Dieticians work to promote healthy dietary habits in clinical environments like hospitals and nursing homes, as well as in public settings like businesses and schools. Aspiring dietitians and dietetic technicians can find programs at the associate's, bachelor's and master's degree levels. Associate's programs are found at two-year community colleges. Bachelor's and master's degree programs are offered through four-year institutions.
Online dietician degree programs accredited by the Commission on Accreditation for Dietetics Education (CADE) are recommended for students preparing for a career as a registered dietetic technician (DTR) or a registered dietitian (RD). Students who complete a DTR program are usually awarded an associate's degree and accrue supervised experience as dietetic technicians. The RD designation tends to signify that the holder has an undergraduate or graduate degree and has completed an internship or other experience under supervision.
Online degree programs in this field of study typically mirror on-campus programs in course content and requirements. Coursework can be completed entirely online, but on-campus requirements involve supervised work at approved facilities. In addition to food and nutrition studies, dieticians' education and training tends to focus on scientific topics such as physiology, behavioral sciences and biochemistry.
It's important to keep in mind that although distance education programs in dietetics may offer all coursework through online delivery, they often require on-site supervised experience at an approved facility. Although this may be required in associate's programs, this is especially a consideration at the bachelor's degree level in which students are training to become Registered Dieticians. For those students who complete a program that includes only didactic coursework, they still must secure supervised practice experiences in order to be eligible for registration. The Commission on Dietetic Registration requires prospective RDs to have a bachelor's degree and complete 1,200 hours of approved supervised practice (www.cdrnet.org).
Students pursuing an online dietician degree should first make sure that the computer they are going to use conforms to the program's technical specifications. The most common requirements are a broadband Internet connection, the capability to download and run plug-ins like Adobe Acrobat and Apple Quicktime and an up-to-date Windows or Mac operating system. Schools maintain online course management systems for distance learning students, which often feature virtual discussion boards, course materials, chat rooms, instructional videos or Web conferencing.
Associate's Degree Program Curriculum
To prepare future dietetic technicians, online associate's degree programs in dietetics commonly focus on food safety foundations, biology, nutrition and wellness. Students take general education courses in addition to studying the following:
- Sanitation issues
- Health education
- Menu development
- Nutritional programs in healthcare and community settings
These programs typically require hundreds of hours of supervised experience on-campus at an approved facility.
Bachelor's Degree Program Curriculum
Online bachelor's degree programs typically take four years to complete. The standard educational requirement for working as a dietician is a degree at this level, so programs focus on preparing students for that career goal. Common coursework within the curriculum centers on nutrition across the life span, nutrition interventions, food service, and nutrition education. Programs can also include classes in complementary and alternative medicine, nutrition therapy and nutrient metabolism. Depending on whether the online program has a solely didactic focus or not, students may be required to complete on-site practical experiences.
Beyond the nutrition coursework, bachelor's degree students must complete general education courses. These vary but typically include classes in science, math, English, history and the social sciences, among others.
Master's Degree Program Curriculum
Most online master's degree programs are about six semesters long, involving coursework and research in topics like food and culture or nutrition of the life-cycle. These programs are designed for those who already have bachelor's degrees and work experience in the field. Schools typically require prospective graduate students to already be Registered Dieticians (RDs) or at least be eligible for this designation prior to admission.
The master's-level curriculum focuses on advancing dietetic professionals' knowledge and skills in the areas of nutrition, health and wellness, statistics and research analysis. Students can focus their graduate studies in a certain area, such as food service management or public health nutrition. Schools may offer online students the option to complete a thesis, research project or comprehensive exam to finish their programs. In some cases, these culminating activities may require online students to participate on-campus.
Schools may require that students at any level -- including those that never come to campus -- submit immunization records, undergo a criminal background check and obtain CPR certification in order to be eligible for on-site experiences.
Dietician degree programs are available at the associate's, bachelor's and master's levels. A bachelor's degree is typically required to work as a registered dietician, while master's degree programs focus on developing research and statistical analysis skills. Online programs in these fields offer all standard coursework online, with some supervised on-campus work required.