Dietitian Career Info
Dietitians 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. Dietitians are responsible for assessing a patients health needs and diet limitations, helping clients manage or prevent certain diseases through proper diet and developing and evaluating meal plans. Dietitians typically work full-time in establishments, such as nursing homes, hospitals, schools, and cafeterias. Some positions may be freelance or part-time. Hours could vary depending on clients' schedules.
|Degree Level||Bachelor's degree|
|Degree Field||Dietetics, foods and nutrition, clinical nutrition, food service systems management|
|Experience||1 to 2 years of experience generally required|
|Licensure and Certification||Licensure or certification required in most states; other voluntary certifications available|
|Key Skills||Problem solving, communication, organizational skills, and compassion|
|Salary||$57,910 (2015 median annual salary for all dietitians and nutritionists)|
Sources: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Online Job Postings (August 2015)
Earn a Bachelor's Degree
A bachelor's degree is the minimum educational requirement needed to work as a licensed or certified dietitian. The two main program options for students are a coordinated program (CP) in dietetics or a didactic program in dietetics (DPD) that's accredited by the Accreditation Council for Education in Nutrition and Dietetics (ACEND). Other relevant majors include foods and nutrition, food service management, and clinical nutrition.
Students in a CP program complete classroom lessons along with a supervised internship and are eligible to sit for the licensing examination upon graduation. Those enrolled in a DPD program will only receive classroom instruction and must complete an internship or ACEND-accredited practice program after graduation. Coursework for these programs typically includes chemistry, biology, physiology, psychology, and nutrition science.
Schools offering degrees in dietetics and related programs are highly competitive and select a limited number of students. Students must meet the minimum overall and prerequisite course GPA requirements. Some schools require that students receive a minimum of a 'C' in all prerequisite courses and have an overall undergraduate GPA of 2.75.
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Complete an Internship
After receiving a bachelor's degree in dietetics or a related field, aspiring dietitians that have completed a DPD program must participate in a supervised experience. Students participating in a dietetic internship (DI) will typically complete 1,200 hours of supervised practice over 8 to 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 online 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.
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. It's 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. Verbal and written communication are also important factors when applying for DIs. Students should take the necessary time to craft professional and flawless cover letters and personalize them for each program to which they apply.
Become Licensed or Certified
The majority of states require dietitians to be licensed, while others only require certification or have no state regulations. Earning the registered dietitian (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 dietitians. 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.
Consider Specialty Certification
Dietitians looking to advance in an area of specialty have several certification options to demonstrate competency. The Commission on Dietetic Registration offers specialty certifications in oncology, gerontological, renal, and pediatric nutrition as well as sports dietetics. Individuals interested in working with athletes, for example, can pass an exam to earn Board Certification as a Specialist in Sports Dietetics.
To recap, most dieticians need to be licensed or certified and, though the pathway to licensure varies by state, typical requirements include at least a bachelor's degree, completing a program in dietetics, and gaining hands-on experience.