California State University, Long Beach
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New Twist On ISPP Program

Published: September 1, 2015

Not enough internships.

That was the simple impetus for the startup of CSULB’s Individualized Supervised-Practice Pathway (ISPP) program in 2011.

“Right now, nationwide, about 50 percent of those who graduate with a B.S. degree in Nutrition and Dietetics and are eligible to do an internship can’t find a rotation spot,” said Long Wang, an assistant professor in the Department of Family and Consumer Sciences (FCS), who focuses on nutrition. “The internships are very competitive where only about half of the students applying for an internship get matched. This program will give those eligible students who are not matched an additional opportunity to complete that requirement.”

The ISPP program gives dietetic interns an opportunity to increase their knowledge of food and nutritional science and to acquire competencies needed to practice dietetics in a variety of settings. It provides up to 25 interns 1,200 hours of supervised practice experience which prepares them to take and pass the national Registration Examination for Dietitians, a requirement to work in the field as a registered dietitian.

Wang said the shortage of internships is not unique to California, and that individuals from as far away as Texas, Pennsylvania and Massachusetts have now signed up for CSULB’s ISPP program.

“Texas has a lot of internship positions, but they have a lot of students too, so they have this same issue,” he said. “Students may not be able to find a local program in which they can enroll, but they can enroll with us, stay home and find a facility nearby where they can do their rotations, no matter where they live.”

While the program is beginning its fifth cohort of interns this year, the one major difference is that it marks the first time it’s expanding beyond the borders of CSULB allowing individuals from other states to enroll.

“We’ve opened it up to students across the country,” said Michele Loy, a lecturer in FCS who along with Wang serves as ISPP co-director. “This is to allow those who are highly qualified students to still be able to complete the required internship rotations so they can take the registered dietitian exam. The internship is the only roadblock to them becoming a registered dietitian.”

The full-time program takes 12 months and part-time options allow up to 18 months to complete the requirements.

Unlike a traditional internship, the ISPP program, in part, serves as the internship. Students enrolled are responsible for securing their own rotations and finding preceptors who will help them complete their supervised rotation hours, no matter where they are located. Preceptors overseeing a student must be a registered dietitian or other qualified professional with appropriate credentials and experience.

And, according to Wang, CSULB’s ISPP program is not, and cannot be, the first option for those needing the required internship.

“We offer the ISPP program as an alternative for students to fulfill their internship requirements,” he said. “To enroll with us, students would have had two previous unsuccessful applications for traditional internships. It’s easy to see why people would want to make this a first choice, but we don’t want that to be the case. That is not our intention.”

Wang’s and Loy’s role is managing and ensuring that no matter where a dietetic intern does their clinical rotations that they follow program guidelines and standards and that everything is properly documented before they sign off.

“So the education actually occurs with the individual preceptors,” said Wang. “And in the clinical rotations themselves.”

The program commitment is 1,200 hours earned through eight rotations, with the major ones being in food service and clinical settings. Specifically, rotations cover the areas of medical nutrition, institutional food service, patient food service, clinical concentration, outpatient, child nutrition education and community nutrition.

The ISPP program is also a little different in that it can be tailored to each individual student, providing flexibility that goes hand-in-hand with a common sense approach.

“For example, if someone has been working as a manager in a food department for a long time, we could waive certain number of hours in food service management,” said Wang. “That would allow someone to finish that particular rotation earlier and maybe spend a longer period of time in another rotation which they may have a greater interest in. In the end, however, it won’t reduce the total number of hours required. They still have to do the 1,200 hours.”