Training interns in nutrition and dietetics: a cross-sectional study of the barriers and motivators to being a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist preceptor

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Hutchins, Andrea
Fellows, Jinette
Heer, Michelle
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Winham, Donna
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As is common across the health professions, training of Registered Dietitian Nutritionists (RDNs) requires experiential learning for interns/students to gain skills and demonstrate entry-level competency. Preceptors are essential to the experiential learning component of health care professional training, providing supervision and mentoring as students and interns gain the skills required for entry-level practice competency. Over the past 27 years, 47–73% of applicants to dietetic internships have received a placement. Practitioners willing to volunteer as preceptors are needed to generate more internship or experiential learning opportunities for the profession to continue to meet workforce demands.


The objective of this national-level online cross-sectional survey was to identify perceptions and attitudes associated with the preceptor role and incentives that might encourage precepting by current RDNs. A random sample of RDN and Nutrition and Dietetic Technicians, Registered (NDTR) professionals from the Commission on Dietetic Registration credentialed practitioner database were eligible to participate in the online survey. The main outcome measures included perceptions, attitudes, and preferred incentives to precept compared by preceptor experience categories (current, former, never precepted). Comparisons of perceptions, attitudes, and preferred incentives were made between preceptor experience categories using Chi-square and ANOVA.


Of 2464 invitations, 308 participants had complete variables for analysis. Top incentives were the opportunity to earn continuing education units (65.9%) and having expenses paid to attend a national conference (49.5%). Significantly more (P < 0.001) “former” and “never” preceptors reported the ability to choose when to take an intern, training on how to teach and communicate with interns, and access to an “on-call” specialist as incentives compared to “current” preceptors. Significantly more (P < 0.01) “never” preceptors reported training on internship expectations and the ability to provide input on intern selection process as incentives compared to “current” or “former” preceptors.


Incentives to serve as a preceptor differ based on “current”, “former”, or “never” precepted status. Promoting and strategizing solutions to the current imbalance between the greater number of dietetic internship applicants compared to preceptors should be targeted based on preceptor status to retain current preceptors, encourage former preceptors to return and recruit professionals who have never served.


This article is published as Hutchins, A.M., Winham, D.M., Fellows, J.P. et al. Training interns in nutrition and dietetics: a cross-sectional study of the barriers and motivators to being a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist preceptor. BMC Med Educ 21, 277 (2021). doi:10.1186/s12909-021-02700-0.

Fri Jan 01 00:00:00 UTC 2021