Debra Wein ’90 is on a mission. The CEO and founder of Wellness Workdays is educating the next generation of leaders in nutrition and wellness, including Cornell and Human Ecology alums, through developing the Wellness Workdays Dietetic Internship (WWDI).
As part of the qualifications to become a registered dietitian, each nutrition student must complete an Accreditation Council for Education in Nutrition and Dietetics approved internship prior to taking the national registered dietitian exam. Traditionally, dietetic interns were required to complete 1,200 hours working alongside registered dietitians in settings such as hospitals, long-term care facilities and food service management.
With programs like Wein’s, which are fully accredited under the U.S. Department of Education, interns today are able to complete rotations in settings including professional sports teams, health magazines, farm-to-table restaurants, Fortune 500 companies, insurance companies and communications firms.
“When I was completing my dietetic internship in the 1990s, the choices were very limited,” Wein said. “One could choose to focus on clinical nutrition or a program based a little more on community nutrition. With today’s current understanding of disease prevention, health promotion and worksite wellness, it became apparent to me that internships needed to expand to accommodate the growing body of science and changing industry focus.”
Even though the landscape of nutrition careers has changed over the last 30 years, the fierce competition has not. Because dietetic internships were typically housed in hospitals and universities, spaces were very limited. According to Wein, 50 percent of nutrition students are unable to secure an internship. Because of this, she petitioned the national council to allow her organization, Wellness Workdays, to host an internship and help develop the nation’s future registered dietitians through a new, innovative approach.
The WWDI was approved in 2013 to accept 20 students annually. As part of their internship, students can work with Wellness Workdays staff to implement innovative wellness programs that improve employee health while reducing healthcare costs at worksites including New Balance, Brown University, MIT, BJ’s Wholesale Club, Putnam Investments, Cabot Corp. and EMD Serono.
With her continued effort to support the ever-growing need in the field, Wein and her team petitioned again in 2016 and were approved to host 95 students annually in three areas of practice: worksite wellness and health promotion, sports nutrition and entrepreneurship, and nutrition communications and marketing. Nutrition students are responding; the WWDI has received more than 250 applications annually since its inception.
Wein’s dedication to Cornell includes her service as a member of the Steering Committee and co-chair of Alumnae Engagement for the President’s Council of Cornell Women and as a member of the College of Human Ecology Dean’s Advisory Council. Now, with an opportunity to serve fellow Human Ecology nutrition students who sit in the same seats in Martha Van Rensselaer Hall as she did, Wein regularly travels back to campus. She has been invited by Cornell faculty as well as the student-led Cornell University Dietetic Association to Ithaca to provide insight on navigating the competitive world of dietetic internships and to share career advice.
The Wellness Workdays internship has already hosted and will graduate six Cornell alums. Due to the success of the program, these Cornell alums and other WWDI graduates can be found working as registered dietitians at places such as the Boston Celtics, the Cleveland Indians, Google, WebMD, the Denver Broncos, the Red Sox Foundation, Whitson’s Culinary Group, Shop Rite, Clemson Athletics, Fresh Direct and Optum.
For more information on the internship program, visit wellnessworkdays.com/wwdi