Clinical dietitian programs extensively cover food science and nutrition. Degree programs in the field are widely available at the bachelor's and master's degree levels. Some schools offer graduate certificate programs as well. Bachelor's degree programs give students fundamental knowledge of nutrition and human body function. Master's degree programs are aimed at registered dietitians or licensed healthcare professionals who want to advance their skills. Students can specialize in areas like pediatrics or public health nutrition. Internships are also required in these programs. Certificate programs are designed for students with bachelor's degrees in a field other than dietetics. Some programs offer only basic information, while others provide complete training that meets licensing standards.
Prerequisites include a high school diploma for bachelor's program, a bachelor's degree in field and professional credential for master's program, and a bachelor's or master's degree for certificate programs.
Bachelor's Degree Programs for Clinical Dietitians
Bachelor's degree programs in dietetic studies include nutrition and food science majors and generally follow curriculum approved by the Commission on Accreditation for Dietetics Education of the American Dietetic Association. These programs provide students with the foundational concepts and skills necessary to assess client health and prepare nutritional meal plans. Students learn the positive and negative ways in which foods and drinks affect the human body. Students in these programs are required to fulfill a supervised internship or accredited coordinated program before they can sit for the licensing exam. Some specific classes in the program include:
- Introductory courses in social and behavioral sciences
- Biological and physical sciences for dietitians
- Human nutrition: lipids, vitamins and minerals and carbohydrates
- Food service management and operations
- Basic and experimental strategies for nutrition
Master's Degree Programs for Clinical Dietitians
Healthcare professionals who wish to further their education and training in the related theories, issues and policies in dietetics can enroll in a master's degree program. Graduates enrolled in this program level study various healthcare and nutrition procedures to develop various methods and techniques used to improve the nutritional health of clients. Part-time and full-time formats are usually offered at this level since these programs are designed for professionals currently working in related fields. The curriculum in these master's degree programs can be customized to the individual student's interests. Some of the specific classes common to these programs include:
- Organizing and analyzing nutrition and healthcare programs
- Theories, principles and strategies for successful academic research
- Methods for designing community nutrition programs
- Business administration skills for dietitians
- Management strategies for dietitians and nutritionists
Certificate Programs for Clinical Dietitians
Certificate programs for clinical dietitians are usually offered as graduate or professional certificate programs. Prospective students with degrees in related and non-related fields can enroll in these programs. Certificate programs are most beneficial to professionals working in the healthcare industry wishing to switch careers. Professional and graduate certificate programs in this field offer coursework in both online and on-campus settings. Some of the specific classes common to these programs include:
- Fundamentals of pediatric nutrition
- Clinical dietetics and management development
- Human nutrition, weight control and fitness
- Introductory courses in vitamins, minerals and biochemistry
- Nutrition and diet in a clinical setting
Graduates from a bachelor's degree program are qualified for careers in various areas. Some related occupations include:
- Dietetic technician
- Registered nurse
- Food service manager
- Health educator
- Community dietitian
Graduates from certificate programs are eligible for the same entry-level jobs as those with a degree in the field. Career opportunities are available in hospitals, nursing homes, clinics and other medical facilities. Those who have a certificate may not have the same advancement opportunities as those with a master's degree.
Employment Outlook and Salary Info
Nutritionists and dietitians can expect to see about a 11% increase in jobs between the years of 2018-2028, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). This growth is faster than average for all occupations during that time period. The BLS also stated that, in 2018, dietitians and nutritionists made an annual median salary of about $60,370 (www.bls.gov).
The majority of bachelor's degree programs for clinical dietitians are designed to prepare students for credentialing exam offered by the Commission on Dietetic Registration. Successful completion of this exam provides the student with the registered dietitian credential.
Certificate program graduates should check their state's licensure requirements to ensure they are prepared to take the licensing test. Certification credentials are generally not required for entrance into the clinical dietitian profession, however, it is a good way to become qualified for licensing and to earn the registered dietitian designation.
Certificates, bachelor's degrees, and master's degrees all prepare individuals that are interested in becoming dietitians with coursework and hands-on experience. Certification helps with career advancement in a number of environments such as hospitals, nursing homes, clinics and other medical facilities.