Selecting Preceptors

A “preceptor” is an expert or specialist, such as a Registered Dietitian, who provides practical experience and training to a dietetic intern. Examples of experts or specialists include Registered Dietitians (RD), Registered Nurses (RN), and food service directors.

The practice site/facility is an organization or business that provides the opportunity for the intern to complete the required supervised practice such as a hospital, public health agency, university dining center, school food service, or long-term care facility. Ideally, the practice sites you select should be large enough to have several full-time RDs. 

As you begin contacting potential preceptors, you may wish to use something like this sample letter (PDF). Facilities must be aware that additional paperwork may be required should you match to our program.

For the ISU Internship, it’s recommended to secure three to five different facilities:

  • One acute-care facility (like a hospital)
  • One WIC facility
  • One Community project site (could be completed at the WIC facility)
  • One MGMT facility (could be completed at MNT site, LTC facility, or a school)
  • One K-12 public school that participates in the National School Lunch or Breakfast Programs

Appropriate preceptors and precepting sites

Medical Nutrition Therapy (MNT) (650 hours or 11 weeks + 2 weeks Staff Relief = 13 weeks): The ideal hospital facility would have a wide variety of acute, chronic, and outpatient services as well as the full-range of foodservice operations. The usual inpatient census should be at least 50 and there should be at least 2 full-time RDs; this provides you the opportunity to learn different styles of professional skills.  An internship may already be in place in a larger hospital. Sometimes small community hospitals or long term care facilities with sub-acute units are more agreeable to sponsor you. We have not found any difference in pass rate on the RD exam or job placement based on facility size.

Here are minimum needs for supervised practice facility for MNT rotations:

  • Your facility should be currently accredited by the appropriate agency—such as JCAHO, DNV, or the state.
  • Each facility should be licensed for at least 50 bed inpatient census.
  • Each facility should have at least 2 RDs who work with MNT patient care.
  • Advanced practice rotations may occur in other facilities.
    • These topic areas may, but are not required to, include Pediatrics, Renal, Diabetes, Oncology, and Nutrition Support.
    • It is not uncommon to complete most of the MNT rotations in one facility, then spend time at other facilities to complete the advanced topic areas.
  • The MNT facility may be the same as the MGMT facility.
  • You may use the same site for both parts of MNT – at the beginning and the end.

Community (COM) (250 hours or WIC: 1 week, Other: 4 weeks): The ideal community agencies (Office for the Aging, Long-term Care, and Public Health) would be involved in broad planning and management of food and nutrition services as well as direct client care.

  • You should plan to complete at least 4-5 days in an actual WIC clinic.
  • You will complete a service learning project (SLP) during the COM rotation.
    • This project can occur in many different types of facilities and agencies such as: public health department, WIC agency, Elderly Care facility, a corporate setting, OR the MNT facility or the MGMT facility.
    • Time for the SLP is scheduled during COM rotation however the project is not required to be a COM topic.
  • You are not required to (but you may) spend the entire COM rotation at a WIC agency.
  • The COM preceptors may include other professionals than RDs for preceptors: consider RNs, social workers and other experts or specialists.

Food Service Management (MGMT) internship experiences (250 hours or 5 weeks): You must include experience with therapeutic diets in a hospital-like setting and public school foodservice for experience with USDA Child Nutrition Programs (CNP), specifically National School Lunch and Breakfast Programs. 

  • You must spend at least one week in a school.
  • You may choose how to divide your time: i.e. 2 weeks in schools, 3 weeks in hospital MGMT or 1 week in assisted living facility, 4 weeks in public schools or vice versa.
  • There might not be an RD on staff with whom to complete the supervised practice requirements. However, there will be appropriate professionals such as the department director or the head supervisor.
  • If you have selected a smaller facility, it may be necessary for you to complete a portion of this rotation in another facility.
  • The MGMT facility may be the same as the MNT facility.
  • NOTE: There might be only ONE (1) preceptor in the PUBLIC SCHOOL FOODSERVICE rotation.  This situation is acceptable.

In the internship, it is suggested you have at least 4 preceptors (more is acceptable):

  • Two RD preceptors in the Medical Nutrition Therapy (MNT) rotation
    • These can be at the same facility; doesn’t need to be at two different sites.
  • One preceptor in the Community Nutrition (COM) rotation
  • One preceptor in the Management (MGMT) rotation
    • While it is preferable to have at least one RD preceptor in the Community (COM) and Management (MGMT) rotations this may not be feasible. If there is not a RD in the Community (COM) and MGMT rotations, select an appropriate professional in the area such as the department director or the program coordinator.

Contacting potential preceptors

Some tips as you contact potential preceptors:   

  • Start with contacts that you may currently have.
  • Have you worked or volunteered in a facility that has one or more RD’s? Typically, the people for whom you have worked have a favorable impression of your ability and commitment to succeeding in a DI. 
  • Have you attended any meetings with RDs? Network with these individuals in your quest to find qualified RD preceptors.
  • Have there been RD guest speakers in any of your classes?
  • Once you have decided which dietitians to contact, call their offices and make an appointment to talk with them. Since you will be discussing the application materials and forms required after matching, a face-to-face meeting is best.
  • Even if these contacts do not agree to be your preceptors, they may know someone else whom you might approach.
  • The RDs who have agreed to serve as your preceptors should be able to guide you in approaching hospital administrators and agency directors if needed.

Your preceptors must send you a short statement stating their willingness to precept you and the dates of your rotations with them (via email is fine). These preceptor commitment letters must be included in your application.

Inform each preceptor that additional documentation may be required should you match to our program.

NOTE: if you match to our program, affiliation agreements will be required between ISU and the practice site/facility before your rotations beginThese agreements will be completed between Iowa State University legal counsel and the practice site/facility after match.  ISU cannot guarantee that all affiliation agreements will be successfully negotiated and it will be your responsibility to make other arrangements; therefore, you are strongly advised to select more than one facility especially for MNT rotations.