How to Become a Dietitian

Dietitian holding apple

Do you have a passion for health science and a desire to help others achieve optimum wellness? You might consider becoming a registered dietitian (RD). The job of a dietitian is to encourage others to make healthy food choices in order to prevent or manage adverse health conditions. Dietitians are educators by nature who teach individuals or groups of people about the effects of their nutritional choices. If you decide to become a dietitian, you will need to earn an appropriate degree.

Exploring the Role of the Dietitian

Although dietitians have a specialized focus within the health and wellness field, their day-to-day tasks can vary. They can do everything from menu and meal planning to food preparation supervision to educational presentations for various groups.

Dietitians often work in hospitals, clinical nutrition, home health agencies and nursing care facilities. Some of them work in private practice, consulting with individuals on how to meet their health goals. Other RDs work for food companies, where they consult on the development of new food products.

Understanding the Difference Between a Nutritionist and a Dietitian

Nutritionists and dietitians share the same goal and have overlapping responsibilities. In fact, the terms are often used interchangeably. However, these professions are not the same, and the main difference lies in the credentials. The criteria to become a registered dietitian are established by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND). These criteria are uniform across all 50 states.

In contrast, there is no single, uniform set of criteria for nutritionists. These professionals must meet credentialing requirements established by the state in which they intend to practice. Some states do not have any specific requirements and do not regulate the use of the term “nutritionist.” In other states, individuals must earn an accredited certification, such as the Certified Nutrition Specialist (CNS) credential. Other states require licensure, so that you must become, for example, a Licensed Dietitian Nutritionist (LDN) to practice.

Earning an Appropriate Undergraduate Degree

Unlike many professionals in the health sciences field, dietitians can begin working with just an undergraduate degree. You may wish to go back to school later to enhance your academic qualifications, but an accredited bachelor’s degree is sufficient to begin pursuing this career. To qualify as a registered dietitian, it is necessary to choose a nutrition or dietetics degree program accredited by the Accreditation Council for Education in Nutrition and Dietetics (ACEND).

During the course of your studies, you will take an in-depth look at anatomy and physiology, organic chemistry, microbiology and health psychology. You will also develop advanced knowledge in food science, nutrition, chronic condition management, nutrition research and lifespan development. You will graduate with a firm understanding of how to accurately assess an individual’s wellness, identify the management requirements for their medical conditions and develop a meal plan that will help them live a healthy life.

Completing an Accredited Dietetic Internship Program

When you graduate with a degree in nutrition or dietetics, your next step is to enroll in an internship program. Find a dietetic internship that has been accredited by ACEND. Internship programs vary from one institution to the next. In general, however, you may be expected to complete multiple rotations, such as a clinical rotation, a food service management rotation and a community rotation.

These rotations will give you full-time, hands-on experience working as a dietitian. For example, during a clinical rotation, you can expect to work directly with patients. A food service rotation will typically involve menu planning in a hospital. During a community rotation, you will focus on developing nutrition education programs for groups of people. You may also be expected to give educational presentations.

Passing the Credentialing Examination

After you have satisfactorily completed your internship program, you should be eligible to sit for the credentialing exam. It is administered by the Commission on Dietetic Registration (CDR), which is the credentialing agency for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. The testing vendor is Pearson Vue, which operates over 250 testing sites nationwide.

The makeup of the examination is periodically evaluated and updated. However, you can expect to be tested on the following:

  • Principles of dietetics
  • Nutrition care for individuals and groups
  • Management of food and nutrition programs and services
  • Foodservice systems

The credentialing exam is a rigorous review of what you have learned during your dietetics or nutrition degree program and internship experience. It is strongly recommended that you spend plenty of time studying for it. The CDR publishes official study guides to the exam.

Acquiring the Necessary Licensure

Even after you pass the CDR’s credentialing exam, you may still need to acquire licensure. You will need to check the requirements for the state in which you plan to practice. As of 2020, Arizona does not require RDs to acquire state licensure.1 Passing the CDR examination and earning the RD credential is sufficient.

Meeting Continuing Education Requirements

It is necessary to maintain your RD credential in order to continue working as a registered dietitian. Expect to pay a yearly registration maintenance fee to the CDR. In addition, RDs must complete continuing education credits. Within every five-year cycle, a dietitian must demonstrate the successful completion of 75 continuing education credits.2

You can begin pursuing a meaningful career in health sciences by earning your undergraduate degree at Grand Canyon University. The Bachelor of Science in Nutritional Sciences degree program offers a solid academic framework for future success in the health and wellness field. Use the Request Info button at the top of your screen to explore your future at GCU.

Retrieved from:

1NutritionED.org, Steps to become a Registered Dietitian in Arizona in February 2021

2Dietitians for Professional Integrity, Conflict-Free Ceus in February 2021

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grand Canyon University.

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