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How To Become A Registered Dietitian in 2021

October 4, 2021 | Staff Writers

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Several people claim to be healthy eating experts. However, only registered dietitians actually are eating experts. It is easy to turn your passion for food and health into a satisfying career. Registered dietitians, also known as registered dietitian nutritionists, are health experts who help clients change and improve their eating behaviors. Others work within a public health setting to formulate food plans for various communities and institutions. Registered dietitians also work in research centers to develop strategies for healthy eating practices. 

If you are passionate about food and nutrition and fascinated by science, then a career as a registered dietitian could be right for you. A career as a registered dietitian unlocks several job openings, including becoming a community dietitian, clinical dietitian, pediatric dietitian, research dietitian, and management dietitian. Irrespective of the career path you choose to pursue, one must first earn a bachelor’s degree in a health-related field and complete a supervised practice program such as a dietetic internship program. You also need to obtain a state practicing license as most states require nutritionists and dietitians to be licensed. 

Nutritionists and dietitians have a promising career outlook in the health sector as the employment rate for their employment rate is projected to grow by 8% within the next ten years, which is attributable to the critical role food plays in preventing and treating various health conditions such as diabetes. If you are considering becoming a registered dietitian, this is the right article for you as it covers: 

  1. Differences between a registered dietitian and other nutrition certifications 
  2. Education required to become a registered dietitian 
  3. Career opportunities for registered dietitians 
  4. Professional registered dietitian associations and groups

Differences Between a Registered Dietitian and Other Nutrition Certifications

The terms dietitian and nutritionist usually have been confused. Even though dietitians and nutritionists help clients improve their diets and meet their health needs, they are different professions. For instance, a dietitian is certified to treat medical conditions in the country, while nutritionists lack such certification. There are disparities in the qualifications and roles, and responsibilities of dietitians and nutritionists. This article will explore the differences between the two health experts, including what it means to be a registered dietitian and the roles and responsibilities of dietitians and health education

What Does Being a Registered Dietician Mean?

Being a registered dietician means an individual has met all the academic and professional requirements needed to become a food and nutrition expert. The educational requirements include earning a bachelor’s degree in a health-related field with course work approved by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics Accreditation Council for Education in Nutrition and Dietetics (ACEND). Being a registered dietician also means you have completed a supervised internship program to gain hands-on experience and expertise in food and nutrition. 

A registered dietician has also undertaken and passed the registration exam provided by the Commission on Dietetic Registration. All these academic and professional requirements allow you to become a full-fledged registered dietitian. However, to begin practice as a dietitian, you need to fulfill the licensing and certification requirements administered by your state. Please note that each state has its unique requirements for licensing and certification. Nonetheless, almost all states require a full-fledged RD to complete a set number of continuing education hours to obtain and maintain licensing and certification to practice. 

What Are the Differences Between a Registered Dietitian, Registered Dietitian Nutritionist, And A Nutritionist?

There isn’t any significant difference between a registered dietitian (RD) and a registered dietitian nutritionist (RDN). Registered dietitians were allowed to use the initials RDN to make their scope of practice broader. This indicates that registered dietitian nutritionist scope of practice includes preventing and treating clinical conditions beyond medical nutrition therapy. The RDN initially demonstrates that all registered dietitians are nutritionists, but not all nutritionists are registered dietitians. Therefore, to call yourself a dietitian, you must have proper RDN credentials. 

Nonetheless, a registered dietitian and nutritionist vary considerably. Registered dietitians receive practicing certification from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. With this, dietitians can treat particular health conditions, especially those related to eating disorders. The treatment plans for the conditions involved providing food recommendations for the clients. 

Although nutritionists might obtain certification from the Board for Certification of Nutrition Specialists (BCNS), they have varied training requirements. Some states do not provide credentials for nutritionists, making it possible for anyone to offer nutrition services. Nonetheless, nutritionists who meet specific criteria might obtain licensure and certification to become a registered dietitian or a registered dietitian nutritionist. Dietitians and nutritionists also have different focus areas. For instance, a nutritionist might focus on digestive disorders, sports nutrition, or autoimmune conditions, unlike dietitians. On the other hand, a dietitian might focus on sports dietetics, obesity, weight management, oncology nutrition, and gerontological nutrition. 

Nutritionists with a master’s degree or doctoral degrees can be licensed to become certified nutrition specialists. To gain licensure, you must complete 1,000 hours of supervised practice. Additionally, you need to undertake and pass a licensing RD exam. Continuing professional education is required to maintain your licensure as a certified nutrition specialist. Other areas of specialization for nutritionists include becoming a certified nutritionist (CN), which requires you to complete a two-year associate’s degree in a health-related field. Also, you need to pass an open book exam to get practicing credentials. 

What Are the Main Responsibilities of Registered Dieticians?

