What It Means to be a Preceptor

Kristen is pictured here with Virginia Tech dietetic interns Julia Knopp and Kirby Moir at the 2014 VAND Legislative Day

Over the past 4 years as a dietitian, I have had the opportunity to serve as a preceptor for students and dietetic interns in a variety of capacities. I remember my first experience hosting a student from our local Virginia Tech dietetic internship clearly because I was terrified! I had thoughts along the lines of “What if this intern knows more than me? What if she thinks I’m boring? How will I manage my time and get all of my work done?” Thankfully my fears turned out to be unfounded — I had a wonderful experience hosting my first intern and enjoyed it so much I immediately requested more to be sent my way.

As an undergraduate student and dietetic intern, I always had a deep appreciation for the faculty members that delivered my education and the dietitians in various settings that patiently mentored me through the internship process. Each of these individuals played a vital role in shaping me into the professional I am today and inspiring me to play an active role in the profession to ensure its longevity. Now as a practicing dietitian, my love for the profession overflows in a way that I cannot help but want to share it with others, and therefore I openly welcome the opportunity to mentor students and interns.

Serving as a preceptor is an investment. It takes time and commitment to help an intern work through complex nutritional cases, learn lessons of professional conduct, navigate the management of conflict and successfully advocate for themselves as future dietitians. It requires intention, especially when aiming to role model lessons learned in the classroom or lessons that are best learned through vicarious experiences. As a preceptor, I am responsible for modeling many of the aspects of being a dietitian that simply cannot be learned through a textbook. For example, “How should I build rapport with patients, respond to their emotions, convey empathy, or motivate them to change their behaviors?” or “What is the best manner to professionally navigate difficult situations with patients or staff?” or “How can I manage time and maintain a balance between my professional and personal life?”

Serving as a preceptor pushes me outside my comfort zone. It pushes me to be more organized, both in how I develop my thoughts in communicating my plan of care but also in the identification of resources for students to reference and utilize. It pushes me to better manage my time while balancing professional duties, time with patients and time mentoring my student. It has been vital in the development of my communication skills especially in modeling the importance of interdisciplinary teamwork and in providing constructive feedback to facilitate student learning.

Being a preceptor helps me to “stay on top of my game,” especially in regards to the latest practice and evidence-based guidelines within my specific area of practice. I also get to learn from my students and in turn, assist them in integrating that knowledge and develop the skills required to think on their feet, problem solve, and become confident, competent practitioners. Working with students provides me with a platform in which to bounce off ideas, thoughts regarding a plan of care or to discuss pertinent issues within the profession.

Kristen had fun making smoothies for long-term care residents with student Brittni Woolwine, now a graduate of the Virginia Tech DPD program.

Being a preceptor allows me to serve more confidently as a dietitian, knowing that I am a leader, serving as a role model for the future of the profession. It has undoubtedly increased my overall satisfaction as a dietitian while consistently motivating me to put my best foot forward in representing the profession. I am thankful for the opportunity to guide and facilitate the learning of students, teach critical thinking, professionalism, and culture competence and confidence in their skills and knowledge. While I will forever be in gratitude to the many dietitians that molded me into the professional I am today, it’s my pleasure to be able to return the favor in encouraging, mentoring and teaching the dietitians of tomorrow.

If you’re interested in becoming a preceptor and unsure about taking that first step, all I can say is you’ll never know until you try! Be sure to check out CDR’s FREE Dietetics Preceptor Learning Module at: http://www.cdrcampus.com/, which is full of tools and advice to equip you in having a positive and successful preceptor-intern relationship and outcome.

Kristen Chang

Kristen Chang, MS, RDN, CSSD is the current Co-Chair of Professional Education for VAND. She is an adjunct instructor for Virginia Tech and Radford University and the owner of the nutrition private practice, Real Food For Fuel, LLC, with an emphasis on sports nutrition. She is thankful for the unique position in which she is able to teach dietetic students and serve as a preceptor to both students and interns.

Nutrition & Immune Health

Salmon SaladWith the arrival of colder temperatures in the winter months also arrives cold and flu season. While it may seem like getting sick at some point is inevitable, there are many nutritional strategies that can be applied (year round, really!) to boost the strength of your immune system and decrease your chances. As a sports dietitian, I am often counseling athletes on the importance of a healthy diet in maintaining a strong immune system to ensure consistent training year round. Today, I am here to share a few top nutritional strategies that have been shown to boost immune health:

