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.

Essential Information

Dietitians, or nutritionists, are health care professionals who develop and supervise diet programs that improve public health. You will need a bachelor's degree in dietetics and licensure for entry level positions; master's degrees are recommended for advancement.

Required EducationBachelor's degree; master's degree recommended for advancement
Other RequirementsLicensure required for most states; certification also available
Projected Job Growth (2012-2022)21%*
Median Salary (2014)$56,950*

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. There were 279 bachelor's and 18 master's degree programs approved by the Dietetic Association's (ADA) Commission on Accreditation for Dietetics Education (CADE) in 2009 (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 the ADA. 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 ADA offers the Registered Dietitian (RD) designation to food and nutrition professionals who hold bachelor's degrees from an approved educational program. Candidates for certification must also have completed a CADE-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 Commission on Dietetic Registration's national exam and, upon passage, become certified. RDs 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 21% from 2012-2022. 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 mean yearly wage of $56,950 in May 2014, reported the BLS.

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