Work As a Registered Dietitian: Education and Career Roadmap

Apr 28, 2020

Registered dietitians (RDs) treat and prevent illness by recommending changes in eating habits. Dietitians can earn the credential of RD by meeting academic and professional standards, as you'll learn in this lesson.

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Registered Dietitians

Registered dietitians work in hospitals, medical organizations, private practices, and companies, among other locations. They are trained to give accurate, scientifically based advice on the nutritional needs of healthy people along with those with illnesses or special dietary requirements. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that employment of dietitians and nutritionists is expected to increase by 11%, or much faster than average, from 2018-2028. As of May 2019, dietitians and nutritionists earned an average annual salary of $62,330.

Degree Level Bachelor's for RDN; master's or doctoral required for advancement
Degree Field Food and nutrition, clinical nutrition, dietetics, or public health nutrition
Training 1,200 hours of supervised internship
Licensure and Certification State license mandatory in many states; RDNs must complete a certification examination administered by the Commission on Dietetic Registration
Job Outlook (2018-2028) 11% growth (for dietitians and nutritionists)
Average Annual Salary (2019) $62,330 (for dietitians and nutritionists)

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

In this next section, we'll take a look at the educational requirements for registered dietitians.

Step 1: Bachelor's Degree

Students who are interested in careers as registered dietitians typically earn a bachelor's degree in food and nutrition, clinical nutrition, dietetics, or public health nutrition. Programs approved by the American Dietetic Association's Commission on Accreditation for Dietetics Education (ACEND) are recommended, especially for students who want to earn the Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN) designation.

A coordinated program (CP) includes a combination of classroom instruction and internships. While in a didactic program in dietetics (DPD+DI), most students have to apply for their internships. Classroom work typically includes courses in biology, chemistry, nutrition, and psychology.

Step 2: Internships

Students enrolled in a didactic program in dietetics, must participate in an internship approved by the Accreditation Council for Education in Nutrition and Dietetics (ACEND). The application process is extremely competitive. Candidates obtain their positions through a online matching procedure. Application requirements include a minimum grade point average (GPA) of 3.0 and a satisfactory score on the Graduate Record Exam (GRE). They must also write a compelling cover letter and several recommendation or reference letters.

Step 3: Exam & License

Students who successfully complete a coordinated program or didactic program in dietetics are eligible to take the Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN) exam. This credential is the one most often required or preferred by potential employers. The exam is administered by the Commission on Dietetic Registration, the certifying organization for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, the umbrella organization for ACEND.

Eligibility requirements include at least a bachelor's degree in a relevant major and a 1,200-hour supervised internship. The Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN) exam is computer-based and consists of questions in nutritional screening and diagnosis, food nutrition, food service systems, and administrative responsibilities. Once certified, registered dietitians must complete 75 continuing education hours every five years.

Most states require registered dietitians to be licensed, although requirements and regulations can vary. In some states, they may be able to work with a professional certification or registration.

Step 4: Advancement

Registered dietitians can pursue a master's or doctoral degree in a related field in order to progress to advanced clinical or public health positions. For example, the Board for Certification of Nutrition Specialists awards the Certified Nutrition Specialist (CNS) credential to registered dietitians with a master's or doctoral degree in a relevant field, 1,000 hours of professional experience, and a passing score on the certification exam. Through the Commission on Dietetic Registration, dietitians can earn a specialty certification in gerontological, pediatric, oncology, or renal nutrition; nutrition; or sports dietetics. Registered dietitians may also go on to work in management or specialize in areas like cardiovascular or pediatric dietetics.

Just to recap… A bachelor's degree in food and nutrition, clinical nutrition, dietetics, or a related major and completion of an internship can help you qualify for a job as a registered dietitian. The average yearly salary for a dietitian or nutritionist in May 2019 was $62,330.

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