A registered dietitian career is quite fascinating as it enables you to work with several people and improve their health outcomes. As an aspiring dietitian, you need to keep abreast with the responsibilities of dieticians. This will help you make an informed decision on whether it is the right career path for you. The duties of a registered dietitian vary depending on their work setting. Typically, a registered dietitian’s primary responsibility revolves around advising and counseling clients on food and nutrition. 

RDs assess the dietary and health needs, develop an effective nutrition plan, and monitor the client’s progress to determine the strategy’s effectiveness. Registered dietitians are also involved in policy-making geared towards promoting healthy eating. They are also involved in community outreach programs and public speaking activities to educate the masses on the benefits of adopting good eating habits. RDs also develop plans to promote nutrition in schools.

Education Required to Become a Registered Dietitian

Are you aspiring to become a registered dietitian? If so, you will need to fulfill certain education requirements before becoming a registered dietitian. You learn and develop a specific skill set to succeed in your professional career, as dietitians must possess adept skills and in-depth knowledge of food and nutrition. The stepping stone to beginning dietary practice is earning a bachelor’s degree with coursework by a recognized dietetics body. Additionally, you need to complete a supervised practice program, preferably an internship program from a clinical setting. The degree and supervised practice enable you to undertake your licensing and certification exams before embarking on dietary practice. This page explores the educational requirements for becoming a registered dietitian in-depth. Keep reading. 

What Kinds of Courses Should You Take in College to Become a Registered Dietician?

Registered dietitians are highly educated and trained food and nutrition professionals who incorporate available evidence in their practice to provide advice on diet and nutrition. The education programs for registered dieticians offer a comprehensive nutrition and culinary arts science foundation to help develop prevention and treatment plans for different clinical conditions. With this, healthcare professionals have managed to lower the incidences of several conditions such as heart diseases, stroke, diabetes, and certain cancer types. 

The knowledge and skills needed to practice as a dietitian are achieved by completing a bachelor’s degree program. An accredited four-year program will enable you to gain a comprehensive understanding of nutrition and other food-related health concerns. The accredited program qualifies you to take the Commission on Dietetic Registration (CDR) exam. The programs are generally available in two types: 

  • Coordinated Programs in Dietetics: Coordinated programs provide the educational coursework and practical experience the program needs to undertake CDR exams. 
  • Didactic Programs in Dietetics: The program only offers classroom coursework. 

Some of the accredited degree programs have names like:

  • Dietetics 
  • Nutritional sciences 
  • Human nutrition 
  • Food science and nutrition 
  • Nutrition 

The programs typically require you to complete a four-year full-time study and at least 120 credits. Students gain knowledge on nutrition theory, hands-on experience in nutritional practice, and dealing with different patients. The programs enable you to understand how to educate the public and community on the benefits of adopting healthy eating habits. Students also learn the impacts of societal factors such as socioeconomic status and culture on nutrition. Some of the course you are likely to undertake include: 

  • Anatomy 
  • Genetics 
  • Organic chemistry 
  • Psychology 
  • Pharmacology 
  • Microbiology 
  • Physiology 
  • Nutrient metabolism 
  • Statistics 
  • Human behavior 
  • Communication skills 
  • Research methodology 
  • Counseling education 
  • Food science and food systems 
  • Quality management of food and nutrition services 
  • Medical nutrition therapy 
  • Health promotion and disease prevention 

What Kinds of Interpersonal Skills Should You Have If You Want to Be a Registered Dietician?

Apart from meeting the licensing and certification requirements, being hired to work as a dietitian requires certain skills. The skills vary depending on the position one is holding and the work settings. For instance, those working in managerial positions need leadership skills, while those working directly with patients might need excellent interpersonal skills. Before applying for any dietitian job, go through the job descriptions to determine the specifics of the job. This will help you develop an application letter and resume that aligns with the potential employer’s needs. Here are some of the skills that might lead to a successful career as a registered dietitian nutritionist: 

  • Listening Skills: Nutritionists and dietitians work closely with clients to assess the nutrition and health needs. A dietitian needs excellent listening skills to understand the client’s concerns. They work with an interprofessional team to develop and implement constructive eating plans. Dietitians will need to listen keenly to understand and deliberate on effective strategies. 
  • Organizational Skills: There are several aspects to the work of dietitians. They work with different clients who schedule appointments from time to time. Therefore, dietitians should be highly organized to attend to all clients and meet their specific nutritional needs. 
  • Communication Skills: In some cases, a registered dietitian nutritionist might need to explain complex health matters with a less knowledgeable client to understand the eating plans. Practical communication skills will enable the clients to understand their health needs and the plans to help prevent and treat their eating disorders. 
  • Compassion: Dietitians must be caring and empathetic when dealing with clients. Being compassionate helps you build a professional relationship with the client, which might ensure quality outcomes. 
  • Problem-Solving Skills: A good dietitian should assess the health needs of the patients and determine the most appropriate treatment plan to improve their overall health and well-being. 
  • Analytical Skills: Dietitians should be able to analyze the trends in the healthcare industry and keep up to date with the current research on food and nutrition. The RD should be able to translate the available evidence into practical healthy eating guidelines. 

