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How to become a Registered Dietitian

To become a registered dietitian (RD) or a registered dietitian nutritionist (RDN), you must follow a specific pathway that includes education, supervised practice, and passing a national examination.

  • Complete a Bachelor's Degree: Obtain a Bachelor's Degree in Dietetics, Nutrition, Nutrition Science, or a related field from an accredited college or university. Ensure that the program is accredited by the Accreditation Council for Education in Nutrition and Dietetics (ACEND).
  • Complete an Accredited Dietetic Internship: Apply and gain acceptance into an accredited dietetic internship program. Dietetic internships are typically full-time programs that provide supervised practice experiences in various areas of dietetics, such as clinical nutrition, community nutrition, and foodservice management. Internship programs vary in length but typically last around 8 to 12 months.
  • Fulfill Supervised Practice Requirements: Complete the required supervised practice hours as part of the dietetic internship. During this time, you will gain practical experience in different aspects of nutrition care, including clinical settings, community settings, and foodservice management.
  • Pass the Registration Examination: After completing the dietetic internship, you are eligible to take the national registration examination administered by the Commission on Dietetic Registration (CDR). The exam assesses your knowledge and competency in various areas of dietetics. Upon passing the exam, you become a registered dietitian or registered dietitian nutritionist.
  • Obtain State Licensure (if applicable): Some states in the US require additional licensure or certification to practice as a dietitian or nutritionist. Research the requirements of your state to determine if you need to obtain any additional credentials or licensure.
  • Maintain Registration: To maintain your status as a registered dietitian, you must fulfill continuing education requirements set by the Commission on Dietetic Registration (CDR). Continuing education helps you stay updated with the latest research, advances, and best practices in the field of dietetics. Optional: Pursue Advanced Degrees or Certifications: While not mandatory, obtaining an advanced degree, such as a Master's or Doctorate in Dietetics, Nutrition, Nutrition Science, or a related field, can enhance knowledge and career opportunities.

There are several certifications available for registered dietitians (RDs) or registered dietitian nutritionists (RDNs) in the United States. These certifications provide opportunities to specialize in specific areas of nutrition or demonstrate advanced knowledge and skills.

Board Certified Specialist (BCS) Certifications
The Commission on Dietetic Registration (CDR) offers specialty certifications for RDs/RDNs in various areas of practice. These certifications include:

  • Board Certified Specialist in Pediatric Nutrition (CSP): Focuses on specialized nutrition care for infants, children, and adolescents.
  • Board Certified Specialist in Sports Dietetics (CSSD): Focuses on providing nutrition guidance to athletes and individuals involved in sports and exercise.
  • Board Certified Specialist in Gerontological Nutrition (CSG): Focuses on nutrition care for older adults and the elderly population.
  • Board Certified Specialist in Oncology Nutrition (CSO): Focuses on providing nutrition care for individuals with cancer.
  • Board Certified Specialist in Renal Nutrition (CSR): Focuses on nutrition management for individuals with kidney disease.
  • Board Certified Specialist in Obesity and Weight Management (CSOWM): Focuses on weight management and the treatment of obesity.

Other Certifications:

  • Certified Diabetes Care and Education Specialist (CDCES): This certification, offered by the National Certification Board for Diabetes Educators (NCBDE), focuses on the specialized management of diabetes. It is suitable for RDs/RDNs interested in working with individuals with diabetes.
  • Certified Eating Disorders Registered Dietitian (CEDRD): This certification, offered by the International Association of Eating Disorders Professionals (iaedp), focuses on providing specialized care to individuals with eating disorders.
  • Certified Specialist in Renal Nutrition (CSR): Offered by the Board of Nephrology Examiners Nursing and Technology (BONENT), this certification is specific to the nutrition care of individuals with kidney disease.
  • Certified Nutrition Support Clinician (CNSC): Offered by the National Board of Nutrition Support Certification (NBNSC), this certification focuses on nutrition support therapy for individuals with complex medical conditions.

Dietetics Degree vs Nutrition Degree vs Nutrition Science Degree
A dietetics degree, a nutrition degree, and a nutrition science degree are three distinct academic programs that focus on different aspects of the field of nutrition. Here's a comparison of the three:

Dietetics Degree
A dietetics degree, often referred to as a "dietetics" or "dietitian" program, is specifically designed to prepare students for a career as a registered dietitian (RD) or a registered dietitian nutritionist (RDN). The program is accredited by the Accreditation Council for Education in Nutrition and Dietetics (ACEND) and typically leads to a Bachelor of Science (B.S.) degree. A dietetics degree program includes coursework in nutrition, food science, medical nutrition therapy, community nutrition, and management in dietetics. Students also complete a supervised practice program, such as a dietetic internship, to gain practical experience in various settings, including clinical, community, and food service. After completing the degree and internship, graduates are eligible to take the national registration examination to become a registered dietitian.

Nutrition Degree
A nutrition degree provides a comprehensive understanding of nutrition and its applications. It is often offered as a Bachelor of Science (B.S.) or a Bachelor of Arts (B.A.) Degree in Nutrition or a related field. A nutrition degree program covers a broad range of topics, including human nutrition, food science, biochemistry, physiology, community nutrition, and research methods. The curriculum typically emphasizes the scientific foundations of nutrition, the role of nutrition in health and disease, and strategies for promoting healthy eating habits. Graduates with a nutrition degree can pursue careers in various sectors, including community health, wellness programs, public health agencies, food industry, or non-clinical nutrition-related roles.

Nutrition Science Degree
A nutrition science degree focuses on the scientific aspects of nutrition and offers a deeper understanding of the biochemical, physiological, and metabolic processes related to nutrition. It is often offered as a Bachelor of Science (B.S.) or a Master of Science (M.S.) Degree in Nutrition Science or a related field. A nutrition science degree program delves into advanced topics such as macronutrients, micronutrients, metabolism, nutritional biochemistry, and research methods in nutrition science. Students may have opportunities for laboratory work, research projects, and specialized coursework in areas like clinical nutrition, nutritional epidemiology, or nutritional genomics. Graduates with a nutrition science degree can pursue careers in research, academia, food product development, or advanced studies in nutrition, such as pursuing a Ph.D. in nutrition science.

In summary, a dietetics degree is specifically tailored to meet the requirements for becoming a registered dietitian, with a focus on clinical practice, medical nutrition therapy, and dietetics management. A nutrition degree provides a broad understanding of nutrition and can lead to careers in community nutrition, public health, wellness programs, or non-clinical roles. A nutrition science degree offers a more in-depth study of the scientific aspects of nutrition and prepares students for research-oriented roles, advanced studies, or specialized areas within the field of nutrition. Choosing between these degrees depends on your career goals, interests, and the specific focus you wish to pursue within the field of nutrition.