Online Programs for Registered Dietitians
To become a registered dietitian (RD), a student must earn a bachelor's degree in dietetics and complete an internship program approved by the Accreditation Council for Education in Nutrition and Dietetics (ACEND). He or she must then pass the national Registration Examination for Dietitians administered by the Commission on Dietetic Registration in order to pursue a career as a dietitian.
Some schools offer bachelor's degree programs in dietetics that allow students to complete online coursework while fulfilling internship requirements at a nearby facility. Often called coordinated dietetics programs, these academic offerings typically feature coursework that mirrors that of on-campus programs.
Prerequisites for online courses in dietetics usually include college credits in chemistry, organic chemistry, anatomy, physiology, microbiology, biology, and statistics. Core dietetics coursework tends to address nutritional needs at various life stages and the role culture plays in dietary practices. Other course topics might include food science, nutrition education, and nutritional assessment.
Coordinated programs generally require 1200 hours of internship work over a period of 8-24 months with an emphasis in an area such as nutrition therapy, pediatric nutrition, clinical nutrition research, or community nutrition. Because of the high demand of dietetic internships, ACEND implemented the Individualized Supervised Practice Pathways (ISPPs) program in 2011 to address the shortages of internships and the weaknesses of unaccredited programs of the past. The ISPPs offer more protections and flexibility for both bachelor's and master's degree students.
Some programs are rotational, exposing interns to many aspects of the work of dietitians in various concentrations like pediatric nutrition, diabetes, geriatric nutrition, community nutrition, clinical medical nutrition, culinary nutrition, or wellness nutrition, among other specializations. Each field of study offers different job skills like planning menus or preparing meals according to medical needs, coordinating community nutrition outreach messages, and working with dietitians in healthcare facilities to learn about clinical nutrition.
Students enrolled in a coordinated bachelor's degree program might meet these requirements on a part-time basis while taking classes with a minimum 20 internship hours per week or full-time internships consisting of 40 hours per week. Other schools offer didactic dietetics programs that allow students to transfer into a separate internship program after graduating. These dietetic internship programs also might be available in a distance learning format, allowing students with limited dietitian training programs in their area to enroll in a school's internship program while completing fieldwork at a local hospital or school.
Continuing Education Options
Master's degree programs in dietetics can also be completed online. These programs are typically geared toward ACEND-registered dietitians who want to advance their careers or prepare for doctoral studies and teach advanced topics in medical nutrition and disease, macronutrients, and nutritional status assessment.