Do people tell you, “you’re so health-conscious”? And admit it, you probably know what RDA stands for (recommended daily allowance). I bet you look at food labels compulsively. While everyone else is talking about the old Food Pyramid, you are the one fully aware that it changed to MyPlate several years ago. Okay, it’s time you figure out just what degree you need to become a Dietitian.
You may think Dietitian and Nutritionist are one-and-the same career; most people do. And they are in fact very similar, they both evaluate clients’ health needs, devise meal plans and conduct research. However, Dietitians have to earn a credential, and in most states that means going through a rigorous licensing process similar to those obtaining Nursing degrees. When one becomes a Dietitian they will finish with the letters RD or RDN (Registered Dietitian Nutritionist) after their names. Registered Dietitians work at hospitals, nursing homes, schools and sometimes gyms. Some Dietitians branch off into private practice and see clients in their homes. Registered Dietitian Nutritionists are experts in the areas of Diet and Nutrition.
RD’s must obtain a Bachelors degree with completed coursework approved by Academy’s Accreditation Council for Education in Nutrition and Dietetics. You’ll be taking classes from the following departments:
- food and nutrition sciences
- foodservice systems management
- computer science
Your degree will be either a Bachelor of Science or Master of Science (depending on how many years you wish to study), with a major in Nutrition, Dietetics or Food Science. Some schools have speciality concentrations such as Clinical Nutrition.
Some Dietitians have Master’s degrees; although not required, some feel it necessary to advance in management positions.
Dietitians help people people make better food choices. They help patients monitor possible illnesses like diabetes, a disease that can be managed by getting the proper nutrients. People at different stages in life seek out the expertise of dietitians. For example, a pregnant woman may want to make sure she finds the right source of folate to prevent any neural tube defects at birth. Children learning to live with food allergies or a senior looking to manage hydration or special diets may seek out the help of a dietitian.
According to U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics, there are over 67,000 Dietitians in the US currently. A whopping 33% of them are working in hospitals. Government employs 13% and the rest are almost equally employed in nursing facilities, private health offices, outpatient care centers, or are self-employed.
All Dietitian majors aspiring to become an RD must complete either a Dietetic Internship Program following the degree program (also known as the Didactic Program in Dietetics) or find a college program that has a combined degree (bachelor or graduate) plus RD internship interwoven into coursework (called a Coordinated Program in Dietetics). Acceptance into either program is fairly competitive. These programs are accredited by the Accreditation Council for Education in Nutrition and Dietetics (ACEND). The program will take place in a health facility, school or food service corporation. Most internships are 8-24 months depending if you choose part-time or full-time. The work is equivalent to 1200 hours of supervised practice.
Again according to BLS, occupations as Dietitians are projected to grow by 21% between 2012 and 2022! This is a solid choice for steady work. Many diseases are associated with poor eating habits and dietitians will play a role in how we as a society address them. With baby boomers aging there will especially be a great demand in elder care facilities, both encouraging active adult lifestyle choices and/or helping reverse non-healthy habits.