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CHLA Offers the Nation’s Only Pediatric Dietetic Internship—Tuition-Free.

The hospital’s internship trains RDNs interested in a career in pediatrics to work with children with complex medical needs.

As a world leader in the care of children with complex medical needs, Children’s Hospital Los Angeles hosts several specialized training programs, including a dietetic internship. It’s the only solely pediatric dietetic internship in the nation, and it’s now tuition-free. Ellen McCloy, MS, RD, CNSC, Program Director for the Dietetic Internship, shares why this is important.

CHLA’s Dietetic Internship used to cost participants $16,000. Now it’s tuition-free. Why did the hospital decide to make this change?

The vast majority of dietetic internships in the U.S. still charge tuition. With our tuition-free program, we will be able to attract the best candidates in the U.S. We are particularly interested in broadening our already diverse program, with emphasis on bilingual/biliterate candidates. We want the demographics of applicants to reflect the culture of Los Angeles.

This decision by Children’s Hospital to offer the internship tuition-free came from the very top—our senior leadership. Having such strong support from hospital leadership shows how valued registered dietitian nutritionists (RDNs) are on the medical team.  

As of 2024, dietetic students nationwide must have a master’s degree to participate in an internship. How will that elevate the program?

At CHLA, we have always required a master’s degree for our dietetic interns. Now the Commission on Dietetic Registration is requiring an advanced degree. To work at the high level we require in a pediatric teaching hospital, you need that extra layer of knowledge in nutrition, public health or maternal/infant health. Undergraduate dietetics programs typically don’t provide any special focus on pediatrics.

How many interns will CHLA’s 2024 program host?

In our program, four positions are part-time, extending over 22 months, which enables candidates to continue working. Two positions are on a full-time track, completing in 11 months.

What else makes this internship so desirable?

Ours is the only solely pediatric internship in the U.S. CHLA is the premier pediatric hospital in California and the Pacific Region and among the top pediatric hospitals nationwide. We provide the most advanced level of medical nutrition therapy for kids who need intensive treatment. Interns will see things here they won’t see anywhere else. Our internship is accredited by the Accreditation Council for Education in Nutrition and Dietetics (ACEND).

What is unique about a being a dietitian in a pediatric hospital?

We can see the difference we’re making for our patients. We watch them grow,  gain weight and move on to better health outcomes. That is so rewarding.

Beyond academic achievement, what makes an ideal candidate?

We are looking for someone who is motivated to work in pediatrics. We take into account various ways they have worked with children in the past. Some candidates have been nannies, run after-school programs or volunteered at camps for children with medical disorders.

We want people who understand how children change and grow and who are passionate about practicing in a family-centered care model. Essentially, we are training our future colleagues.

What will interns experience at CHLA?

Our interns work in the community in our Head Start and Women, Infants and Children (WIC) Special Supplemental Nutrition programs. And they join our multidisciplinary Feeding Therapy Clinic at CHLA, working with the clinical team and families whose children have feeding challenges.

Interns also spend time in CHLA’s intensive care units, including the Steven & Alexandra Cohen Foundation Newborn and Infant Critical Care Unit, a Level IV NICU—the highest designation possible. They are exposed to a range of specialties, such as nephrology, pulmonology, endocrinology and gastroenterology.

What is the preceptor/intern ratio?

We provide a 1-to-1 preceptor-to-intern ratio. Because this is a teaching hospital, our team members not only know how to treat patients—they know how to teach interdisciplinary students to treat patients. It makes a big difference.  

Does the internship offer leadership and research components?

Our goals are to prepare the graduate to contribute to an interdisciplinary pediatric health care team and assume a leadership role in the field. We participate in the California Leadership Education in Neurodevelopmental and Related Disabilities (CA-LEND) Training Program, which prepares professionals for leadership roles in this field. We are one of only two dietetic internships in the U.S.—and the only pediatric program—to offer this. When you graduate, you will qualify to sit for the RDN credentialing exam.

You also graduate with a project completed through LEND in research, policy or continuing education—one more accomplishment for your resume.

How do prospective candidates apply?

The first step is to attend one of our in-person open houses at CHLA—at 11 a.m. on Dec. 1, 2023, or Jan. 19, 2024. To register, email CHLA_dietetic_internship@chla.usc.edu

Learn more about CHLA’s Dietetic Internship.