Registered dietitians, also known as RDs, are food and nutrition experts who have met a number of academic and professional requirements that qualify them to provide reliable, objective information about food, fitness and the latest scientific findings from the dietetic community.
Unlike a doctor or a nurse who specialize in medicine, registered dietitians study food and food science to determine the best diet and lifestyle plans to help nourish our bodies. Becoming a registered dietitian, while not exactly easy, is accessible for anyone once they have completed a minimum of a bachelor’s degree at an accredited US university or course work approved by the Commission on Accreditation for Dietetics Education (CADE) of the American Dietetic Association (ADA).
So once you have your college degree, what else do you need to do to become a registered dietitian?
Stay true to yourself. In order to be a successful RD, it’s important to have compassion and a true love for helping others. “RDs often wear many hats–dietitian, psychologist, fitness coach, among others,” said Christen Cooper, RD, of Cooper Nutrition. “Many dietitians can get bogged down in numbers of calories, grams of protein, and vitamin and minerals contents, and they forget about the person sitting in front of them needing more than an equation. That person generally needs a good listener and someone who can help them view food and healthy living in a different way.”
Complete post-graduate education. Not all, but many people decide to earn a Master’s degree in nutrition at the same time as they are working toward their internship. Cooper began graduate courses and also took pre-med courses at a local college, until she met the requirements for both her Master’s in Nutrition and Education, as well as for the internship training. Taking these additional classes may be a requirement in some states, but are always helpful to have under your belt.
Complete a CADE-accredited supervised practice program: Most colleges and universities will help you find the proper program at a health-care facility, community agency, or a food service corporation that runs approximately six to 12 months in length. This is also sometimes referred to as “practicum” which gives RD students actual hands-on experience in the field.
Pass a national examination administered by the Commission on Dietetic Registration (CDR). For more information regarding the examination, refer to CDR’s website at www.cdrnet.org.
Complete training in your specialized area of practice. If you’re interested in a specific, niche nutrition area, such as renal nutrition, pediatric nutrition or sports dietetics, you may need to complete additional training. “Make sure that dietetics is your passion,” Cooper said. “It can be a lot of hard work.”
Check with your state. In addition to RD credentials, many states have regulatory laws for dietitians and nutrition professionals. You may need additional training in order to practice nutrition in your state.