How to Become a Registered Dietitian (RD) in 2023-2024Posted: March 6, 2023
If you are wondering how to become a registered dietitian, then you are in the right place! There are many nutrition programs and it can get confusing on figuring it all out! Today, I will be going over all the necessary steps it takes to become a registered dietitian.
- What are Registered Dietitian Nutritionists
- What Do Dietitians Do?
- What are the roles performed by a dietitian?
- How to become a Registered Dietitian and the educational requirements?
- Is a nutritionist the same as a dietitian? What is the difference?
- How much do registered dietitians make?
- Where do registered dietitians work?
- What are the trending jobs in nutrition and health?
- Is becoming a registered dietitian worth it?
- Can you become a registered dietitian if you already have a degree?
- My personal journey to becoming a Registered Dietitian on social media
What are Registered Dietitian Nutritionists
Registered Dietitians are health professionals and nutrition experts who specialize in the study of food and nutrition. They use their knowledge to help individuals and communities make healthy food choices and manage medical conditions through nutrition.
A Registered Dietitian Nutritionist is a trained professional who has completed a rigorous academic program in nutrition science and dietetics and has undergone practical training in clinical nutrition and community settings. They must also pass a national examination and maintain their credentials through ongoing education and professional development.
What Do Dietitians Do?
Dietitians can help individuals with a wide range of health conditions, such as diabetes, heart disease, cancer, gastrointestinal disorders, and food allergies or sensitivities. They can also provide guidance on weight management, sports nutrition, and vegetarian or vegan diets.
They work in a variety of settings such as hospitals, clinics, community health centers, private practices, public health nutrition, and so much more to provide personalized nutrition counseling, education, and support to their clients.
Dietitians play a crucial role in promoting health and preventing chronic diseases through evidence-based nutrition interventions.
What are the roles performed by a dietitian?
Dietitians are trained professionals who use their specialized knowledge of nutrition and dietetics to help individuals achieve their health and wellness goals. Here are some of the things that dietitians do:
- Conduct nutrition assessments: Dietitians evaluate an individual's diet, medical history, lifestyle, and other relevant factors to determine their nutritional needs and identify areas where dietary changes may be beneficial.
- Develop personalized nutrition plans: Based on their assessment, dietitians develop customized meal plans and dietary recommendations that are tailored to an individual's unique needs and preferences.
- Provide nutrition counseling and education: Dietitians help individuals understand the link between food and health, and provide guidance and support to help them make healthier food choices and adopt sustainable lifestyle habits.
- Manage medical nutrition therapy: Dietitians work with healthcare teams to provide nutrition therapy for individuals with medical conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, cancer, and gastrointestinal disorders.
- Conduct research and evaluate nutrition interventions: Dietitians use scientific methods to study the effects of nutrition on health outcomes and evaluate the effectiveness of nutrition interventions.
- Advocate for public health and policy: Dietitians work to promote healthy eating habits and influence public policy to improve nutrition-related health outcomes.
Overall, dietitians play a vital role in helping individuals improve their health and well-being through evidence-based nutrition interventions and education.
How to become a Registered Dietitian and the educational requirements?
In general, to become a registered dietitian, you typically need a minimum of a master's or a graduate degree.
Here are the 5 steps to becoming a registered dietitian nutritionist:
- Complete a bachelor's degree: You need to earn a bachelor's degree from an accredited university or college with a program approved by the Accreditation Council for Education in Nutrition and Dietetics (ACEND). The nutritional programs should cover topics such as food science, medical nutrition therapy, biochemistry, physiology, human anatomy and physiology, organic chemistry, and much more. These are known as Didactic Program in Dietetics (DPD program) which refers to acend-accredited programs designed to meet the dpd requirements for dietetics practice.
- Obtain a dpd verification statement: The signed verification statement is usually obtained from the program director and documents that an individual has completed the requirements of a nutrition and dietetics education program accredited by the Accreditation Council for Education in Nutrition and Dietetics.
- Complete an accredited dietetic internship program: After completing a bachelor's degree, you will need to complete 1200 hours of supervised practice and complete coursework in that internship to qualify for registration examination eligibility. This is an UNPAID internship, so make sure you are aware of this. The hours of an internship are usually like a full-time job (8 AM- 5 PM).
- Apply to a graduate program. Effective January 1, 2024, the Commission on Dietetic Registration (CDR) will require a minimum of a master's degree to be eligible to take the credentialing exam to become a registered dietitian nutritionist (RDN).
- Pass the national registration exam: Once you complete your dietetic internship, you must pass the national registration exam administered by the Commission on Dietetic Registration (CDR). This exam tests your knowledge of nutrition and dietetics.
- Obtain state licensure, if applicable: Depending on the state in which you want to practice, you may need to obtain a state license to work as a registered dietitian.
