AMES, Iowa - Iowa State University's Dietetics Internship program, already the largest in the country, will be the first in the nation to offer an international component with interns allowed the option to perform a portion of their work at the University of Ghana in that African country, beginning in January.

ISU's expanding Dietetics Internship program trains 120 interns each year completing work in one of two, six-month programs of 60 students each. It is accredited by the Commission on Accreditation for Dietetic Education.

"Registered dietitians perform medical nutrition therapy and work in hospitals and community agencies to provide nutrition counseling," said Erin Bergquist, clinician and practicum coordinator of ISU's Dietetics Internship program. "This is a great chance for them to get international experience."

Internship topics include food service, medical nutrition therapy, and community nutrition work. For students based in Iowa, community work has traditionally been in hospitals, public health agencies or food service management organizations, said Bergquist.

But now, that community work can be completed in Ghana.

Bergquist and Jean Anderson, program director, helped finalize details of the program on a recent trip to the African nation, and are excited that students from ISU will be working with local Ghanaian dietetic interns.

"The neatest part is that our interns and their interns will work together," said Bergquist. "But while their interns only work with clinical assignments, ISU's interns will actually be going out into the small, rural communities that the local interns have never gone to.

"It is really very exciting."

The expansion into Africa is a huge step for ISU's program, according to Bergquist, and continues a trend of increasing the size of the program to meet the growing need for dietitians.

Iowa State's program is one of the more competitive in the country, receiving hundreds of applications for the 120 positions available annually. The program is administered through the College of Human Sciences.

Iowa State University's Dietetic Internship team includes Laurie Kruzich, clinician; Janet Johnson, senior clinician; and Erin Bergquist, clinician/practicum coordinator. Not pictured: Jean Anderson program director. ISU photo by Bob Elbert

Other accredited programs around the country accept as many as 60 to 80 students each year or as few as three, said Bergquist.

Extending the popular program is consistent with the university's long-held goal of reaching out to audiences off campus, according to the dean of the college.

"International settings for our dietetic internships provide exciting opportunities for students to gain a worldwide perspective of their profession, while also adhering to ISU's traditional goals of engagement and outreach," said Pam White, dean of the College of Human Sciences.

Once in Ghana, interns will perform a comprehensive assessment to get a better idea of community or village needs. Interns will focus on maternal, infant, and child nutrition needs. Food security, anemia, and adequate growth are also concerns, said Bergquist. These areas are also concerns in the United States but not to the same degree, and resources and interventions will differ significantly, she added.

Students who complete the Dietetics Internship program are qualified to take a national exam that, if passed, allow the students to be credentialed as a registered dietitian by the American Dietetic Association.

Bergquist says that there is a growing demand for registered dietitians for several reasons.

There is a growing awareness that nutrition is important to disease prevention, a national push from the White House to eat healthier, and a general awareness of the connection of wellness to healthy eating, she said.

While this will be the first time any dietetic internship program has gone to a developing country, ISU's program has interns in several states including California, Washington, Arizona, Illinois, Minnesota and others.

The Dietetics Internship program is coordinating the African program with McGill University in Montreal, Canada, through Grace Marquis, a former Iowa State University international nutrition researcher now working at McGill.

The program is already receiving applications for the Ghana experience, and soon the internship may be offered in additional countries.

Interns who complete the course may choose career paths that include working for hospitals, food service providers, or international options such as United States Agency for International Development or the Peace Corps, said Bergquist.