How can I become a Registered Dietitian?
Hey! I was wondering if anyone on here could tell me the process of how to become a registered dietician!
Nutrition has always been something I've been interested in, and it would also be helpful if I was informed of other career paths I could take in this field other than an RD.
I was also wondering what I could do in high school, such as volunteering and organizations that I can join, that are related to dietetics or nutrition. I can't seem to find any :( Thanks a lot!
Caitlyn Shoemaker, MS, RDN, LDN/CDN, EDRC
Great question- I definitely remember being confused about how to get into dietetics early on. To answer the part about what you can do now as a high school student- if you have any community food pantries/food banks or soup kitchens near you, those are great places to start volunteering. You can get both community nutrition and food service experience. You may also want to check hospitals near you- there may be some that allow diet aide volunteers or patient ambassadors so you can get some hands on experience working with different populations in a clinical setting.
Becoming an RD is an intense process that takes investment of time and finances and it is absolutely worth it! The “traditional” path to becoming an RD is (1) attend an accredited university program in dietetics-typically takes 2-4 years and involves both nutrition, social sciences and life science courses; (2) apply and be accepted/matched to a rigorous dietetic internship and complete a minimum of 1000 hours of supervised practice in clinical, community and food service nutrition (and often other specialties-those are the primary ones you need); (3) take the RD licensing exam given by the Commission for Dietetic Registration (CDR), and receive a passing score of 25 or above.
That being said, The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND- they accredit dietetics programs and internships) is realizing that this pathway is not feasible for everyone and they have created several new pathways for students to follow to achieve the RD credential including the future education model (FEM) where you can do your supervised practice at around the same time as your class work so that when you graduate you can sit for the exam right away. Each program is different though so I would encourage you to check out the Academy’s program directory here for further detail: https://www.eatrightpro.org/acend/accredited-programs/about-accredited-programs
*Starting in 2024, the Academy is requiring anyone wanting to sit for the RD exam to have a minimum of a Master’s degree (can be in anything), so keep that in mind when searching for programs.
In terms of jobs without the RD credential, there are many! Often students sit for the Dietetic Technician, Registered (DTR/NDTR) exam after finishing coursework in dietetics (Master’s degree not required). Diet techs work in many positions in food service and retail grocery stores and beyond and often work closely with RDs so it is a great stepping stone to becoming an RD or as a stand-alone career. If you are interested in the DTR career vs RD career, check out this page:
You can also work as a nutritionist-non-RD- in programs like WIC or USDA. Other options include research and food service management. The dietetics and nutrition knowledge can serve you in many areas even without an RD credential.
Lastly, I would be amiss not to mention the financial burden that degree and internship programs place on students. Luckily, there are scholarship opportunities available, either from individual programs or organizations. One place to look is the Academy Foundation: https://www.eatrightfoundation.org/foundation/apply-for-funding/scholarships
If you are a student of color or other non-white minority group, Diversify Dietetics also has scholarships and mentor opportunities: https://www.diversifydietetics.org/
If you are looking for other mentoring and coaching on the whole process from applying to passing the exam, you can also check out All Access Dietetics*: https://www.allaccessdietetics.com/ and RD2Be**: https://www.rd2be.com/
*Many options are paid. I did use their Pass the Exam class to study for the RD exam, in full disclosure. Very useful!
**I have been a mentor for this program in the past.
I hope you find this information useful and I wish you the best of luck on your dietetics journey, wherever that takes you!
Caitlyn recommends the following next steps:
A registered dietitian is a step to specialization in the field of nutrition. To become certified you are expected to start and complete a 1year compulsory clinical experience in a government approved (federal teaching Hospital) after which you would take a board exam, only those that pass the exam qualify to be licensed as registered dietitian. Thanks.