DSH - Atascadero: Dietetic Internship Program


Rachael M. Drake, MS, RD
Dietetic Internship Program Director
Department of State Hospitals, Atascadero
10333 El Camino Real, PO Box 7001
Atascadero, CA 93423-7001

Phone: (805) 468-2502
Fax: (805) 468-2886

How to Become a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist:

To become a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist you need to:

  • Complete a minimum of a bachelor’s degree at a US regionally accredited university or college and course work accredited by the Accreditation Council for Education in Nutrition and Dietetics (ACEND) of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND).
  • Complete an ACEND-accredited supervised practice program at a health-care facility, community agency, or a foodservice corporation or combined with undergraduate or graduate studies. Typically, a practice program will run six to 12 months in length.
  • Pass a national examination administered by the Commission on Dietetic Registration (CDR). For more information regarding the examination, refer to CDR’s website at www.cdrnet.org.
  • State licensure is required to practice dietetics in some states. For more information regarding state licensure or certification, refer to CDR’s website at www.cdrnet.org.
  • Complete continuing professional educational requirements to maintain registration.

Program Description:

Department of State Hospitals - Atascadero is located on the beautiful Central Coast of California and is a secure forensic mental health hospital. The majority of the all-male patient population is remanded for treatment by county superior courts or by the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR).

The Dietetic Internship Program is a 10-month generalized program with a concentration on mental health nutrition that accepts four interns per year. The program has been granted Candidacy for Accreditation by the Accreditation Council for Education in Nutrition & Dietetics of the Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics.

Guided by its standards, the program provides the didactic and supervised practice experiences needed to meet eligibility requirements and to increase the intern’s understanding of professional practice as a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN). Interns qualify to take the Registration Examination for Dietitians upon successful completion of the program.

Contact Information
Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics
120 South Riverside Plaza, Suite 2190
Chicago, IL 60606-6995
(312) 877-0400, extension 5400

Program Calendar:

The Dietetic Internship Program is a 10-month program; the program year begins in early January and concludes in early November each year.

Program Mission, Goals & Objectives:

The program’s mission is to promote lifelong learning in nutrition and dietetics, promote development of professional skills and attitudes and prepare interns for future practice as competent entry-level registered dietitians who are well-rounded, culturally sensitive and contributing members to the field of dietetics in both service to the community and the profession. The program is committed to educating interns in developing skills to promote health and prevent disease utilizing scientific evidence based practice. The program’s goals and objectives are:

  1. Prepare graduates to be competent for practice as entry-level registered dietitians and obtain employment in dietetics-related positions.
    1. At least 80% of program interns complete program requirements within 15 months (150% of the program length).
    2. 80% of program graduates take the CDR Credentialing Exam for Dietitian Nutritionists within 12 months of program completion.
    3. The program’s one-year pass rate (graduates who pass the registration exam within one year of first attempt) on the CDR credentialing exam for dietitian nutritionists is at least 80%. 
    4. Of graduates who seek employment, 75 % percent are employed in nutrition and dietetics or related fields within 12 months of graduation.
    5. 10% of graduates will be employed in a nutrition and dietetics related position within the Department of State Hospitals or other California State institution.
    6. When surveyed 18 months after graduation, 75% of graduates will give a score of at least 3.0 (ready) for readiness to work as an entry-level dietitian.
  2. Prepare graduates who demonstrate professional skills and a commitment to professional growth, including service to the community and the profession of dietetics.
    1. When surveyed, at least 80% of employers of DSH-A DI graduates will rate the graduate’s preparation for entry-level practice as at least 3.0 (meets standards).
    2. When surveyed 18 months after graduation, at least 60% of graduates will indicate they have participated in at least one event sponsored by a dietetics-related professional organization.
    3. When surveyed 18 months after graduation, at least 60% of graduates will indicate they have participated in a dietetics-related or community service activity that has aided in professional growth.  

We are proud to have a 100% one-year pass rate on the Registration Examination for Dietitians.

Program outcome data is available upon request.

Program Experiences:

Supervised practice experience is provided in food service administration, clinical dietetics and community nutrition. Interns have the opportunity to participate in several unique learning experiences, including providing nutrition care for adults with mental illness.

