How to become a Registered Dietitian?

How do I become a Registered Dietitian?

Why do you want to be a RD?

So you want to be a Registered Dietitian (RD), huh? Well you’ve come to the right place to find out how to do just that. I remember when I was young I thought of doing many different things… should I become a doctor, a dentist, a web designer, a Walmart greeter??? Oh, the possibilities were endless.

Fast-forward a few years in high school and I started becoming more self-aware of the food around me and consequently, how it affected my health. There was a period in my life where I was the “chubby kid” in class. I’d like to keep those memories far, far away. But it did help to define my purpose. I suddenly had a desire to learn about food and understand how to properly “diet”. My interest peaked as I was approaching high school graduation and browsing through listings of the different majors in my college guides, I just couldn’t stop thinking about nutrition. And that was it. I had set my mind to study nutrition.

Education Requirements

It was a little bit of a challenge at first since I wanted to stay close to home and none of the colleges nearby offered the degree in Nutrition & Dietetics (what can I say, can you blame me for wanting to save some rent money?). Eventually, I did find the perfect school for me where I could even spend the weekend at home, if I wanted to.

Now, let’s get back to the original question. How do you become a RD? Well, the first step is finding YOUR perfect school. A good way to begin is by browsing the listings found on www.eatright.org for ACEND-accredited universities offering the degree. Do your research before committing to a school! Nothing is worse than going through a program only to find out at the end that it was not accredited. Many programs out there claim to have a “nutrition” degree but the education provided may not be up to par on the standards. But don’t panic! No matter where you live in the U.S., there will be a school just for you.

The Internship

The road to becoming an RD will typically involve obtaining a four-year Bachelor’s degree in Nutrition & Dietetics, followed by a supervised practice (aka the famous “internship”). These last anywhere from 6 to 18 months, just depending on the program you choose and are accepted to. Oh yeah, in order to get an internship, you have to get “matched” to that program.

So, in other words, you must apply to several internships of your choice and then wait to see which one accepted you in the program. You then list your choices in order of preference. So, if internship #1 accepted you then it’s a “match”! Many internships do have the option of doing a combined Master’s degree program. These will usually last longer than traditional internships but in my opinion are worth it. I did one myself and don’t regret spending a couple extra semesters one bit. Eventually, the profession is moving toward making a Master’s degree the entry-level education to becoming a RD. So, why not get a head start?

There are also some universities around the country who offer a coordinated program where you complete both your Bachelor’s degree and internship at the same time. These last the traditional four years; however, it is not uncommon for students to take 6 to 12 months longer due to the intense amount of coursework. If you are super motivated and organized, go for it!

Credentialing

Next step, getting your RD* credential! After 4-6 years of massive studying and working for free (let’s face it, interns ARE free labor), you are now eligible to sit for the RD exam. Yay! There are tons of resources out there to help you study. I personally just reviewed class notes, made tons of flashcards, and bought this review guide. It’s actually not as scary and intense as you would imagine.

You get tested on the main three categories of nutrition & dietetics—foodservice, clinical nutrition and community nutrition. Each exam is unique in the sense that the type of questions, number of questions and time will vary for each person. You will get anywhere from 125-145 questions all from a centralized database. Good thing is, there is no waiting after the test is over. You will get a printed score report. A scaled score of 25 or higher is required to pass the exam.

And that’s it! You’ve officially become a Registered Dietitian!!! Depending on the state you live, you may also be required to obtain licensure or certification prior to working. But this is easy… you will only need to submit an application and pay. That’s it!

Quick post-grad pic... Finally done with internship and my Master's!
Quick post-grad pic… Finally done with internship and my Master’s!

Job Outlook

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the projected job growth for dietitians/nutritionists is 14% from 2016-2016. This is greatly due to the increase in obesity as well as high rates of chronic diseases, such as diabetes, heart disease, and kidney disease. So, as you can see, the demand is there and we have a job to do! Together we can educate and counsel both young and older generations on the importance of healthy eating and preventative lifestyle measures. 

Benefits/Rewards of the Profession

So far, I have to say that it has been a rewarding experience being a RD. It’s the feeling of a job well done, knowing that you are impacting someone else’s life, maybe forever! Not to mention the variety of different jobs you can perform as a RD. The possibilities are endless and we are now seeing a bigger presence of our profession in the world than ever before.

Still have questions? Leave me a comment below! Thanks for reading 🙂

*Here I use the traditional term RD; however, since 2013 a new, alternate credential is also available for use—RDN, which stands for Registered Dietitian/Nutritionist. Both are interchangeable. Currently, it is up to you which one you’d like to use.

Jessamyn