  1. Consume a diet that is adequate in overall calories, balanced among the all three macronutrients, and rich in nutrient dense foods. Chronic calorie deficit over time, whether through failure to meet needs or intentional dieting for weight loss, can lead to impaired immune health in that it decreases the energy available to support normal bodily functions. Calorie deficit without careful consideration of diet quality can also lead to insufficient intake of vitamins and minerals related to immune health, including vitamins C, E, B6, A and D, Folate, Iron, Selenium and Zinc. Aim to include not only fruits and vegetables with each meal, but also quality lean proteins and whole grains too. A few high antioxidant foods to consider in boosting immune health include grapes, blueberries, raspberries and strawberries, nuts and seeds, any dark leafy greens, sweet potatoes and other orange vegetables, beans, fish and whole grains!
  2. Swap unhealthy (saturated) fats in your diet for healthy (unsaturated) fats, which are both anti-inflammatory and immune boosting. Instead of aiming for low-fat foods, aim to replace sources of saturated fat in your diet for healthy fats, especially omega-3 fatty acids, which support hormone production and help fight inflammation in order to keep our immune system strong. More specifically, essential fatty acids (omega-3’s and Omega-6’s) play a role in the production of eicosanoids, a class of chemical messengers involved in your body’s immune and inflammatory response. These healthy fats can be found in avocadoes, nuts (especially walnuts!), sunflower, sesame and pumpkin seeds, olives, flaxseed and wheat germ, chia seeds and fatty fish varieties.
  3. Ensure adequate Vitamin D intake for optimal immune strength. While we are able to naturally synthesize Vitamin D through sun exposure, it’s not uncommon for Vitamin D levels to drop off in the winter when colder whether forces us inside more. Low Vitamin D levels have a direct effect not only on bone health, but immune health as well, and it’s never a bad idea to have your levels checked by your primary care physician. To ensure you’re getting enough Vitamin D through diet, aim to consume a few of these foods daily: Cod Liver Oil, oily fish (trout, salmon, swordfish, mackeral, tuna and sardines), mushrooms, fortified cereals, tofu, dairy products, pork and eggs.
  4. Consume foods with naturally occurring probiotics to improve gut health. Gut health has a direct impact on both the health of our brain and our immune system. By incorporating foods with natural probiotics, including yogurts and cheeses, kefir, sauerkraut, miso, sour pickles and kombucha, you are feeding the healthy bacteria in your gut that in turn can lend to a stronger immune system.
  5. Flavor your foods with healthy herbs & spices. Many of the herbs and spices that we use to flavor our foods also have potent anti-microbial, anti-inflammatory and immune boosting properties. Garlic, onion, turmeric, ginger and cinnamon are a few herbs and spices that top the list.
  • Garlic is not only known for it’s unique and pungent flavor contribution to many dishes, but also it’s role as a potent anti-inflammatory, anti-viral and cancer preventative food. Garlic’s numerous beneficial immune benefits are due to sulfur compounds and being a quality source of vitamin C, vitamin B6, selenium and manganese.
  • Onions are not only a quality source of Vitamin C, but also one of the richest sources of flavonoids, especially quercetin, which has been shown to inhibit inflammation. Onions also contain the trace mineral selenium, which helps to initiate the body’s immune response.
  • Curcumin is a component of the spice turmeric and helps give it its distinct orange-yellow color. Turmeric is commonly found in curry spices and dishes. Curcumin is traditionally known for its anti-inflammatory effects but in recent decades has also been shown to be a potent immune-modulating agent.
  • Ginger, more commonly known for its anti-nausea benefits, also boosts anti-inflammatory and antioxidant activity within the body. Ginger is best consumed uncooked in it’s natural form, so aim to buy ginger whole and use a grater to include it in your dishes where possible.
  • Cinnamon is another spice that is not only rich in antioxidants, but also a quality source of manganese, calcium, fiber and iron. The essential oils found within cinnamon have also been shown to boost the immune system since they have antiviral, antibacterial and antifungal properties.

Wintertime doesn’t have to inevitably spell out cold and flu season. To boost your immune system and decrease your chances of getting sick aim to follow some of the tips above, and don’t forget to get plenty of sleep at night too!!


Kristen Chang
Kristen Chang

Kristen Chang is the current Co-Chair of Professional Education for VAND. She is an adjunct instructor for Virginia Tech and Radford University and the owner of the nutrition private practice, Real Food For Fuel, LLC.

Welcome to the Official VAND Blog!


Welcome to the official blog of the Virginia Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics! We are excited to host this site for YOU, our members, to have a forum to connect with each other, hear about nutrition practices in Virginia, and help us fulfill our mission to empower members to be Virginia’s food and nutrition leaders. Through this blog, we can provide nutrition education to the public, to optimize the health of Virginians through food and nutrition expertise.

We are soliciting blog posts from RDNs and NDTRs throughout Virginia, featuring original content. Have an idea for a post but not sure if it is what we’re looking for? Email us and ask – we will help you develop it into something for our blog! Please contact Wendy Phillips or Kristen Chang, VAND’s Co-Chairs for Professional Education to submit a blog post or idea. And of course, we will ask you to send a professional headshot to accompany the post.

Wendy Phillips
Kristen Chang
Kristen Chang

We look forward to hearing from you! Contact us at vand.professionaleducation@gmail.com.

Kristen Chang, MS, RDN, CSSD & Wendy Phillips, MS, RD, CNSC, CLE, FAND
Professional Education Chairpersons
Virginia Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics