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New NMSU internship trains nutrition professionals

Those seeking to become registered dietitians often run into a big problem, there are twice as many applicants as internship programs available. New Mexico State University is helping to alleviate that problem with its newly accredited dietetic internship program.

A dietetic intern at NMSU speaks with two prospective preceptors.
New Mexico State University dietetic intern Kallie Waldrip (right) speaks with potential preceptors at a luncheon. (Courtesy photo)

The program provides up to 12 slots for interns who have earned a bachelor's degree and met other program requirements. According to the American Dietetic Association's 2010 Annual Report, the number of internships available is insufficient, resulting in only a 50 percent acceptance rate for qualified students.

"The internship is providing an opportunity for students in our area and for students across the country to work with our Cooperative Extension Service which has been a leader in nutrition issues," said Wanda Eastman, internship director and professor at NMSU.

Before NMSU's dietetic internship opened, the nearest programs were in Arizona and north Texas. Recently, NMSU held a training session for preceptors in Southern New Mexico who will supervise the interns.

"There's a shortage of dietitians, especially in the rural parts of New Mexico because students often would have to leave the state to complete an internship," Said Rosa Lopez, preceptor for NMSU's dietetic internship program and special projects dietitian for the New Mexico Department of Public Health. "I think NMSU's internship will help people stay in the area and provide support to our communities."

The internship is a key component on the pathway to becoming a registered dietitian which includes earning a bachelor's degree, completing 1,200 hours of supervised practice and passing a national exam.

NMSU's internship program began in the fall semester and is the first in the country to have a Cooperative Extension Service emphasis. This unique component of the program includes working with NMSU's Extension Family and Consumer Sciences department which consists of programs like "Keep Moving, Keep Healthy with Diabetes," "Fit Families" and "ICAN" (Ideas for Cooking and Nutrition). Those in the internship program will have the opportunity to learn how these programs are implemented throughout Southern New Mexico and will also work on program development.

Eastman and co-internship director Carol Turner worked for nearly a year to put the program together in accordance with the standards of the Commission on Accreditation for Dietetics Education. They received an approval letter from the commission in June.

"We need nutrition professionals to help citizens of Southern New Mexico and West Texas deal with issues like diabetes and the childhood obesity epidemic and to work in Cooperative Extension Services, wellness programs and school nutrition," Eastman said.

For more information about the dietetic internship or nutrition programs offered by the Cooperative Extension Service, contact Eastman at wmorgan@nmsu.edu or Turner at caturner@nmsu.edu.