No One Knows What It Takes to Become a Dietitian Unless you are One
When I tell people that I am a Dietitian, the first question they ask is: what do you go to school for and for how long?
This is a really good question. Unfortunately, many people who call themselves “nutritionists” just straight up give themselves that title. Maybe they have a certificate from a webinar they did. Maybe they took a few hours of an online nutrition course, or are a personal trainer and self-titled nutrition expert. I’ve even seen people give themselves the title of nutrition expert simply because they eat food and promote a certain type of diet. Yeah….
While I am personally a big fan of being a learner for life and taking courses and certifications and looking up stuff on the internet, food and nutrition can be pretty complicated. And if you don’t understand it fully, yet preach your beliefs to other people, well, that can be pretty problematic. You can really misinform people and that can have serious consequences.
The other issue with this is that people labeling themselves as a nutrition counselor or nutritionist in this way makes it REALLY hard for the general public to take the profession of dietitians seriously. Nutrition is a REAL, HARD SCIENECE! I find myself having to advocate for myself and my profession more than I would like to because if people have this title without any education, well then what did I go to school for?
Here are the general and basic requirements to become a Registered Dietitian:
Obtain a Bachelor of Science in Nutrition/Dietetics
This degree typically takes four years and includes some fun and awesome classes, along with some SUPER tough sciences, including but not limited to nutrition science, clinical nutrition, foodservice management, food science, biochemistry, physiology, microbiology and chemistry.
Complete an accredited, supervised practice program (aka Internship)
This usually includes rotations in foodservice management, clinical dietetics, and public health. My internship in particular included 640 hours in clinical dietetics in a hospital and rehabilitation setting, as well as 320 hours in community nutrition, 320 hours in foodservice management, and additional assignments.
Obtain a Master’s degree
Some internships are intertwined with a master’s degree while others are not. Currently (in 2020) you don’t need a master’s degree to become an RD. However, in 2024, all RDs will be required to also have a master’s degree (those who previously became RDs through just a B.S. and the internship will just be grandfathered in to maintaining their credential). Personally, since I don’t currently have my master’s, I plain on obtaining my MPH before 2024, even though I will be grandfathered in.
Pass a national examination
This exam is HARD. I took it in July 2018, three months after I completed the internship. I studied hard for those three months, harder than anything I had ever studied for in my life. I was so nervous going in, and was in disbelief when I passed it on my first try, because I am usually not a big fan of tests. I actually don’t think they are a good way of showing your knowledge at all, but hey, it’s what I needed to do. Read about how I studied and my experience here
Complete continuing professional education
This means that as dietitians, we must complete a ton of continuing education, usually about 75 hours over a 5-year period, or about 15 hours every year. These requirements can be completed through webinars, classes, conferences, and the like. I think this is really important because things are ALWAYS changing in the field of nutrition and as professionals we need to be up to date.
*Disclaimer: I know there are people out there who practice in the field and have completed rigorous training and education in the field of nutrition (i.e. bachelor’s, master’s degrees, or even an MPH in nutrition) but are not Registered Dietitians. I am fully aware that many people do not hold the RD title simply because they don’t believe in a lot of things that the AND (Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics) stands for (HEARD!) and/or they had difficulty getting an internship (DOUBLE HEARD!) or for another reason. I am with them on that, and know that these professionals probably have knowledge similar to or if not exceeding the knowledge of an RD. This post is not to say that they are not credible professionals, but rather to lift up dietitians as nutrition experts.
I truly enjoy being a Registered Dietitian and still can’t believe I get to talk about food every day as my job! Look for an upcoming post on my personal journey to becoming an RD and what I do in my daily life.
Thinking about becoming a dietitian yourself? Message me! I love to talk about these things.