The program experiences include:

  • Orientation (to hospital and rotation sites) 3-4 weeks
  • Food Service Administration - 8 weeks
  • Mental Health Clinical Nutrition - 10 weeks
  • Acute Care Clinical Nutrition - 8 weeks
  • Community Nutrition - 8 weeks
  • Staff Experience - 3 weeks
  • End of program planned activities - 1 week
  • A one-week vacation is typically scheduled during the 4th of July holiday in addition to all State observed holidays.

Professionalization Seminar
Didactic classes, usually held each Monday, are planned to supplement the supervised practice. Classes are taught by the Internship Director, preceptors and guest speakers on updated nutrition information and help to prepare interns for planned clinical and community experiences.

Food Service Administration
DSH-Atascadero provides services to ~1,200 patients daily using a cook-serve production system. Interns gain hands-on experience with menu planning, large-scale food production & service methods, purchasing, personnel, and management and cost-control techniques. Learning is facilitated using written assignments and oral presentations based on the ongoing needs of the department.

Clinical Nutrition
Clinical rotations are designed to provide practical experiences using the Nutrition Care Process (NCP), including assessment, diagnosis, intervention, monitoring and evaluation of nutrition care. The intern actively participates in patient/client education as well as interdisciplinary team meetings. Clinical practice involves patients in both long-term care and acute care medical settings. The intern gains experience in medical nutrition therapy and nutrition support. Clinical experience includes areas such as endocrine disorders, cardiology, renal disease, critical care, geriatrics, oncology, HIV/AIDS, dysphagia, malnutrition and GI disorders. Interns prepare and present two written and oral case studies and other projects are assigned to reinforce nutrition principles in the clinical setting. Clinical rotation hours will include time at DSH-Atascadero and other hospitals.

Community Nutrition
Experiences in this rotation are planned to provide understanding of the role of the dietitian in the community setting and as a resource for respective agencies and programs. In addition to hands-on experiences, learning is facilitated by reading and written assignments. Community rotations will include a variety of locations such as WIC, County Health Departments, Food Banks, Head Start/Early Head Start and a private practice nutrition business.

Staff Experience
The intern will be given the opportunity to work independently and use the skills and knowledge gained during the clinical and food service administration rotations by completing a three week staff relief experience at DSH-A at the end of the program year.

Financial & Housing Information:

The internship program usually begins at the beginning of January and continues through the end of October/first week of November. Although the program functions largely during the work week, occasional work and projects may need to be completed on weekends and after work hours.

There is the option of reduced-cost housing available to interns on hospital grounds (housing is subject to availability and is not guaranteed).

Interns will be provided a salary as state employed Student Assistants while completing didactic, supervised practice and staff experience hours at DSH-Atascadero. The current financial compensation as Student Assistant during the didactic, supervised practice & staff experience at DSH-A is approximately $16,000 over the length of the program; please note that compensation will vary month to month. Interns will not receive a salary while completing supervised practice hours at program affiliated facilities (e.g. Food Bank, WIC, acute care community hospital, etc.). Salaries are subject to change.

Use of a private vehicle is required since transportation to off-site locations is the intern’s responsibility. The affiliations are located within a sixty-mile radius of Atascadero and public transportation is not available. Carpooling cannot be depended on as a means of transportation since each intern’s schedule is different.

Health insurance is required. The DSH-Atascadero Return to Work Office (i.e. occupational health clinic) and Employee Assistance Program offer limited services and are available to the interns at no expense.

Dietetic interns are not eligible for student loans through the program. However, deferments for outstanding loans can be made if allowed by your lender. DSH-Atascadero can provide documentation of status as an intern.

Program Costs
Fees and expenses include estimated expenses for travel, housing, books, study materials, liability insurance, medical exams and application fees.

Pre-Program Fees:


DSH-A DI Supplemental Application




D&D Digital Systems Computer Matching Fee


Air Travel and accommodations for in-person interview

Cost Varies  



Other Internship Related Expenses:


Professional Liability Insurance*


Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics Affiliate Membership**


Coastal Tri-Counties Dietetic Association Student Membership


CAND Annual Meeting, hotel & transportation


Materials & Supplies as needed (books, computer, Internet, lab coat, local meetings,  etc.)


