Dietetics students at the Robert Stempel College of Public Health & Social Work eat up the valuable learning offered by internships

Two students in the accredited didactic program in dietetics at the Robert Stempel College of Public Health & Social are looking back on 2020 thankful for the hands-on learning opportunities that came compliments of the Department of Dietetics and Nutrition.

The program helps both undergraduate and graduate students land internships, an experience that “increases the employability and working skills of the students,” says department chair Adriana Campa. And for those who will sit for the registration exam to become registered dietitians, a 1,200-hour external internship is required.

Maria Vargas Guzman graduated with a bachelor’s degree earlier this year and found herself at the prestigious UChicago Medicine Ingalls Memorial Dietetic Internship program. A scholarship from the Chicago Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics covered her costs.

She has supervised food prep for patients with allergies and, along with another intern, created a Greek-style bowl complete with falafel, chick peas and hummus for a limited run at the medical center’s cafeteria. A highlight: She helped develop a presentation for the organization’s cancer survivor program.

While at FIU, Vargas Guzman volunteered with the Miami Cancer Institute, part of Baptist Health South Florida, where she realized her passion: supporting the nutritional needs of cancer survivors. She plans to apply to graduate school and specialize in oncological dietetics.

“Chemotherapy and radiotherapy often have side effects, and many times they affect the gastrointestinal tract,” says Vargas Guzman, a native of Venezuela. “People are sometimes unable to eat because of nausea, vomiting or mucositis. If someone has cancer, they need more calories and proteins to actually heal. Nutrition is a very important when helping a cancer patient.”

Padideh Lovan

Padideh Lovan this year earned a Ph.D. and completed part of her graduate internship at Chartwell’s Food Service at the university’s cafeteria. She learned critical leadership skills from her supervisors and saw firsthand how food service has adapted to face the challenges of COVID-19. “It’s great to see how they’re dealing with this situation,” she says. “What I’ve been observing has been very impressive. The staff tries to keep each other safe, wearing masks at all times. The tables are six feet apart, there are little cards at each table that people should flip from the green to red side, so other people know they should not sit at those tables until they get sanitized.”

Lovan, originally from Iran, came to FIU with diverse experiences under her belt, including having run her own dietetics practice in her home country. Working on her dissertation helped her uncover a new career path: Research.

“Having the opportunity to do research from the ground up, implementing it and getting results... It was amazing,” she says. Her work examined the correlation between college students’ internal bodily/hunger signals and their food intake. For the project, she won first place at the annual Stempel College Research Day—further confirming that she has made the right career choice.