Dietetics is the application of the sciences of food and nutrition to health. It’s a vital, growing profession open to creativity and opportunity, and the possibilities are endless.
What is the difference between a registered dietitian (RD) and a nutritionist?
A RD is qualified by education and a national examination to be considered the food and nutrition expert. A RD has met the minimum academic and experience requirements to qualify for the credential “RD.” In addition to RD credentialing, 46 states have regulations for dietitians and nutrition practitioners. State requirements are met through the same education and training required to become an RD. In other instances, individuals may use the title nutritionist, nutrition counselor or nutrition advisor, regardless of their education and credentials.
How do you become a RD?
There are two different pathways to follow to become a RD. To become a RD you need to:
- Complete high school.
- Enroll in a university that offers a Coordinated Program (CP) in dietetics granting a bachelor’s degree. A CP combines classroom and at least 900 hours of supervised practical experience and is accredited by the Commission on the Accreditation for Dietetics Education (CADE) of the American Dietetic Association.
- CP graduates are eligible to take the Registration Examination for Dietitians to become credentialed as registered dietitians (RDs).
- Complete high school.
- Enroll in a university that offers a Didactic Program in Dietetics (DPD) granting a bachelor’s degree. A DPD provides only the classroom courses and is accredited or approved by CADE.
- After you receive your bachelor’s degree, you will then need to apply for and complete a CADE-accredited Dietetic Internship Program (DI). The DI provides at least 900 hours of supervised practical experience.
- DI graduates are eligible to take the Registration Examination for Dietitians to become credentialed as registered dietitians (RDs).
What is a RD? Where do RDs work?
The majority of RDs work in the treatment and prevention of disease (administering medical nutrition therapy, often part of medical teams), in hospitals, HMOs, private practice or other health-care facilities. In addition, a large number of RDs work in community and public health settings and academia and research. A growing number of RDs work in the food and nutrition industry, in business, journalism, sports nutrition, corporate wellness programs and other non-traditional work settings.
Work in health care institutions, schools, restaurants and cafeterias, for food and nutrition companies and for other healthcare corporations. They’re responsible for personnel management, menu planning, budgeting, purchasing, marketing, advertising and overseeing projects and programs related to nutrition, nutrition products, food service and healthcare.
Work as an essential part of the medical team in patient care in hospitals, nursing homes, health maintenance organizations, ambulatory care and rehabilitation clinics and other healthcare facilities providing medical nutrition therapy to a wide variety of patients.
Work in public and home health agencies, daycare centers, health or fitness clubs, grocery stores, recreation and senior centers, and in government-funded organizations/associations such as the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) educating the public about regarding nutrition messages and/or overseeing and participating in nutrition programs/ policies.
Work in colleges, universities, community or technical schools, and for agencies regulating the nutrition and dietetics-related education of future doctors, nurses, dietitians and dietetic technicians.
Work in government agencies, such as the National Institute of Health (NIH), for food and pharmaceutical companies, and in major universities and medical centers. They conduct or direct experiments, translate scientific findings into public messages, and find alternative foods or dietary recommendations for the public.
Usually work under contract with a healthcare facility (clinical or community setting) or in private practice. Consultant dietitians may have their own business or work with other dietitians for a consulting agency. Often, consultant dietitians work in a variety of settings according to clients’ needs.
Work in food and nutrition related industries, such as food manufacturing companies, pharmaceutical companies, or for national organizations such as the American Heart Association or the National Dairy Council. They hold positions in product development, sales, marketing, advertising and public relations.
Who should consider a career in dietetics?
If you enjoy working with people and have a strong interest in food and nutrition and the sciences you’d enjoy being a RD. If you have good judgment and an understanding of human nature, the motivation and initiative to work independently and the ability to identify and solve problems, dietetics offers variety and challenge.
What are the employment opportunities? How much do RDs earn?
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment of RDs is expected to grow about as fast as average for all occupations because of increased emphasis on disease prevention, a growing and aging population, and public interest in nutrition. The largest area of growth is anticipated in long-term care facilities, residential care facilities, physician’s clinics, community/public health settings and consulting. According to ADA’s 2002 Dietetics Compensation and Benefits Survey, the median annual income for registered dietitians in the United States who have been working in the field for at least a year is $45,000. Salaries increase with experience. Many RDs, particularly those in private practice, business and consulting earn above $50,000.
How can I find out more about opportunities in dietetics?
Call The American Dietetic Association at: 800/877-1600 ext. 5400 and/or visit ADA’s Careers and Student Services Web page at: www.eatright.org/careers03.html.
Last updated: May 2005