How to Become a Registered Dietitian

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5 Steps to Becoming a Registered Dietitian

Step 1 Earn a bachelor’s degree

In order to pursue a career as a registered dietitian, the first step is to complete a bachelor’s degree in clinical nutrition, dietetics, public health nutrition, or foods and nutrition. During their studies, students take coursework in evidence-based nutrition, applied food principles, food service systems, nutritional therapy, and community nutrition. Programs should be accredited from an organization such as the Accreditation Council for Education in Nutrition and Dietetics.

Step 2 Complete an internship

Registered dietitians are required to obtain hands-on clinical experience by completing an internship program. During these internships, students should complete at least 1,200 hours under the supervision of a licensed professional. Students on the undergraduate and graduate levels must complete an internship before getting their professional credential.

Step 3 Pass the registration examination

After prospective dietitians complete their degree requirements and internship program, they must pass a registration examination administered by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics’ Commission on Dietetic Registration. The exam, which takes two-and-a-half hours to complete, consists of between 125 to 145 questions that cover dietetic principles, nutrition care, food service systems, and nutrition program management. More information about the test, as well as study guides, can be found at www.cdrnet.org/certifications/registered-dietitian-rd-certification.

Step 4 Obtain a state license

In some cases, registered dietitians are required to earn a state license in order to get a job. The requirements for obtaining and maintaining a state license differs from one state to the next. The Commission on Dietetic Registration outlines licensing requirements by state on its website at www.cdrnet.org/state-licensure.

Step 5 Earn a certification

In some states, registered dietitians are required to earn a Certified Nutrition Specialist (CNS), provided by the Board for Certification of Nutrition Specialists, to get a license. Earning this certification entails finishing 1,000 hours of supervised clinical experience, passing an examination, and completing a graduate degree program.

FAQ on Earning Your Registered Dietitian Degree

  • It depends. Some employers may prefer to hire registered dietitians who have earned a graduate degree, although it may not be required. However, those who want to earn a Certified Nutrition Specialist credential will need to complete a master’s or doctoral degree.

  • Yes. Registered dietitians are required to complete 75 continuing education credits every five years in order to maintain their credentials. The same continuing education standards apply to those with a CNS designation as well. Information on continuing education courses can be found on the Commission on Dietetic Registration’s and the Board for Certification of Nutrition Specialists’ websites.

  • Yes. Choosing a niche can be helpful for registered dietitians who want to start their own businesses, as well as those who work for a health care organization that specializes in a certain area of patient care. Some specializations these professionals can choose include gerontological nutrition, sports dietetics, and pediatric nutrition.

  • Yes. Whether professionals want to start their own business or work for health care organizations, networking will connect them with the people who can help them achieve their goals.

  • Creating a website, as well as maintaining a social media presence, can help registered dietitians demonstrate their expertise to the clients they want to attract to their business. In addition, when looking for a job, building a brand online can help registered dietitians stand out from the competition.

Registered Dietitian Salary & Job Growth

When deciding on a career, the salary potential and chances of getting a job are top of mind for students. This section provides information on what registered dietitians earn, as well as what the occupational landscape looks like for them in years to come.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that as of May 2017, the median annual salary for registered dietitians is $59,410, with the highest paid professionals making over $83,070 and the lowest earners making under $36,910. According to the agency, the earning potential of people in the industry depends in part on where they work. For example, those who work for outpatient care centers earn an average of $65,650, government workers make $57,910, and those employed by hospitals command salaries of $60,210 per year.

