What is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist?

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A Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN) is a professional who has training and education in food and nutrition. The RDN has completed certain requirements, namely holding a minimum of a bachelor’s degree from an institution that is accredited by the Accreditation Council for Education in Nutrition and Dietetics (ACEND) of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics; completed an ACEND-accredited internship; and passed a national examination given by the Commission on Dietetic Registration (CDR). But what, exactly, does an RDN do?

Registered Dietitian Nutritionist Job Description

While every RDN’s job is different, there are certain commonalities among the profession. Here, we will discuss the typical duties and work for RDNs in various settings.

Job Duties of a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist

Registered Dietitian Nutritionists (RDNs) advise people on what they should eat in order to achieve healthier lifestyles or a health goal. Some of the job duties that they perform include (but are not limited to):

  • Educate others on diet and nutrition
  • Assess a patient’s nutritional needs
  • Develop dietetic plans
  • Facilitate group sessions on nutrition and dietetics
  • Provide individual counseling on dietetics and nutrition
  • Help patients in meal planning
  • Collect data, do research, and prepare reports

Others Who Work Closely with a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist

A variety of medical professionals may work closely with an RDN, based upon their work setting. They include (but are not limited to):

  • Doctors
  • Registered nurses
  • Health care practitioners
  • Counselors
  • Health educators
  • Community health workers

Skills Necessary for Registered Dietitian Nutritionists

In order to succeed as an RDN, you should possess the following skills:

  • Good verbal communication skills
  • Active listening skills
  • Good interpersonal skills
  • Effective organizational skills
  • Time management skills
  • Ability to work independently

Work Hours for Registered Dietitian Nutritionists

Work hours can vary for RDNs depending upon the setting in which they work. While most tend to work full-time during normal business hours (Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.), some hospitals and medical institutions may schedule RDNs on a shift basis, requiring them to work evenings and/or weekends. Likewise, some RDNs who work in private practice may find that their patients wish to meet with them during evenings and weekends.

Work Settings for Registered Dietitian Nutritionists

There is a wide variety of work environments for RDNs. These include, but are not limited to:

  • Hospitals and medical centers
  • Government agencies
  • Nursing homes and residential long term care facilities
  • Private practice
  • Community health centers
  • Rehabilitation centers
  • Educational institutions
  • Other outpatient care centers

Average Salary for Registered Dietitian Nutritionists

According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average annual salary for an RDN as of May 2019 was $61,270. Those working in outpatient care centers earned higher average salaries, at $68,000. The top-paying states in which RDNs work include California, which pays its RDNs $77,040 annually; Alaska, where RDNs earn an average annual wage of $72,640; Massachusetts, where RDNs make $72,610 per year; Hawaii, where RDNs earn $71,230 annually; and New Jersey, whose RDNs earn an average of $70,550 per year.

Education Required for Registered Dietitian Nutritionists

Currently, a bachelor’s degree from an ACEND-accredited program is necessary in order to become an RDN. As of 2024, however, a master’s degree will be required. Names of degree programs that are accredited include:

  • Bachelor of Science in Dietetics
  • Bachelor of Science in Food and Nutrition
  • Bachelor of Science in Nutritional Sciences
  • Bachelor of Science in Nutrition and Dietetics

The following bachelors and Master’s programs offer career-focused instruction delivered by trained nutritionists with experience in the field. Find out more what each individual course of study offers through the locations below.

Featured Nutritionist Programs

Experience Required for Registered Dietitian Nutritionists

In addition to a bachelor’s degree, RDNs must complete a Dietetic Internship. This internship, which must also be ACEND-accredited, must consist of at least 1200 hours of supervised practice, and is usually completed in eight to 24 months. Distance programs are also available. Most dietetic internships require a rotation among various sites, including community health, food service management, hospitals, educational institutions, and medical nutrition therapy. 

Certification Required for Registered Dietitian Nutritionists

After earning a bachelor’s degree and completing the requisite internship, candidates are ready to sit for the Commission on Dietetic Registration (CDR)’s certification examination. This computerized examination is offered at Pearson VUE test centers across the country. It tests your knowledge of:

  • Principles of Dietetics
  • Nutrition Care for Individuals and Groups
  • Management of Food and Nutrition Programs and Services
  • Foodservice Systems

Areas in Which Registered Dietitian Nutritionists May Specialize

In addition to becoming a RDN, the CDR also offers Board Certifications as a Specialist in various areas. These include Pediatric Nutrition, Renal Nutrition, Gerontological Nutrition, Pediatric Critical Care Nutrition, Oncology Nutrition, Sports Dietetics, and Obesity and Weight Management. To become certified in a specialty area, you must have documented practice experience and pass an examination within that specialty area.

Job Outlook for Registered Dietitian Nutritionists

The employment outlook for RDNs in the United States is quite good, per the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). They project that, between 2018 and 2028, job opportunities for RDNs will increase by 11 percent. This is much faster than the average increase expected for all other occupations. Part of the reason for this projected increase is the fact that over one-third of US adults are currently obese, per the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). Diet and nutrition is becoming more important in managing diseases related to obesity, such as diabetes and heart conditions. As baby boomers age and try to stay healthy, the need for RDNs will also increase. The BLS expects RDNS who hold advanced degrees or additional specialty certifications to have even more job opportunities by 2028.