What Are Some of the Best Programs for People Who Are Considering Becoming a Registered Dietician?

There are several options when it comes to degree programs for registered dietitians. With this, choosing the right program can be quite difficult. If you are considering enrolling in an accredited program for dietitians, here is a list of some of the best programs that can help you narrow down on your search: 

  • Arizona State University’s Nutrition Bachelors and Masters online program 
  • Purdue University’s Bachelor of Science in Nutrition Program 
  • George Washington University’s Online Master’s in Integrative Medicine with a concentration in Nutrition 
  • American University’s Post-Bachelor’s Certificate in Food Nutrition 
  • Andrews University’s Bachelors of Food, Nutrition, and Wellness Studies 
  • Brigham Young University’s Bachelors of Nutrition Sciences 

Career Opportunities for Registered Dietitians

As a registered dietitian, you can in a variety of settings, taking up several job opportunities. The licensing and certification for a registered dietitian allow them to work in hospitals, sports agencies, food stores, hotels, and governmental and non-governmental agencies. The institutions are mainly involved in the formulation of eating plans that promote healthy eating habits. 

According to the Bureau of Labor, job opportunities for dietitians and nutritionists are likely to grow by 8% within the next ten years. This is mainly due to the rising concern of obesity and nutrition-related illnesses such as heart diseases and diabetes. Are you looking for a registered dietitian job but don’t know where to start? Well, this article got you covered. It explores some of the job opportunities for registered dietitians, their career trajectory, and the job opportunities that are likely to grow in the coming years. 

What Are Some Examples of Careers in Different Industries for Registered Dieticians?

A career in health and nutrition is far more complicated than what meets the eyes, as dieticians do more than pushing for an increased intake of fruits and vegetables. Dietitians have a strong understanding of the relationship between health, diet, and disease. With this, they can practice healthy food selection and good eating habits. If you are considering a career as a registered dietitian, here are some examples of jobs that might interest you: 

  • Clinical Dietitians: Clinical dietitians work in a clinical setting. They help clients create healthy eating plans needed to promote good eating habits. Dietitians provide medical nutrition therapy to assist in the prevention and treatment of medical conditions. Clinical dietitians are primarily found in hospitals, long-term care facilities, and outpatient care centers. 
  • Management Dietitians: Management dietitians primarily work in the foodservice industry. They are tasked with developing menus that conform to diet and nutrition health practices. Apart from nutrition services, they perform managerial roles such as creating and approving budgets for hotels, schools, and other organizations. 
  • Research Dietitians: Research dietitians are mainly found in hospital and university research labs conducting experiments. They also evaluate policies and determine the health impacts of new food products in the market. 
  • Dietetic Technician, Registered (DTR). Dietetic technicians registered are highly trained nutrition professionals. They mainly work under the supervision of registered dietitians. They work in a variety of work settings, including food companies, community health agencies, hotels, restaurants, schools, among others. DTR is actively involved in the development of diet and nutrition plans for individuals and institutions. 
  • Licensed Nutritionist: A licensed nutritionist is a nutrition expert who has studied nutrition and its specialties. Their training enables them to work in various settings performing different roles. However, some typical functions include evaluating clients’ nutritional needs, providing nutritional advice, and creating a nutrition treatment plan for their clients. 
  • Sports Nutritionist: Sports nutritionists work with different clients striving to get healthy through physical activity and diet. They primarily work in fitness centers, sports medicine clinics, and gyms. 
  • Nutritional Consultant: Registered dietitian nutritionists seeking to work privately should consider pursuing a career as a nutritional consultant. They provide advice to private clients through educational seminars, counseling programs. Nutritional consultants also work with corporations to offer diet and nutrition education to company employees. 

What Is the General Career Trajectory for A Registered Dietician?

Like other health care professionals, dietitians begin their practice at entry-level and progress to higher ranks that require advanced experience and educational levels. The first step of becoming a dietitian is completing a bachelor’s degree in dietetics, clinical nutrition, public health nutrition, or a related field. After completing the four-year program, dietitians complete supervised practice programs to undertake and pass their practicing license exam. Those who continue with the education to higher levels might progress and gain certification for specialized practice. A registered dietician has a straightforward career trajectory as indicated below: 

  • Dietetic Intern: After completing their four-year coursework, dietitians and nutritionists begin their dietetic practice as an intern. The dietetic internship program provides aspiring dietitians with the hands-on experience needed to enter the nutrition profession. 
  • Dietetic Technicians: Dietitians might begin their entry-level practice by applying for a dietetic technician position. As a technician, you will work under a registered professional dietitian, through which you will gain practical knowledge and experience. 
  • Registered Dietitians: Nutrition professionals who have fulfilled the educational requirements needed to become an RD and have completed a supervised internship program are eligible to undertake certification exams for practicing dietitians. Those who have passed the exams administered by the Commission on Dietetic Registration (CDR) earn the Registered Dietitian (RD) or registered dietitian nutritionist (RDN) designation. 
  • Certified Nutrition Specialist (CNS): Dietitians and nutritionists who have completed advanced education programs such as master’s and doctoral degrees qualify for the CNS credential. To maintain the credential, one is expected to complete 75 continuing education credits after every five years. 

