Should I Become a Dietary Technician?
Dietary technicians, or dietetic technicians, assist dietitians in planning and preparing meals that meet established nutritional guidelines. They might educate, screen, and evaluate patients; monitor patient progress; and plan diets/menus for clients. Technicians might need to use tact and patience when dealing with their clients. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported the median hourly wage for dietary technicians was $12.52, and the median salary was $26,040.
|Degree Level||Associate degree is standard, though some employers require a bachelor's degree|
|Degree Fields||Nutrition, dietetics|
|Certification||Certification is not mandatory, but many employers prefer to hire technicians registered with the Commission on Dietetic Registration (CDR)|
|Experience||Experience requirements vary by employer, but one year of experience is often required|
|Key Skills||Familiarity with dietetic software like Axxya Systems Nutritionist Pro, CyberSoft NutriBase, and CBORD Nutrition Service Suite; the ability to use spreadsheet software such as Excel; ability to use cutlery, food scales, ovens, and other cooking equipment necessary for preparing meals|
Sources: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Monster.com and Careerbuilder.com Job postings (August 2012), O*Net OnLine.
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Steps to Become a Dietary Technician
Step 1: Complete an Associate Degree Program
Completion of an associate degree program related to dietetics or nutrition is common for many dietetic technicians. In fact, becoming a DTR requires completion of at least an associate degree accredited by the Accreditation Council for Education in Nutrition and Dietetics (ACEND). Coursework typically includes general science courses, management of foodservice systems, and food/nutrition sciences. Accredited dietetic technician programs also incorporate 450 hours of supervised practice into their curricula, which is required for the DTR credential. During this time, you will gain hands-on work experience and apply what you have learned throughout your coursework.
Get relevant work experience during college. While experience is not always required to find employment as a dietetic technician, some employers prefer to hire candidates who've worked in the field. You can take advantage of internships or fieldwork experiences offered by their programs, or you can seek student positions in a variety of health care settings. This will allow you to become familiar with the responsibilities of the position and make contacts in the field.
Step 2: Become a Dietetic Technician, Registered
After meeting the education and supervised experience requirements, you can become registered by passing a national written examination administered by the CDR. Since many employers prefer to hire dietary technicians with the DTR credential, taking this examination may improve employment prospects. The multiple-choice exam varies in length, with each individual receiving an exam that contains a minimum of 110 questions and a maximum of 130 questions. You can expect a variety of content to be covered on the exam, including food and nutrition sciences, management, food system services, and nutrition care for individuals and groups.
Use a study guide to prepare for exam. The Study Guide for the Registration Examination for Dietetic Technicians is a valuable resource provided by the CDR that individuals can refer to prior to taking the exam. This study guide includes a practice exam, references, and comprehensive study outline.
Step 3: Maintain Registration
Continuing education is needed to maintain registration as a registered dietetic technician. This includes the completion of 50 hours of continuing professional education over a five-year registration period. Activities comprising these units are listed through the CDR, though DTRs can request prior approval for an activity that is not listed.
Step 4: Consider Earning a Bachelor's Degree
You do not need to major in dietetics or nutrition at this level, although majors related to dietetics and nutrition may result in less additional coursework. If you earn unrelated bachelor's degree, you are required to complete supplementary coursework in an ACEND-accredited Coordinated Program (CP) or Didactic Program in Dietetics (DPD). A CP combines supervised experience with classroom instruction, while a DPD provides only classroom instruction in conjunction with a degree program. You would then be responsible for applying to and completing an accredited supervised experience program.
If you have already started a bachelor's degree program, you must consult with the program director of the school's dietetics technician program to determine if additional components must be completed. Depending on the previous coursework and any supervised experience you may have already completed, the director may assign a DPD or CP program.
Step 5: Consider Becoming a Registered Dietitian
If you wish to advance within your career, it may be beneficial to become a Registered Dietitian. A Bachelor's degree is required with coursework approved by the Accreditation Council for Education in Nutrition and Dietetics (ACEND) of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. You will then be required to complete a supervised practice program of 6-12 months in length and passing national examination through the Commission on Dietetic Registration (CDR).
To become a dietary technician, you'll at least need an associate's degree, but you may wish to further your education by earning a bachelor's degree and becoming a registered dietician.