- Maintain your registration: To maintain your rd credential registration as a dietitian, you need to complete continuing education requirements every five years to stay up-to-date with the latest developments in the field.
Note, you can find a coordinated program that includes both the required knowledge (academic courses similar to a DPD) and competencies (supervised practice) in one degree-granting program. I was accepted into a coordinated program that fulfilled my internship requirements and my master's degree in one. The nice thing about going this route is that you finish two things at once, however, it is very demanding on time and energy.
Is a nutritionist the same as a dietitian? What is the difference?
While there is some overlap in the roles and responsibilities of nutritionists and dietitians, they are not the same thing. Here are the main differences between the two:
- Education and credentials: In many countries, including the United States, the terms "dietitian" and "registered dietitian" are protected by law and require specific education and credentialing. To become a registered dietitian, you must complete a bachelor's degree in an accredited didactic program, complete a master's program, complete an accredited dietetic internship or an accredited supervised practice, pass a national registration exam and maintain credential by completing continuing education. In contrast, the term "nutritionist" is not legally protected, and there are no specific education or credentialing requirements.
- Scope of practice: Dietitians are trained to provide medical nutrition therapy for individuals with medical conditions, such as diabetes, heart disease, renal nutrition, gastrointestinal disorders, feeding tubes, and much more. They can also work in clinical and community settings to provide nutrition counseling and education. Nutritionists, on the other hand, may focus more on general health and wellness and may not have the same level of training or expertise in medical nutrition therapy.
- Professional organizations: Registered dietitians are typically members of professional organizations such as the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND), which provide resources and support for continuing education and professional development. Nutritionists may not have the same level of access to these resources and support.
In summary, while there is some overlap between the roles and responsibilities of dietitians and nutritionists, dietitians have specific education and credentialing requirements, scope of practice that includes medical nutrition therapy, and access to professional organizations and resources that may not be available to nutritionists.
How much do registered dietitians make?
The salary of registered dietitians can vary depending on factors such as their level of education, experience, geographic location, and the type of employer. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) in the United States, the median annual salary for dietitians and nutritionists was $63,090 as of May 2020. The lowest 10% of earners made less than $40,750, while the highest 10% made more than $87,360.
Registered dietitians who work in health care settings like hospitals, outpatient care centers, and nursing care facilities tend to earn higher salaries than those who work in other settings such as government agencies, schools, and private practices. Dietitians who have advanced degrees, such as a Master's degree or PhD, or specialized certifications, may also earn higher salaries.
It varies widely and some even more than 6 figures per year.
It's important to note that these figures are based on data from the United States and may not reflect salaries in other countries. Additionally, the demand for registered dietitians is expected to grow in the coming years, which could impact their earning potential.
Where do registered dietitians work?
Registered dietitians can work in a variety of settings, including:
- Hospitals and healthcare facilities: Many registered dietitians work in hospitals, clinics, and other healthcare settings, providing medical nutrition therapy and nutrition education to patients with various health conditions.
- Foodservice and hospitality: Registered dietitians may work in food service operations, such as restaurants, hotels, and schools, where they develop menus, oversee food production, and ensure that meals meet nutritional guidelines.
- Corporate wellness programs: Some companies hire registered dietitians to develop and implement nutrition education and wellness programs for their employees.
- Sports nutrition: Registered dietitians may work with athletes, sports teams, and fitness centers to provide nutrition counseling and develop nutrition plans that optimize athletic performance.
- Research and academia: Some registered dietitians work in research institutions, universities, and other academic settings, where they conduct nutrition-related research and teach nutrition courses.
- Private practice: Registered dietitians may also work in private practice, providing nutrition counseling and developing personalized nutrition plans for individual clients.
These are just a few examples of the many settings in which registered dietitians can work. The versatility of the profession allows registered dietitians to find a career path that aligns with their interests and goals.
What are the trending jobs in nutrition and health?
There are several trending jobs in nutrition and health that reflect the growing demand for professionals with expertise in this field. Here are a few examples:
- Clinical dietitian: A clinical dietitian is a specialized type of registered dietitian who works with individuals who have medical conditions that require nutrition intervention. They are experts in medical nutrition therapy and work with healthcare teams to develop individualized nutrition plans for patients. Clinical dietitians assess patients' nutritional needs and develop plans that take into account the patient's medical history, medications, lab results, and other factors.
- Health coach: Health coaches work with clients to help them achieve their health and wellness goals, often focusing on areas such as nutrition, exercise, stress management, and sleep. They may work in private practice or in a corporate setting, and typically have a background in nutrition, fitness, or counseling.
- Corporate wellness coordinator: Many companies now offer wellness programs to their employees, and corporate wellness coordinators are responsible for developing and implementing these programs. They may work with a team of professionals, including registered dietitians, to create initiatives that promote healthy habits among employees.
