State Requirements for Nutrition and Dietitian Fields

Commission on Dietetic Registration (CDR) Examination

You’ve completed an ACEND-accredited bachelor’s degree or higher, and your dietetic internship … Now you’re ready to clear that last hurdle before being able to legally offer your sage wisdom to clients and help them get on track to eating to live… It’s time to gear up and get prepared to take the Registration Examination for Dieticians, the last step to earning the Registered Dietician (RD) credential.

Passing this exam is your gateway to a successful career in dietetics. It is your ticket to national certification from the exam's sponsor, the Commission on Dietetic Registration (CDR). It's the only way you can earn the CDR's national credential, the esteemed Registered Dietician (RD), also referred to as Registered Dietician Nutritionist (RDN).

RD and RDN are just different names for the exact same credential. The CDR allows you to use either one so you can tailor your professional title towards the populations you serve.

Right now passing the Registration Examination for Dieticians and earning the national RD credential will qualify you for licensure or certification in 45 states.

Passing this examination is mandatory in all states that require you to have the national RD credential to be eligible for state-issued licensure or certification.

Becoming an RD means that you're likely to enjoy higher earnings throughout your career, not to mention fulfill state licensure requirements. Registered Dieticians earn an average of $29,240 more than dietetic technicians at the national level (US Department of Labor, 2015).

Job prospects and career advancement opportunities are also better when you hold the RD. National long-term projections from the US Department of Labor show the job growth rate for dieticians and nutritionists in the decade leading up to 2024 is 16.4 percent. That rate is 13.3 percent for dietetic technicians, who typically hold an associate's degree.

Which States Require You to Pass the Registration Examination for Dietitians?

With the exception of California and Virginia, all states license or certify dieticians and require the RD credential as part of the licensing process.

States that Require the National RD Credential for a State-Issued License or Certification

Since the national RD credential is required for licensure in the following 36 states, you must pass the RD examination and earn the credential before applying for state-level licensure:

 

These states use the term “certification” instead of “license" for granting the right and authority to practice dietetics indecently. In this context the terms have the same meaning:

  • Connecticut
  • Indiana
  • Utah
  • Vermont
  • Wisconsin

States with Multiple Licensure Routes

Two states (plus DC) offer multiple routes to qualify for state/territorial licensure as a dietician. Passing the exam and earning the RD credential is one possible route to becoming licensed in these locations:

  • Delaware
  • District of Columbia
  • Nebraska

Non-Licensing States that Require the RD Credential to Practice

These two states don't have a state licensure or certification process, however if you want to practice as a dietician in these states you must still earn the RD credential according to state law:

  • California – California Business and Professional Code, Division 2, Chapter 5.65 details that it is a misdemeanor for anyone who has not passed the exam and earned the RD credential from the CDR to call themselves a dietitian, registered dietitian, or registered dietitian nutritionist.
  • Virginia – Virginia Code § 54.1-2731 details that no person may advertise themselves as a dietitian or nutritionist unless they have passed the Registration Examination for Dietitians and earned the RD credential from the CDR.

States that Currently Do Not Require the RD Credential

These five states do not presently require passing the exam or earning the credential. However you can still consider earning a registered dietician credential to boost your résumé, not to mention that future state legislation may very well make it a requirement at some point:

  • Arizona
  • Colorado
  • Michigan
  • Montana
  • New Jersey

Taking the Registration Examination for Dieticians

Anyone is eligible to take this exam once they have completed an ACEND-accredited educational program and dietetic internship. The fact that any qualified candidate anywhere in the country can earn this title is important to highlight.

As you get close to graduating from your dietetics program your school will submit your name for examination eligibility to the CDR's testing vendor Pearson VUE. Once you complete your dietetic internship Pearson VUE will send you an email with instructions and links for registering to take the exam (note: formerly the testing vendor was ACT, Inc and it was proctored at PSI Exam centers. Now everything is through Pearson VUE).

From the time you're eligible you have one year to take the exam. The Registration Examination for Dietitians Handbook for Candidates explains the application and registration process in detail.

Once you submit payment for the exam online, you will receive an email about scheduling the date and location of your test. Pearson VUE has testing centers throughout the nation. You will be required to bring a copy of your eligibility to test email and a driver’s license or state photo identification card with you to the testing center on the day of the exam.

In addition to reviewing Pearson VUE's RD exam handbook you can also find a registered dietician exam study guide on the CDR's website.

Once you complete the exam you'll get a printed score report. A scaled score of 25 or higher is required to pass the exam. Because it is a scaled score the number of questions you must answer correctly varies slightly.

When you pass the exam Pearson VUE sends you an email with information on how to maintain your RD credential. This involves paying an annual maintenance fee and completing continuing education as part of a professional development portfolio (PDP) on a five-year cycle.

If you fail the exam, or if your test eligibility expires, contact the CDR. You must wait 45 days before retaking the exam and you have the right to appeal your exam outcome.

Exam Content

Exams are taken on a computer. Each exam is unique and comprised of 125-145 randomized questions from a central database. For this reason your exam's time limit varies. The content of your exam evaluates four key areas:

Nutrition care for individuals and groups – 40 percent

  • Assessment and screening
  • Evaluation and monitoring
  • Intervention and planning
  • Diagnosis

Principles of dietetics – 25 percent

  • Research applications
  • Communication, education, and technology
  • Nutrient composition of foods
  • Food science
  • Nutrition and related sciences

Management of food and nutrition programs and services – 21 percent

  • Quality management and improvement
  • Human resources
  • Management functions
  • Financial management
  • Public relations and marketing

Foodservice systems – 14 percent

  • Safety and sanitation
  • Facility planning and equipment
  • Menu development
  • Distribution, service, production, and procurement

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