ACE are great starting points. You’ll need to be CPR/AED certified to sit for the exam if you’re not already. The certification you go with doesn’t matter all that much. You need something to be legally covered and to get your foot in the door somewhere. Any will do.
I am biased here, but the CSCS certification from the NSCA is the industry leader. Since it requires a college degree to sit for the exam as well, it eliminates the chance of (almost) any unqualified trainers getting the certification. That helps you stand above the crowd for writing gigs and things of that nature.
The beauty of personal training is that you won’t have to be an entrepreneur as first (or ever) if you don’t want. In fact, I wouldn’t recommend going out on your own to begin with. Working in a big box gym as a trainer where they hand you clients is the perfect scenario for a new trainer. That will give you time to perfect your craft as a trainer and coach instead of worrying about sales and marketing.
Nutrition & Health Coaching
Something I come across quite often with nutrition graduates who don’t have an interest in personal training is a desire to coach or consult on nutrition by itself. This varies from state to state but in most places, you don’t have to be an RD to deliver nutrition coaching. As long as it’s not medical advice or meal by meal plans to solve a health issue, you’re probably in the clear. Disclaimer: I’m not a lawyer. Check with your state and seek legal counsel if you’re uncertain.
The best piece of advice I can give is to start working with people as soon as possible. Your undergraduate work likely won’t prepare you that well for working with real world people on nutrition issues. Coaching is an art form, and it takes time to get remotely okay at it. A great starting point would be Precision Nutrition. Their Level 1 coaching certification is hands down one of the best certifications in the industry. You’ll become a much better coach and health professional because of it.
Unlike personal training, you won’t find many jobs doing this without an RD credential. I would recommend getting a personal training job and offering this as an add-on to current clients, members of the gym, and your personal network. The truth is, with a nutrition degree, you’re more qualified than 90% of trainers in nutrition science. That’s worth paying extra for.
Online Coaching & Consulting
This is the hot topic right now in the health and fitness space. Everyone seems to be an online coach, which is good and bad. It’s good because people are starting to accept online coaching as a valid way to see results with their health and fitness. It’s bad because many unqualified coaches are doing poor jobs of displaying the potential value of a good coach.
If you think about coaching or personal training, the real results come from the 160+ hours that aren’t spent in a session. When the client relationship begins with the expectation of communicating outside of sessions, they may be even better prepared to see results. If you believe you can hold someone accountable while educating them about nutrition and healthy living strategies, you’re prepared to be an online coach.
This one is a bit trickier to break into. It’s nearly impossible (and ill advised) to go straight into this. I would highly encourage you to start working with people in-person first and incorporating online coaching as you go. It will be important to start building an online presence through your personal social networks, a Facebook business page, or website (more on that in a second). You need to show people that you know what you’re doing, can produce results for people, and more important than anything – earn their trust. People buy from people they trust. Do that, and you can offer any service or product you want.
As you start to offer this as a service, you have the option to go with one-on-one, groups, challenges, or even pre-made courses that you sell as a DIY program. There are a ton of options, and everyone seems to like different things. I enjoy the relationship of one-on-one and even smaller groups as opposed to DIY programs and courses.
The opportunities that stem from starting a blog stretch far beyond extra income. Running a blog shows hiring managers that you can focus, create, write and communicate concisely (if you can), and that you know your stuff (if you do). It’s a modern day portfolio that can increase your career capital in a major way. Not to mention, the skills you’ll build here can be applied to any job or career.
In terms of the careers above like personal training and nutrition coaching, a website or blog will be nearly essential to sell and market your services online. It’s not required, but it will really separate you from the pack.
Aside from career-related benefits, blogging can be a viable income source. My favorite example is Michelle from Making Sense of Cents, who makes over $100,000 each month from her blog. Insane, right? As people begin to trust your opinion and health, nutrition, or anything, you can begin recommending products, courses, services, and more. If someone purchases something per your recommendation, you’ll earn an affiliate commission.
If you’re interested in learning more about affiliate marketing, Michelle from above has a great course for affiliate marketing that you can take a look at here. I covered my expense of the course in the first month!
All that sounds great but before you get there, you’ll have to start a blog. I put together an article for the easiest way to do it from start to finish. It will take you a few minutes to read, and you should have your blog up and running within an hour. You can read that here.
Affiliate Income from Blogging & Social Media Influence
I was a bit hesitant to include information about affiliate income, but I wanted to show the possibilities and give hope as a nutrition graduate. This hesitation comes from things like MLM and people shoving inferior products down your throat. Doing this ruins trust and can destroy your most valuable marketing tool – your Facebook friends list. Until you have trust and a small following, I wouldn’t recommend any products you don’t believe in 150%. Making money now at the expense of trust is a terrible decision. Play the long game.
Things I Would Advise Against
Unless you’re going for something that has a direct line of work like professional programs such as physical and occupational therapy, dental hygienist, law school, etc., I wouldn’t go to grad school. You’d be better off using the debt you’ll rack up to live on and try different things. If you’re super passionate about nutrition science and want to pursue a PhD, then grad school makes sense. If you’re just biding time because you’re unsure of what to do with your life, grad school is quite possibly the worst decision you can make.
An example of living on the debt you’d take on and trying different things would be interning at a place you think you’d want to work, somewhere “out of your league” or beyond your scope, and working for free to get connections and experience. If you think you’d want to run a supplement company, reach out to some mid-level people at your favorite company and tell them you’ll work for free. You’ll learn more about the business and if you still want to be there in 6 months than you ever would in a classroom.
Go do stuff.
The Real Real
Don’t think you have to do one thing forever. Choosing a career can seem so daunting because you feel like you’re going to spend the rest of your life doing it. In today’s economy, people are pivoting more than ever before. Meaning, they’re working in one job or industry for a few years before pivoting to a totally different field of work. There’s also a major increase in freelance workers right now. Gaining experience in one job that can be applied to any field (i.e. writing, coaching, or managing) will give you the ability to do anything you want, anywhere you want.
Take a breath, relax, you’re going to be fine as long as you continue working hard and don’t spend too much time on Netflix. Put in the work and let your future unfold on its own.
Don’t hesitate to shoot me an email if you have any questions or would like to run ideas by me. Good luck!