- Plant-based nutritionists: With the growing popularity of plant-based diets, there is an increasing demand for nutritionists who specialize in this area. Plant-based nutritionists may work in private practice or for food companies, developing plant-based meal plans and educating clients about the benefits of a plant-based diet.
- Functional medicine practitioner: Functional medicine is an approach to healthcare that focuses on identifying and addressing the root causes of chronic diseases, rather than just treating symptoms. Functional medicine practitioners, including nutritionists and dietitians, may work in private practice, hospitals, or integrative healthcare centers.
- Telehealth provider: With the rise of telehealth services, there is an increasing demand for nutritionists and dietitians who can provide virtual counseling and support to clients. Telehealth providers may work for healthcare companies or in private practice, offering online consultations and coaching sessions.
- Social media: This is a big one right now and it's what I do. I absolutely LOVE this space and would not trade it for anything. Send me a DM on Instagram if you have specific questions!
- Food marketing: Some food and beverage companies may employ registered dietitians as part of their marketing team to provide expertise on the nutritional content of their products, develop nutrition education materials, or conduct research related to the company's products.
These are just a few examples of the many trending jobs in nutrition and health. As the field continues to evolve, there will likely be even more opportunities for professionals with expertise in nutrition and wellness.
Is becoming a registered dietitian worth it?
Becoming a registered dietitian can be a rewarding and fulfilling career path for those who are passionate about nutrition and helping others achieve their health and wellness goals.
As a registered dietitian, you can work in a variety of settings, from hospitals and healthcare facilities to corporate wellness programs and private practice. You can also specialize in areas such as sports nutrition, plant-based nutrition, or functional medicine, depending on your interests and goals.
Additionally, the demand for registered dietitians is expected to grow in the coming years, providing ample job opportunities and potential for career advancement.
Overall, the first step to achieving your RDN credential is to be committed to helping others lead healthy lives and have a strong interest in nutrition and wellness.
Can you become a registered dietitian if you already have a degree?
Yes, it is possible to become a registered dietitian if you already have a degree in a related field. The path to becoming a registered dietitian typically involves completing a program in dietetics that has been accredited by the Accreditation Council for Education in Nutrition and Dietetics (ACEND), which includes coursework in areas such as food and nutrition sciences, medical nutrition therapy, and foodservice systems management.
If you already have a bachelor's degree in a related field, such as biology or chemistry, you may be able to enroll in a post-baccalaureate program in dietetics. These programs are designed for students who already have a degree in a related field but need to complete the coursework required for eligibility requirements to take the registration examination for dietitians.
Alternatively, if you have a master's degree or higher in a related field, you may be eligible for a dietetic internship, which is a supervised practice program that provides the required practical experience needed to become a registered dietitian.
Overall, the specific requirements for becoming a registered dietitian with a previous degree can vary depending on the country and region, so it's important to research the specific requirements for your location.
My personal journey to becoming a Registered Dietitian on social media
I first knew I wanted to become a dietitian in 8th grade when I was introduced to a health class. I was living with my family in Michigan during this time.
In 10th grade, my family and I moved overseas to Bahrain where I found myself applying to engineering schools (my dad is an engineer) instead of nutrition and dietetics. I completed 2 years of engineering school feeling so unaligned with my career path.
My family and I moved again to Lebanon where I found myself starting all over again and it was the perfect opportunity to switch things up and follow the path that I was called for.
This is where I completed my first undergraduate degree in nutrition and dietetics. Right after graduation, I got married to my husband who lives in Michigan, and I moved back to the States to be with him.
I've always known I wanted to complete my education in nutrition and dietetics so I was bummed when I found out I needed an acend-accredited bachelor's degree in nutrition and dietetics to fulfill my dietitian dreams (the requirements are different in Lebanon compared to the States).
This news led me to apply to an acend accredited dietetic program in Michigan and got accepted that fall. I completed my second bachelor's in nutrition and dietetics right after having Amir, my first child.
Thankfully, I got accepted into a coordinated program where I was able to complete my internship and master's degree at the same time. Even though this was extremely challenging with a baby, I was glad I took this route. It was a difficult two years but worth it.
I completed my internship hours and master's degree and was then pregnant with Alice. After studying for about 4 months nonstop, I passed my RD exam and made the hard decision that I wanted to stay home with my kids rather than put them in daycare. I know this is very privileged and I am extremely grateful we are able to do this.
This is when I started to take social media more seriously (in 2020) and here I am now! I consider myself extremely lucky that I get to do what I do today. This is exactly where I'm meant to be and it is honestly the best thing in the world. I wouldn't be here without you, so thank you from the bottom of my heart.
If you have any questions, please let me know in the comments below or reach out to me on Instagram!
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