Alabama Mean wage annual: $55,090
Currently Employed: 820
Change in Employment (2016-2026): 14%
Alaska Mean wage annual: $68,310
Currently Employed: 150
Change in Employment (2016-2026): 20%
Arizona Mean wage annual: $54,690
Currently Employed: 1,390
Change in Employment (2016-2026): N/A
Arkansas Mean wage annual: $55,060
Currently Employed: 460
Change in Employment (2016-2026): 16%
California Mean wage annual: $72,130
Currently Employed: 7,950
Change in Employment (2016-2026): 20%
Colorado Mean wage annual: $60,430
Currently Employed: 1,000
Change in Employment (2016-2026): 31%
Connecticut Mean wage annual: $67,270
Currently Employed: 850
Change in Employment (2016-2026): 8%
Delaware Mean wage annual: $64,950
Currently Employed: 180
Change in Employment (2016-2026): 12%
Florida Mean wage annual: $61,100
Currently Employed: 2,590
Change in Employment (2016-2026): 16%
Georgia Mean wage annual: $51,710
Currently Employed: 1,830
Change in Employment (2016-2026): 17%
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Between 2016 and 2026, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts there will be job growth of 15 percent for registered dietitians. One factor that will contribute to this boom in jobs is the increased interest in the role nutrition plays in wellness and combating obesity. Also, Baby Boomers approaching their twilight years are interested in nutrition in order to maintain good health as they age.

Finding a Registered Dietitian Program

Since registered dietitians need such specialized training, they must consider their school choices carefully. This section addresses what students should look for when they are evaluating programs.

Just as every patient’s dietary needs are unique, every student has unique needs when it comes to the schools that train them to enter the field. Some people need to consider the length of the program, some are concerned about delivery method, and others care most about whether or not their school offers professional certifications. Use the following search tool to help find the school that’s right for you based on the qualities that matter most for your needs.

State
Degree Level
School Type
Environment

Professional Registered Dietitian Associations & Groups

In order to connect with other professionals and keep their knowledge and skills current, registered dietitians join professional organizations. The following are some examples of the groups workers can join.

  • American Society for Nutrition

    This association has been serving the needs of professionals since its founding in 1928. Members can participate in networking events, get access to the latest research, and join a research section so they can become more knowledgeable about their specialization. In addition, the organization provides fellowship opportunities and recognizes excellence in the field through its awards program.

  • Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics

    Since World War I, this group of professionals has been dedicated to educating the public about nutrition. Whether members are students or current professionals, they have access to career resources, industry publications, networking events, and discounts on insurance. In addition, the association provides advocacy services to help inform lawmakers on the issues that affect the industry.

  • International Confederation of Dietetic Associations

    With members in 50 countries, this organization provides a global perspective of the field. People who join this group can participate in education programs, connect with other members on forums, and get a regular newsletter.

  • National Association of Nutrition Professionals

    Professionals who provide holistic nutrition services can receive support through this association. The group organizes an annual conference, provides continuing education opportunities, and offers certifications. Members can receive discounts on education resources, lab services, and publication subscriptions.

  • Association of State Public Health Nutritionists

    This organization works to strengthen policies related to nutrition and provide public health nutritionists with the support they need. To that end, the association provides publications, organizes professional meetings, and allows members to participate in councils that help to advocate for nutrition programs and policies.

  • School Nutrition Association

    School nutritionists can receive education and training through this organization, which is dedicated to providing high-quality meals to school children around the country. Members benefits include access to insurance plans, webinars, certification programs, and publications.

  • Nutritional Therapy Association

    Founded in 1997, this association is focused on nutrition from an environmental sustainability and agricultural economic justice perspective. To educate professionals, the association provides courses in nutrition therapy, career development, and nutrition therapy consulting. The group also provides webinars, business summits, workshops, and conferences.

  • American Society for Parenteral and Enteral Nutrition

    Organization that supports clinical nutrition research and education. Members include a variety of health professionals including dietitians, doctors, pharmacists, nurses, and scientists. Benefits for joining include access to peer-reviewed journals, professional events, and association committees.

  • Association of Nutrition and Foodservice Professionals

    Provides services to the foodservice industry, including certification programs, advocacy training, career development services, and industry news.

  • World Public Health Nutrition Association

    Those who work in world public health nutrition can receive certifications through this organization, as well as access to conferences, advocacy services, and industry news.

Resources for Registered Dietitians

Health care is constantly evolving—and nutrition is no exception. As a result, professionals need to keep abreast of what’s going on in the field. The following resources can help.