Online Clinical Dietician Schools: How to Choose

Students will find online dietetics programs offered at several colleges and universities; areas of focus vary. Most of the online programs available for clinical dietitians lead to master's degrees, though a few hybrid bachelor's programs in general dietetics are available.

Clinical dietician programs are available online at a variety of levels, but bachelor's programs always have an in-person component. Prospective students will want to consider what degree level they wish to pursue, the specific focus of the program and the overall program objectives.

How to Select an Online Clinical Dietitian School

Guidelines for becoming a Registered Dietitian, a designation administered by the American Dietetic Association, require students to complete a bachelor's degree, a supervised practice program, a national examination and continuing education coursework. As a result, there are no fully online bachelor's programs in clinical dietetics, though a few scattered hybrid programs in general dietetics do exist. They generally offer much or all of their coursework online and assist students in arranging supervised practice experiences near their homes.

Degree Level

Fully online dietetics or nutrition degree programs are more widely available at the graduate level. Most are offered primarily as higher education options for professionals with previous dietetic experience. Students should carefully research what a college is offering when it advertises a program for clinical dietitians. Some colleges offer master's degrees in nutrition or in dietetics, but either only offer their program to applicants who are already eligible to become Registered Dietitians or expressly state that their program does not provide students with eligibility for the title of Registered Dietitian. Most master's degrees in nutrition and dietetics are designed to broaden students' knowledge base and prepare them for a career in whatever area of human nutrition they choose, and not to give them credentials as a dietitian.

Education Focus and Objectives

Dietetics and nutrition degree programs focus on a variety of areas, depending on the school. Thus, a student in a dietetics program must carefully decide which area he or she wishes to focus on in order to choose an appropriate program.

Online Degree Options for Clinical Dietitians

Bachelor of Science in Dietetics

Dietetics bachelor's programs train students in the scientific and social bases of nutrition and food education. Programs focused specifically on clinical dietetics are not widely available online, but most general programs include a substantial clinical component and serve as excellent preparation for clinical dietetics study at the master's level. A significant portion of the degree program consists of supervised practice experience, which can usually be arranged at a site near a student's home.

Some programs only admit students who hold associate's degrees in nutrition. Others admit students without prior dietetics education but require them to complete additional prerequisite courses before enrolling in the standard program courses. Students take courses in:

  • Counseling strategies
  • Statistics and research
  • Food production management
  • Nutrition and metabolism

Master of Science in Nutrition and Dietetics

An online master of science in nutrition and dietetics degree is often most used by students as either a continuing education resource in order to satisfy licensing and employment requirements or as a stepping-stone to a doctoral degree. Requirements vary based on students' goals. Those who plan to pursue a doctoral are usually advised to complete a thesis, while non-doctoral students can choose a non-thesis degree option. Coursework includes:

  • Biostatistics
  • Macronutrients and metabolism
  • Foodservice systems management
  • Scientific writing for the nutritional sciences

Master of Science in Clinical Nutrition

A master of science in clinical nutrition is designed to give students an education in human nutrition that may be used either in pursuing higher education or in a professional context. Courses are generally more technical than in a general nutrition and dietetics master's program, focusing on the chemical and biological aspects of nutrition. Clinical programs may be appropriate for students wishing to pursue careers that incorporate research, either in the laboratory or as part of public health initiatives. They also include a strong patient care component. Students study:

  • Molecular biology of the nutrients
  • Nutritional therapy
  • Critical issues in the food supply
  • Micronutrients
  • Exercise physiology

Schools with Online Clinical Dietician Programs

Kansas State University offers an online Bachelor's in Dietetics. Students begin their undergraduate career by taking a number of prerequisite courses like Principles of Biology and Basic Nutrition. After completing these, they can apply for the didactic program. Students also must possess a minimum GPA of a 3.0, with no grade lower than a 'B' in a professional or natural science course and no grade lower than a 'C' in all of the other foundational courses. Towards the end of their degree, students will need to apply for a dietetic internship in order to fulfill the necessary requirements to become a registered dietician.

The University of Bridgeport has a Master of Science in Nutrition degree that students can complete online. One unique aspect of this degree is a capstone course that students must take called Virtual Clinic, which is the first ever online clinic for students who need field experience. Through this course, students can earn up to 255 hours that they can put towards their Certified Nutrition Specialist (CNS) credential. To qualify for admission into this program, students need a bachelor's degree and a minimum GPA of a 3.0. They must also have completed all prerequisite coursework, like anatomy and physiology, biochemistry and basic nutrition.

There are several options for students who want to pursue online clinical dietician degrees and a variety of factors to take into consideration when making a decision. Students may want to think about the degree level and focus and whether or not they can fulfill the prerequisites.

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