RD2B: Volunteer Hours

Good Morning RD2Bs!

I recently posted an article that was an overview of how I got into Cal Poly, SLO dietetic internship program. I discussed my conversation with Kati Fosselius (the Cal Poly DI director) about volunteer and work experience. In this article I will be expanding on volunteer and work experience that stands out on an application. I mentioned briefly that Kati was specifically looking for breath and depth. After hearing these concepts explained I quickly changed the way I was volunteering. To recap: I heard a talk from a Fresno State dietetic intern my sophomore year of college. She shared that her volunteer experience was built by grabbing every volunteer opportunity that came her way. Eager to begin this same strategy, I quickly learned that I wanted a social life, good grades and sleep, more than I wanted to volunteer 20 hours a week at different health fairs. The idea behind breadth and depth is that you get more bang for your buck!

Breadth refers to the types of volunteer experiences that you have. Dietitians work in a variety of different areas such as food service, school systems, cooperate offices, hospitals, rehabilitation facilities, eating disorder clinics, community action partners, WIC, the list goes on and on. The best way to demonstrate breadth is to first pick volunteer opportunities based off of the type of nutrition it is. You will need experience in food service, community and clinical. If you already work in a restaurant and have volunteered at WIC for a year, I would recommend by-passing anymore community or food service opportunities and looking for a clinical volunteer position so that you have breadth. Look for opportunities that are going to expose you to all three areas of dietetics. I will list my volunteer experience below so that you can get an idea of what breadth looked like for me.You can never have too many clinical volunteer hours. It’s the hardest type to get and I highly recommend you start these ASAP. Use volunteer hours to not only build your resume but to get exposed to more areas of dietetics so that you can write in your personal statement what area you are leaning towards. I will list my volunteer experience below so that you can get an idea of what breadth looked like for me.

Depth is just as important, if not more important than breadth. Depth means that you have spent time in your volunteer positions and invested yourself in them. I’m not saying there is anything wrong with volunteering at a health fair for two hours or serving at a non-profit banquet once a year. But internship directors will be more impressed by the 6 months that you spent as a volunteer at Children’s Hospital than the number of health fairs that you have attended. Find one of two volunteer positions every year or every semester and sink into them. Get to know the dietitians working there, learn the culture of that facility, talk to clients and patients. Depth will not only shine through on your internship application it will also be the making or breaking of your letters of recommendation.

Volunteering is essential to the application. You can have a perfect GPA, but if you don’t have experience it doesn’t really matter. Work smarter, not harder with your experiences. For example, get a job at a hospital as a tray server. You’ll be able to kill two birds with one stone – food service/clinical dietetic experience and you’re making money. RD2Bs live busy lives, there’s no way around that. It’s important that you are strategic with your time and don’t waste it on useless experiences that won’t get you any credit. I spent too many hours volunteering at small random events that I didn’t even end up putting on my DICAS application. Those experiences  looked pointless next to my research hours and time in a clinical rehab facility. Find volunteer hours that are going to benefit you as a person, an applicant, and a student. Volunteering doesn’t have to be meaningless work. When you are about to accept a volunteer position ask yourself these questions:

  1. Will this experience benefit my as a student?
  2. Will this experience demonstrate depth and breadth on an application?
  3. Do I have the time to put into this opportunity?

If the answer to any of these is no, you need to evaluate the benefits and costs of the opportunity. If the answer to these are yes then I say go for it. It’s important to start making mindful decisions in college even if it’s about a volunteer opportunity. You don’t want to get into an opportunity and realize that it isn’t going to help you grow or benefit the other party that you are volunteering for. You also don’t want to be known as someone who cannot manage their time. You might make someone happy temporarily by saying yes, but they will be very disappointed when you determine that you don’t have time once you are already committed. Part of being a great applicant is being true to your word and accountable.

As promised here is a list of my volunteer opportunities.  I have also included a document that you can start using to keep track of your volunteer hours. One of the greatest tips I received from a graduating senior was to write down your volunteer hours along with a detailed description of what you are doing at that facility. When you get to your senior year and you are applying for DICAS you aren’t going to remember what you did at Community Action Partners your freshman year.

Click here to see My Volunteer Hours

Click here to download your Volunteer Hours Log!

I hope this was a helpful resource to you future dietitians. Don’t hesitate to contact me if you have any questions or want some advice on a volunteer position. Remember, your advisors are a great resources as well!



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