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Dietitian: Educational Requirements

A career in nutrition requires significant formal education. Learn about the degree programs, job duties and licensure to see if this is the right career for you.

Dietitians and nutritionists are the health care professionals who help individuals develop dietary regimens in order to improve their health. They must have a bachelor's degree in the health sciences, but earning a master's degree may help them advance in a growing job market. Some states mandate licensing, and professional certification is common.

Essential Information

Dietitians, or nutritionists, are health care professionals who develop and supervise diet programs that improve public health. Dietitians generally need a bachelor's degree in dietetics or a related field. Most states require dietitians to be licensed. Master's degrees are recommended for advancement.

Career Dietitians and Nutritionists
Required Education Bachelor's degree; master's degree recommended for advancement
Other Requirements Licensure required for most states; certification also available
Projected Job Growth (2014-2024) 16%*
Median Salary (2015) $57,910*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Educational Requirements for Dietitians

The minimum requirement for a career in dietetics is a bachelor's degree; however, some dietitians hold graduate degrees. The degree should be from a program approved by the Accreditation Council for Nutrition and Dietetics (ACEND), which is governed by the Academy for Nutrition and Dietetics (www.eatright.org).

Bachelor's Degree

Dietitians must hold at least a bachelor's degree in dietetics, nutrition or another health science field. Some colleges and universities offer Bachelor of Science in Dietetics programs comprised of didactic curricula approved by ACEND. These 4-year degree programs provide classroom instruction in clinical dietetics and qualify students for entry into a supervised practicum or internship. Core courses may include human nutrition, experimental foods, medical nutrition therapy, food service organization and quantity food production.

Master's Degree

Dietitians wanting to advance may pursue a graduate degree, which might qualify them for research, public health or advanced clinical positions. Such programs may also be a viable option for a person who already holds a bachelor's degree in an unrelated field, but wishes to become a dietitian. Master of Science in Nutrition programs, for example, focus on research and clinical methods in nutrition and dietetics. Courses may include developmental nutrition, exercise physiology, metabolism, nutritional biochemistry and research methods. Students may also be required to complete a master's thesis.

Licensing Information for Dietitians

Most states require dietitians to obtain licensure, certification or registration to practice in the profession. Licensure is the strictest form of state regulation, maintaining that those who practice without a license are subject to prosecution. In states that require certification, dietitians must meet predetermined, state-specific qualifications to obtain certification. Certification usually is mandatory for the use of certain job titles. Those who are not certified may still practice in the profession, but are unable to use titles only available through certification. California is the only U.S. state that requires registration, which is the least restrictive form of regulation.

Professional Certification for Dietitians

The Academy for Nutrition and Dietetics offers the Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN) designation to food and nutrition professionals who hold bachelor's degrees from an approved educational program. Candidates for certification must also have completed a ACEND-accredited practicum or internship program, which generally includes one year of supervised field work in a health care or food service facility. They are then eligible to sit for the national exam and, upon passage, become certified. RDNs must maintain certification by earning 75 continuing education credits every five years.

Career Outlook

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), dietitian jobs were predicted to increase 16% from 2014-2024. This was due to a greater demand for more health and nutrition programs, as well as a growing elderly population in need of nutritional services. Dietitians and nutritionists made a median yearly wage of $57,910 in May 2015, reported the BLS.

Dietitians and nutritionists need at least a bachelor's degree in nutrition, but those with master's degrees may find themselves more equipped for advancement. Some states require dietitians to obtain licensing, and certification as an RDN, while not mandatory, is common. Jobs for dietitians are projected to grow rapidly through 2024.

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