How Do I Become a Registered Dietitian?

Research what it takes to become a registered dietitian. Learn about job duties, education requirements, professional registration and salary to find out if this is the career for you. Schools offering Nutrition degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Is a Registered Dietitian?

Registered dietitians (RDs) are counselors who advise clients on how they can use food and nutrition to promote and maintain a healthy lifestyle, manage a medical condition and/or achieve a goal such as weight loss or weight gain. They usually begin with an evaluation of the client's needs and preferences, and then develop a reasonable nutritional plan. Although many dietitians are self-employed, jobs are also available in settings such as hospitals, schools and nursing home. Some dietitians also choose a particular specialization, such as clinical/medical nutrition, nutrition for community health or nutrition management for organizations.

The chart below provides an overview of what you need to know before entering this field.

Degree Required Bachelor's or master's degree from accredited program
Education Field of Study Dietetics
Key Skills Plan nutrition programs for patients/clients
Registration/Licensure Required Registration & license required by most states
Job Growth (2014-2024)* 16%
Average Salary (2015)* $58,410

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

What Will I Do as a Registered Dietitian?

As a registered dietitian, you would plan nutrition programs to treat and prevent illness and promote healthy living. You may specialize and become a clinical dietitian, working with doctors and other healthcare providers to assist patient and client wellness by planning meals with sound nutritional principles. This role may involve providing meal plans designed for patients and others to promote healing after surgery, injury, illness and other medical conditions, such as diabetes.

You could also work as a community dietician, educating groups and individuals at public health, day care and recreation centers in preventing illness through healthy nutrition. You would help evaluate nutritional needs, design meal plans and counsel on better food shopping and meal preparation. As a management dietician, you might work in large facilities, such as correctional institutions, healthcare facilities, schools and cafeterias, where there is a need to supervise meal planning on a large scale. You could also become a consultant dietician and work under a contract with private clients or patients, clinics and corporations. In such a position, you might conduct nutrition screenings, as well as give advice on weight, diabetes or cholesterol management.

What Education Will I Need?

To become a RD, you must complete a bachelor's or master's degree program accredited by the Accreditation Council for Education in Nutrition and Dietetics (ACEND), which is part of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Dietetics programs fall under three different types, including didactic, coordinated and internship. Coursework typically includes topics in food and nutrition science, chemistry, physiology, biology, food service systems management and microbiology.

How Does the Registration Process Work?

To qualify for the Registered Dietitian designation, the ADA's Commission on Dietetics Registration requires the completion of a supervised clinical practicum, which involves at least 1,200 hours (www.cdrnet.org). Most states require licensure in order to practice as a dietitian, so you'll need to check with your state to learn its requirements before sitting for any exams. Registration is not the same as licensing, so in order to legally practice as a dietitian, you'll probably need to obtain state licensure.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

A related career option is a job as a health educator. These professionals teach people about wellness and help them adopt healthy lifestyle practices, which can include nutritional counseling. For a job as a health educator, it is necessary to hold a bachelor's degree. Another option is a job as a rehabilitation counselor; these professionals work with people who have disabilities to help them live healthy, independent lives. It is important to note that rehabilitation counselors must have a master's degree in order to practice.

To continue researching, browse degree options below for course curriculum, prerequisites and financial aid information. Or, learn more about the subject by reading the related articles below:

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  • George Mason University

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