What Career Opportunities for Registered Dieticians Are Expected to Grow in The Future?

The BLS expects several career options for registered dieticians to grow in the future. Some of the careers with a promising salary outlook and high growth potential include: 

  • Nutrition Health Educators: Health educators are highly trained to teach people effective health practices and provide nutrition counseling. With the high prevalence of diseases related to food and nutrition, health educators will potentially grow in the coming years. 
  • Research Dietitians: New food products are introduced into the market daily. Research dietitians burn the midnight oil to ensure the new food trends are viable for human consumption and have no health implications. This has led to increased demand for research dietitians in addition to the already overburdened professionals. 

Professional Registered Dietitian Associations and Groups

Currently, there is a lot of competing information available in the public domain concerning food and nutrition. This competing information is provided by various nutrition organizations trying to gain the attention of an increasingly nutrition-conscious population. A registered dietitian can stay ahead of the competition in the industry by securing membership from reputable dietitians and nutritionist associations. Being a member of a professional organization gives you direct access to the latest trends and information on current and ongoing nutrition science research. With this, you can boost your knowledge and skills, leading to effective nutritional counseling and treatment plans. 

What Are the Major Professional Associations That Registered Dieticians Can Join?

Are you considering joining a professional organization affiliated with registered dietitians and nutritionists? Here is a list of the best professional organizations in existence for dietitians and closely related professions.

  • American Nutrition Association: The association began around 1972 and is considered the best professional organization that strives to maintain Americans’ good health and nutrition. The association is concerned with proper diet, exercise, and eating to ensure Americans maximize the full benefits of good food and nutrition. The American Nutrition Association is also a good information resource for nutrition students. 
  • The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics is a professional association for dietitians and nutritionists concerned with safe and healthy eating practices. The association is quite resourceful as it provides nutritionists. It offers specific resources for expectant women, children, and the elderly. 
  • National Association for Nutrition Professionals: This association is the primary resource for holistic nutrition. The organization supports firms and independent professions and gives access to the latest information on food and nutrition. 

What Online Special Interest Groups Are Available for Registered Dieticians and Other Nutrition Professionals?

Several online special interest groups comprise Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics members, who strive to connect with other members within their areas of specialization. These special interest groups include: 

  • Behavioral Health Nutrition DPG 
  • Clinical nutrition management DPG
  • Diabetes DPG
  • Dietitians in integrative and functional medicine DPG 
  • Food and culinary professionals DPG 
  • Healthy Aging DPG 
  • Nutrition educators of health professionals DPG 
  • Nutrition informatics DPG 
  • Weight management DGP 

What Are the Benefits for Registered Dieticians of Joining Professional Associations and Groups?

There are several benefits that a registered dietitian might derive from being a member of a professional association or group. Some of these benefits include: 

  • Access to a mentorship program 
  • Increased career prospects 
  • Access to networking opportunities 
  • Access to continuing education programs such as seminars and workshops 
  • Access to the latest information on current and ongoing research 

Professional development opportunities 

Final Thoughts 

Nutritionists and dietitians are experts in using food and nutrition to promote health, prevent, and treat medical conditions. Dietitians advise people on effective eating habits that lead to healthy living and ensure the specific health-related goal is achieved. Their duties include assessing nutritional and health needs, counseling about healthy eating habits, and developing meal plans. There are several specialties that a dietitian might pursue, such as clinical dietitians, community dietitians, management dietitians, and more. Despite specializing in different areas, these professionals share a common duty of promoting good food and nutrition practices. They mainly work in hospitals, government agencies, outpatient care centers, and nursing care facilities. 

Dietitians need a bachelor’s degree in a health-related field, along with a supervised internship training program. The coursework provides foundational knowledge on food and nutrition, while the training program offers the hands-on experience needed to practice in the nutrition field. The education requirements and training enable you to undertake licensing exams administered at either the national or state level. Upon receiving licensure, you might begin the practice by applying for entry-level positions. Some of the skills you need to succeed in your profession include listening skills, problem-solving skills, compassion, and analytical skills. With the above information, nothing can stop you from becoming a registered dietitian. Go for it. 

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