Background check/fingerprinting/Drug testing


TB test and Hepatitis B Vaccination


Medical Exam


RD Exam study materials (e.g. The Jean Inman review course)


Registration Examination (after internship; fee subject to change)




Living Expenses (based on 10 months):


On-ground Housing (if available; includes rent & utilities; additional $200 security deposit required)


Off-ground Housing (may not include utilities)

  • Interns must make their own living arrangements; estimate is for renting a room, sharing an apartment or a one bedroom or studio





  • Interns must provide their own transportation. California law requires that all drivers carry a minimum of collision and liability insurance.

Cost Varies  

Personal Health/Medical Insurance****

  • Personal health insurance is required and is not provided by DSH-A.

Cost Varies  





Salaries are subject to change. The current financial compensation as Student Assistant during the didactic, supervised practice & staff experience at DSH-A is approximately $16,000 over the length of the program; please note that compensation will vary month to month. Interns will not receive a salary while completing supervised practice hours at program affiliated facilities (e.g. Food Bank, WIC, acute care community hospital, etc.).


*Professional Liability insurance must be carried throughout the entire length of the program. Information on obtaining professional liability insurance is available on the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics website at www.eatright.org. Proof of insurance coverage needs to be brought to the first day of orientation.

**Affiliate membership with the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics is required. Bring a copy of your Academy card/membership identification number to the first day of orientation.

***A car and driver’s license is required for the internship. Automobile insurance that complies with the State of California regulations must be carried. The name of the company and copy of the policy number must be brought to the first day of orientation. Carpooling cannot be depended on as a means of transportation since each intern's schedule is different.

****Health/Medical Insurance is required. The name of the company and copy of the policy number must be brought to the first day of orientation.

Admission & Completion Requirements:

For admission:
The program will only admit individuals who have completed Didactic Program in Dietetics requirements within the past 5 years*, at least a bachelor’s degree from a regionally accredited college/university and have a verification statement from a Nutrition & Dietetics Didactic Program (DPD) or Foreign Dietitian Education program (FDE). Successful internship candidates will be dedicated to the field of dietetics, have a strong interest in working in the field of mental health, are self-motivated & self-starters, and team players who can also work independently. The DSH-Atascadero Dietetic Internship Program does not assess prior learning and does not apply prior learning credit toward meeting dietetic internship requirements. Selection criteria will be based on the following:

  • Cumulative GPA of 2.8 and DPD GPA 3.0;
  • Paid and volunteer experience in the field of dietetics outside classroom field assignments. Other experience will also be considered;
  • Three letters of recommendation - one must be from an employer or supervisor at a paid or volunteer position (preferably an RD) and two from professors in the DPD or FDE program;
  • A personal statement - quality will be evaluated for passion in the field, career goals and why Department of State Hospitals, Atascadero, is a good match;
  • Leadership and participation in professional, social and school organizations are highly desired;
  • In-person interviews for top rated applicants.
  • *If the date on the DPD Verification Statement is more than 5 years prior to the start date of the internship, the applicant must take or have taken at least 9 semester or 12 quarter credits in upper-division dietetics-related coursework within the last 5 years at a university with an approved DPD or coordinated program. At least one course in medical nutrition therapy is required.

Completing the recommended requirements does not guarantee acceptance into the DSH-A Dietetic Internship program.
Once selected:
Each intern, upon acceptance to the DSH-A Dietetic Internship, must meet the following criteria:

