Becoming a Registered Dietitian Online?
Are you thinking about becoming a Registered Dietitian, but prefer to complete your studies online? There are many reasons that students opt to study online instead of on-campus. Some have other commitments, such as families and jobs, that make on-campus study difficult. Others might have compromised immune systems and would prefer not to take the risk to their health that on-campus study may pose. Whatever the reason, if your preference is to complete your nutrition and dietetics studies, this is achievable. We will discuss how you can become a Registered Dietitian online here.
Choose an ACEND-Accredited Online Registered Dietitian Program
The first step in becoming a Registered Dietitian is to choose a program that is accredited by the Accreditation Council for Education in Nutrition and Dietetics (ACEND) of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. As of 2021, the Commission on Dietetic Registration (CDR), the agency that regulates Registered Dietitians/Registered Dietitian Nutritionists in the United States, requires that all RD candidates complete a minimum of an ACEND-accredited bachelor’s degree program in nutrition and dietetics. As of January 1, 2024, however, this requirement will change to a minimum of a master’s degree. So, it is currently your choice to select a bachelor’s degree or master’s degree program.
ACEND offers a handy interactive online directory in which you can specify that you are searching for a bachelor’s degree program, master’s degree program, and distance education (i.e., an online program). As of August 2021, there are more than 20 online programs listed. Some of the program choices include:
- University of Alabama at Birmingham – Coordinated Program in Dietetics
- Master of Science in Nutrition Sciences
- All coursework is offered online
- Practicum is included and can be completed anywhere in the U.S.
- Harding University, Search, AR – Future Education Model Graduate Program
- Master of Science in Applied Dietetics Practice
- All coursework is offered online
- 1106 hours of supervised experiential learning is included, which is student-selected and approved by the program
- Kansas State University, Manhattan, KS – Didactic Program in Dietetics
- Bachelor of Science in Dietetics
- All coursework is completed online
- Once you have completed this coursework, you must find your own dietetic internship online (the ACEND search directory offers options for this as well)
- Iowa State University, Ames, IA – Future Education Model Graduate Program
- Master of Professional Practice in Dietetics
- All coursework offered online
- After coursework is completed, you may complete your supervised experiential learning anywhere in the U.S. in the area in which you live and/or work
- Eastern Michigan University, Ypsilanti, MI – Coordinated Program in Dietetics
- Bachelor of Science in Dietetics or Master of Science in Dietetics
- May complete all classes online
- Students complete their own self-identified remote supervised practice experience sites and preceptors near where they live and/or work
Courses You Will Complete in an Online Registered Dietitian Degree Program
Courses that you will take in an online degree program designed for aspiring Registered Dietitians will include:
- Basic Nutrition
- Human Nutrition
- Science of Food
- Nutritional Assessment
- Financial Management in Dietetics
- Clinical Nutrition
- Nutrient Metabolism
- Public Health Nutrition
- Counseling Strategies in Dietetics Practice
- Life Span Nutrition
Supervised Practice Experiences or Dietetic Internship in an Online Program
The Supervised Practice Experience or Dietetic Internship of an online Registered Dietitian degree program will have parameters that must still be met, even though the student is self-identifying the program and choosing where they will fulfill this requirement. Usually, the site(s) must be student-selected and pre-approved by the program when the student applies to the online degree program. An example of a sample rotation for 1000 hours of experiential learning might be:
- 250 hours of Community Nutrition rotation – this could occur at a WIC facility, school nutrition site, or other community nutrition site
- 400 hours of Medical Nutrition Therapy (MNT) rotation – this could occur at an accredited inpatient medical facility and may also include Pediatrics, Oncology, Diabetes, Renal and Nutrition Support
- 250 hours of Food Systems Management rotation – this could occur at the MNT site, at a long-term-care facility, or a K-12 public school participating in the National School Lunch or Breakfast programs
Preceptors must also be student-selected and invited to participate. Ideally, your preceptor will be a contact you have already made; perhaps an RD working within a facility in which you worked, or one whom you met at a meeting or in classes. Your preceptor must generally sign a commitment letter stating that they will precept your experience for a certain period of time.
Pass the Commission on Dietetic Registration (CDR) Examination
Once you have completed your bachelor’s or master’s degree in nutrition and dietetics, you are ready to take the Commission on Dietetic Registration (CDR) examination. This test cannot be taken online, as of August 2021. You may choose a Pearson VUE testing center that is most convenient for you. Test centers are offered all across the country.
You may study for the exam using online resources, however. The CDR offers a Registration Examination for Dietitians Handbook for Candidates as well as a Registered Dietitian Exam Study Guide online that are both quite helpful to preparing to pass the examination.
Seek Licensure as a Registered Dietitian, If Necessary, in Your State
Once you have passed the CDR exam, you must still become licensed or certified as a Registered Dietitian if this is a requirement in your state. As of July 2, 2020, 48 states, Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia have statutes that regulate the dietetics profession. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics offers a handy map that provides Registered Dietitian licensure information by state, including each state’s Board of Dietetics contact (if one exists). If you must become licensed or certified, much of that work can be completed online or by mail, although you might have to appear in person before your state’s Board of Dietetics depending upon their rules and statutes.
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