How to Become a Registered Dietitian (RD) | Salary & Education (2023)
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Becoming a registered dietitian nutritionist (RDN) or a registered dietitian (RD) offers a professional variety. These are the popular career choices for those interested in health and wellness.
The job outlook of employment of dietitians is projected to grow at an estimated 7% between 2021 - 2031. That's equivalent to about 5,600 annual job openings - a promising career indeed.
What is a Dietitian?
Dieticians are qualified food and nutrition experts who use their knowledge to counsel others to eat healthier based on their health status and medical conditions.
From working in hospitals or health care facilities, providing nutritional care and advice to patients, to working with educational institutions, government entities, or nonprofits to focus on population-level nutrition programs, dietitians serve many roles as community health workers.
Registered dietitians or registered dietitian nutritionists are experts in the field of dietetics. They have studied nutrition extensively and can offer their patients regulated nutritional and diet advice.
They also have the minimum academic and professional requirements to get their RD credentials and start practicing.
Day in the Life of a Dietician: What do Dieticians Do?
Essentially, dietitians help others make better choices regarding their nutrition and food intake.
Dietitians are not necessarily in the weight-loss business and don't focus on selling specific weight-loss programs. However, there is a focus on food, nutrition, and helping people lose weight.
They often work with patients who struggle with diabetes, high blood pressure, digestive disorders, or other health conditions and create meal plans to help with healthy living.
The role of a dietician is often underestimated by many, who are constantly inundated with nutrition advice, fad diets, and confusing or conflicting studies. Yet, a dietician must be able to help people understand basic human nutritional needs and the choices they need to make to be healthy.
Where do Dieticians Work?
While the role of dietitians is to counsel their patients on food and nutrition, their day-to-day job duties will differ depending on their specialty and where they work.
For instance, Clinical Dietitians are trained to provide customized nutritional programs and give nutrition therapy to those in hospitals, outpatient care centers, and other long-term care facilities.
Community Dietitians work to educate those in their community on food and nutrition. This can include working in various government agencies, public clinics, etc.
Finally, those focused on sports dietetics will counsel athletes and active patients through their knowledge of sports medicine.
A registered dietitian can work in any of the following setups:
- Hospitals, health care facilities, or HMOs
- Residential care facilities
- Private practice
- Schools, universities, and medical centers
- Sports Nutrition
- Research areas
- Community and public health settings
- Corporate wellness programs
Can I Become A Dietician Without A Degree?
Becoming a registered dietician takes years of study, certifications, and licenses. To complete a dietetic registration, one typically has to:
- Earn a minimum of an accredited bachelor's degree. The coursework includes foodservice systems management, food and nutrition sciences, and computer science, among other subjects.
- Complete a period of supervised practice program, like a dietetic internship at a community agency, health care facility, or food service settings.
- Pass the national examination conducted by the Commission on Dietetic Registration (the credentialing agency for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics).
- Obtain a state license.
- Complete continuing professional educational requirements for maintaining registration.
Dietetics is a highly-regulated profession. Most who seek the profession obtain a bachelor's degree, a master's degree in nutrition, or a related field.
Currently, anyone looking to become a registered dietitian can get certified with just a bachelor's degree. However, in 2024, prospective dietitians will need a graduate degree to take the CDR exam.
After graduation, the next step is to complete a dietetic internship. RDs typically receive hundreds of hours of hands-on training (about 1,200 hours, to be precise) supervised by a licensed dietician.
Once the aspiring dietician has graduated and completed their internship hours, the next step is to get properly certified and licensed. Again, passing the CDR exam is a requirement to become an RD.
Finally, most states require a specific license to practice there, apart from the CDR exam. Therefore, future RDs need to prepare for the requirements of the state where they hope to practice.
There are specialty certifications, too, like sports dietetics, diabetes education, nutrition support, oncology nutrition, pediatric, or renal nutrition.
How Much Do Dietitians Make?
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual salary for dietitians in the U.S. was $61,650 in May 2021.
However, dietician salaries can differ based on numerous factors, including experience, geographic location, employer, and specialty. View industry and state-level dietician salary information here.
What's the Difference Between A Nutritionist And A Dietitian?
Many people believe that nutrition and dietetics are interchangeable, but the two professions have fundamental differences. While both professions deal with nutrition, one can only be designated a dietician if one passes the CDR exam and become registered.
Dietitians are professionals who promote their patient's health through medical nutrition therapy. They can work with those suffering from diseases and prescribe a diet plan to help manage their illness.
Dieticians are heavily regulated and must meet specific professional requirements. They work to identify conditions and other diseases and must be qualified to work in the diagnostics field.
Nutritionists are unable to treat those who are suffering from illnesses. Instead, they must work with healthy individuals seeking services to improve their dietary intake and overall lifestyle.
No laws regulate nutritionists, and anyone can refer to themselves as a nutritionist. Some nutritionists have many qualifications, while some are self-taught. This makes it difficult for those seeking the support of nutritionists to know who is qualified to help and who isn't.
How to Find Dietician Jobs?
Once someone has passed all the requirements to become an RD, looking online is a great way to find jobs.
There are online databases, like HealthJob, where one can search for their specific dietetic field in the location of their choice. For example, many want to work in underprivileged communities that need nutritional advice. Some might want to work in a clinical setting, helping those with chronic illnesses feel better.
It is important to keep such considerations in mind when looking for jobs. Remember, each state has its own licensing requirements to practice, so become familiar with the specific criteria.
Is Becoming A Dietician Worth It?
There are many requirements to work in the dietetics field, but it's a growing area of study that promises job security.
Registered Dietitians play a significant role in improving people's health and help in promoting healthy eating habits. From clinical nutrition to sports medicine, dieticians work to serve their communities and improve people's well-being.
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