  • Provide a final original transcript documenting the highest degree earned and the date conferred. The final original transcript must be submitted on the first day of the Dietetic Internship Program. 
  • A foreign degree equivalency statement is required for each international student who is accepted to the DSH-A Dietetic Internship, and must be submitted as part of the DICAS application.
  • Students are required to bring an original Verification Statement signed by the Didactic Program Director on their first day of the Dietetic Internship Program.
  • Interns must undergo a California State Criminal Background Check and pre-employment health clearance (physical exam) before starting the internship. These services are provided by Department of State Hospitals - Atascadero, and must be completed by the date specified in the intern notification packet. An intern will not be allowed in the program if they do not pass the background check and/or physical exam per DSH requirements for employees.
  • According to their policies for intern training, affiliate organizations may require interns to undergo additional background checks, drug screens, physical exams and tuberculin skin tests. Efforts will be made to accommodate those prerequisites during the scheduled rotation, however, completion of prerequisites may be required before starting the rotation. The intern is responsible for all costs associated with background checks, drug screens, physical exams and tuberculin skin tests required by affiliate organizations.
  • Some affiliates require a full complement of childhood immunizations or proof of immunity through blood titers. Interns must have vaccinations or blood titers for Mumps, Rubeola, Rubella, Varicella, Tetanus, Diptheria and Pertusis (Tdap), Hepatitis B, Influenza (or declination), as well as a 2-step tuberculin skin test. These services, immunizations and titers are provided by DSH-A free of charge, but will not be reimbursed to the intern if services are provided elsewhere, or if required at offsite facilities.
  • Prior learning, including coursework and/or experience, is not assessed for credit toward program requirements.

For completion:
Interns must attend all assigned orientation classes, didactic classes, workshops, seminars, meetings and field trips. The intern must successfully complete all planned supervised practice components and assignments within 15 months. The intern must receive written performance appraisals that reflect at least the level of “meets standard” in all core competencies.
Interns must also comply with the Code of Ethics, Standards of Practice for the Profession of Dietetics, DSH-Atascadero Administrative Directives, DSH-Atascadero Nutrition Services Policy & Procedures and the policies and procedures of our affiliate sites.

Employment outside of the internship program is discouraged given its impact on program performance.
When the intern successfully completes the internship program, the Director will issue a signed Verification Statement and submit CDR eligibility to take the Registered Dietitian examination.

Application Information:

The program uses the online Dietetic Internship Centralized Application System (DICAS). DICAS can be contacted by email at DICASInfo@DICAS.org or https://portal.dicas.org.

The program accepts applications for the fall match only. The online application must be completed no later than 11:59 p.m. Central Time on September 25, 2019. The fee to use DICAS is $45 for the first application submitted and $20 for each additional application.

The Department of State Hospitals - Atascadero Dietetic Internship Program requires the following information be provided by all applicants:

  • Completed DICAS application. Your application will not be considered if your work and volunteer experiences are not included in the applicable section of the application. Applicants are encouraged to include all work and volunteer experience, not just those that are nutrition-related.
  • Official transcripts from all colleges and universities attended.
  • Three letters of recommendation - one must be from an employer or supervisor at a paid or volunteer position (preferably an RD) and two from professors in the DPD or FDE program. Letters should be from individuals who know you well and can speak to your strengths and weaknesses.
  •   Current resume or curriculum vitae.
  • Personal statement that addresses the questions outlined in the DICAS application, your passion for the field of nutrition & dietetics, career goals and why DSH-Atascadero is a good match.
  • Declaration of Intent to Complete Degree and Academy Minimum Academic Requirements or DPD Program Verification Statement.
  • Applicants must mail (postmarked by September 25) a non-refundable $65 application fee made payable to “Department of State Hospitals, Atascadero.” Only a cashier’s check or money order will be accepted as form of payment; the student name must be indicated in the memo/note section. We cannot accept personal checks. We do not recommend sending the application fee by certified or registered mail since this can slow the processing time. Please mail to the following:

Rachael Drake, MS, RD, Dietetic Internship Program Director
c/o Nutrition Services
Department of State Hospitals, Atascadero
PO Box 7001
Atascadero, CA 93423-7001

Applicants must register and enter their Dietetic Internship priority choices online at www.dnddigital.com. There is a $55 charge for computer matching that is due at the time the applicant registers. The Department of State Hospitals of State Hospitals Atascadero Dietetic Internship computer matching code is 593. Address questions or inquiries to:

D&D Digital Systems
304 Main St., Suite 301
Ames, Iowa 50010-6148
Phone: (515) 292-0490
Fax: (515) 663-9427
Email: dnd@sigler.com
Website: www.dnddigital.com