State Requirements for Nutrition and Dietitian Fields

Registered Dietitian Education

You’ve got the passion, the drive, and a genuine interest in helping others achieve good health and a positive well-being through sound nutrition. But how do you bridge the divide between your enthusiasm for healthy eating and a successful career as a registered dietician?
It takes more than a love of wholesome food and a commitment to a healthy diet to become a dietician. If you want to provide others with advice and counseling about food, diet, and nutrition, you’ll need to come to the table with:

  • A minimum of a bachelor’s degree
  • A period of supervised practice (internship)
  • National certification as a registered dietician (RD)/registered dietician/nutritionist (RDN)
  • Licensure as a dietician (in most states)

You can view state licensure requirements here.
Note: The RD and RDN credentials are identical. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics’ Board of Directors and the Commission on Dietetic Registration recently approved the RDN credential to be used by RDs, if desired.

 

An Education in Nutrition and Dietetics: Where to Start?

Today’s dieticians are highly educated and trained healthcare professionals who use the best available evidence to provide clients with solid guidance and recommendations on diet and nutrition.

A bachelor’s degree, as the minimum educational requirement, provides a foundation in the science of nutrition, which is backed by a solid body of research linking good nutrition to everything from lowered blood pressure and blood cholesterol to lower incidences of Type II diabetes, certain types of cancers, stroke, heart disease, and early death.

Proper nutrition is also vital to controlling diseases people may already be suffering from, and, of course, promoting growth and proper development in children.

The knowledge achieved through a four-year course of study resulting in a bachelor’s degree will enable you to skillfully direct nutrition programs, conduct nutrition research, influence policy development, and work in clinical settings, universities, sports nutrition offices, corporate wellness programs, government agencies, schools, and private practice, to name just a few.

But not all bachelor’s degrees are created equal.

The Value of ACEND-Accredited Programs

A bachelor’s degree or entry-level master’s degree from a regionally accredited college or university that includes coursework accredited through the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics’ Accreditation Council for Education in Nutrition and Dietetics (ACEND) is designed to prepare you for a career as a registered dietician (RD). You must complete an ACEND-accredited program to qualify to take the Commission on Dietetic Registration (CDR) exam.
Two types of ACEND-accredited programs exist:

Here’s what you’ll want to know when searching for an ACEND-accredited dietician program:

  • Depending on the institution, dietician programs may be located in any number of colleges/departments, such as:
    • Department of Family and Consumer Sciences
    • Department of Nutrition and Dietetics
    • Department of Food and Nutritional Sciences
    • School of Human Environmental Sciences
    • Department of Health Science and Human Ecology
    • School of Exercise and Nutritional Sciences
    • Department of Biological and Environmental Sciences
    • College of Health
    • Department of Applied Health Science
    • School of Public Health
    • School of Health Professions
    • School of Food and Agriculture
    • Department of Biomedical Sciences
  • Dietician programs are designed as a Bachelor of Science (BS) or, at the graduate level, a Master of Arts (MA), Master of Science (MS), or Master of Public Health (MPH). You can expect degree names like:
    • Dietetics
    • Nutrition/Dietetics
    • Food Science and Nutrition
    • Human Nutrition
    • Nutritional Sciences
  • Every ACEND-accredited program must identify one or two concentration areas, designed to further strengthen the student’s knowledge and competencies. Depending on the program, concentration areas may include:
    • Health promotion/disease prevention
    • Nutrition therapy
    • Health and wellness
    • Public health nutrition
    • Urban health and nutrition
    • Health promotion and wellness
    • Foodservice management
    • School nutrition
    • Nutrition education
  • There are quite a few colleges and universities that offer dietician degrees as either fully or partially online programs. Interactive, web-based platforms allow students to engage with faculty and peers and complete some or all required coursework through dynamic learning environments. Many programs help students find and secure internships at locations close to home.
  • Already have a bachelor’s degree in another field? You can send your college transcripts to an ACEND-accredited program to have it reviewed by the program director. The program director will review your previous education and identify the courses you need to complete to meet ACEND program requirements.

The Components of an ACEND-Accredited Program

An ACEND-accredited program as part of a bachelor’s degree in dietetics generally consists of four years of full-time study and about 120 credits. You can expect to complete the program’s general education and basic science course requirements during the first two years:

  • Organic chemistry
  • Biochemistry
  • Anatomy
  • Physiology
  • Genetics
  • Microbiology
  • Pharmacology
  • Statistics
  • Nutrient metabolism
  • Human behavior
  • Psychology/sociology/anthropology

Your program will also include courses in:

  • Research methodology, integration of research principles into evidence-based practice
  • Communication skills
  • Education, counseling, and behavior change theories and techniques
  • The governance of nutrition and dietetics practice, including the Scope of Nutrition and Dietetics Practice and the Code of Ethics for the Profession of Nutrition and Dietetics
  • Principles and techniques of effective education, counseling, and behavior change theories and techniques
  • Medical nutrition therapy
  • Environment, food, and nutrition in health promotion and disease prevention
  • Fundamentals of public policy
  • Healthcare delivery systems
  • Food science and food systems
  • Quality management of food and nutrition services

The Dietetic Internship

There are four internship options available based on the educational path you have taken, any of which would qualify you to take the certification exam:

  • Traditional DI program
  • Distance DI program
  • Dual M.S. degree/DI program
  • Individualized Supervised Practice Pathway (ISPP)

All have the same basic requirements, with the Traditional and Distance DI being the most common since they are incorporated in approved bachelor’s and entry-level master’s programs.

The Dietetic Internship (DI) is an integral component of your dietician education. Your DI won’t start until you have graduated from an ACEND-accredited program.

If you complete a CP program, your internship will be part of the program and arranged by faculty. If you complete a DPD program, you will complete a DI outside of the program.

An ACEND-accredited DI must include at least 1,200 hours of supervised practice experiences with at least 900 hours in professional work settings. Your internship may take between 8 and 24 months, depending on your availability. You can complete up to 300 hours in alternate supervised experiences, which may include role playing, case studies, and simulation.
Your DI must be housed in a:

  • College or university
  • Healthcare facility
  • Federal or state agency
  • Business or corporation

Your internship will prepare you to work with patients/clients with various conditions, including cancer, malnutrition, obesity, and gastrointestinal and renal diseases. You will also learn to work with various populations, including adolescents, children, adults, pregnant/lactating women, and older adults.

You can search for ACEND-accredited DIs here.

Once you have successfully completed an ACEND-accredited DI or internship through your ACEND-accredited CP program, you will be eligible to sit for the CDR registration examination.

Master’s Degrees in Dietetics and Nutrition

Although a master’s degree is not required to practice as a dietician, RDs in certain positions may benefit from a grad degree. 
ACEND only accredits graduate degrees that meet entry-level academic requirements. However, if you are an RD and want to pursue a graduate education in dietetics and nutrition, ACEND maintains a list of grad degree options.

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