Dietician: Career Education and Degrees to Become a Dietician
Research the requirements to become a dietician. Learn about the job description and duties and read the step-by-step process to start a career in dietetics.
Do I Want to Be a Dietician?
Dieticians specialize in the study of nutritional health. They make recommendations on what a person should eat to achieve a health-related goal or to live a healthier lifestyle. Some positions may be freelance or part-time. Hours could vary depending on clients' schedules.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, a bachelor's degree, completion of an internship that offers several hundred hours of supervised practical experience and a state licensing exam are often necessary to find employment as a dietician.
Enrolling in an Accreditation Council for Education in Nutrition and Dietetics (ACEND)-accredited school that offers a coordinated program (CP) in dietetics or a didactic program in dietetics (DPD) are the two main options for students. A CP grants a bachelor's degree and combines classroom instruction with supervised experience, while a DPD program only awards a bachelor's degree. Students are then responsible for applying to and completing an accredited internship program. The following table contains the core requirements for dieticians.
|Degree Level||Bachelor's degree*|
|Degree Field||Foods and nutrition, dietetics, food service systems management*|
|Licensure and Certification||Licensure or certification required in most states*|
|Experience||1-2 years of experience preferred**|
|Key Skills||Strong organizational skills, excellent communication and people skills, analytical skills*|
Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **CareerBuilder.com job postings (August 2012).
Step 1: Earn a Bachelor's Degree Through a CP or DPD Program
A bachelor's degree is the minimum educational requirement needed to work as a licensed or certified dietician. Several majors include courses that can help aspiring dieticians develop the necessary skills. Relevant subjects include dietetics, food service systems management, nutritional sciences and foods and nutrition. Regardless of their major, students should ensure that their program is ACEND accredited. Coursework for these programs typically includes chemistry, biology, physiology, psychology and nutrition science. Since CP programs integrate internship experiences and classroom learning, students who complete these programs will not have to apply to a separate dietetic internship and will be eligible to sit for the licensing examination. Students enrolled in a DPD program will only receive classroom instruction and must complete an internship or ACEND-accredited practice program after graduation.
- Earn a competitive GPA in prerequisite courses. Schools offering degrees in dietetics and related programs are highly competitive and select a limited number of students. To be accepted into these programs, students must meet the minimum overall and prerequisite course GPA requirements. While these requirements can vary for each school, some schools require that students receive a minimum of a 'C' in all prerequisite courses and have an overall undergraduate GPA of 2.75.
Step 2: Complete an ACEND-Accredited Internship
After receiving a bachelor's degree in dietetics or a related field, aspiring dieticians that have completed a DPD program must participate in a supervised experience. Students participating in a dietetic internship (DI) will typically complete 1200 hours of supervised practice over 8-24 months. The total length of the program varies based upon the availability of a part-time schedule. Most DIs use a computer matching system to place students into an internship program. DIs that do not use on-line matching typically only accept applications from individuals currently employed by the organization. Since the application process for DIs is competitive, students should first contact their DPD program director and DPD faculty members for valuable information on where to apply and how to navigate the online matching process.
- Perform well in all undergraduate classes. While it is not the only requirement, GPA is a strong factor in applicant selection for internship programs. A 3.0 GPA is often the minimum requirement for most DIs, although students with a higher GPA will have a much greater chance of being selected by a program. Since it is highly unlikely that students with a GPA below 3.0 will be selected for a DI, they can consider retaking courses to raise their overall GPA and improve their chances of being placed into an internship.
- Get volunteer or paid work experience. Students who complete volunteer or paid work experience will have stronger applications. It is important that students seek these opportunities in facilities that are related to nutrition and health. To increase their chances of being accepted for a DI, students should participate in volunteer or paid experiences that also offer internship programs. In this way, the student can build a positive relationship with those involved in the program and allow his or her abilities to shine.
- Develop strong communication skills. Verbal and written communication are important factors when applying for DIs. Students should take the necessary time to craft a professional and flawless cover letters and personalize them for each program to which they they apply. They should also ensure that they carefully describe their experiences and strengths that are directly related to the internship. When verbally communicating about their previous experiences, students should always speak highly of their DPD program and the skills they learned while in college.
Step 3: Become Licensed or Certified
The majority of states require dieticians to be licensed, while others only require certification or have no state regulations. Earning the registered dietician (RD) credential is a common way to achieve licensure. Although not every state will require dietitians to become RDs, the credential is highly preferred, or even required, by many employers. The path to becoming an RD involves obtaining a bachelor's degree, completing a supervised practice program and taking the registration examination for dieticians. The exam is computer based and tests a variety of knowledge, including nutrition screening and assessment, medical monitoring and evaluation, nutrition diagnosis and menu planning. After successfully completing the examination and becoming licensed or certified, RDs must complete continuing education courses to maintain their credentials.
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