I get a lot of questions about being a Registered Dietitian (RD) — what an RD does, how to become an RD, the job outlook for RD’s, advice for those interested in the field, etc. And fellow bloggers and dietitians receive the very same questions. In an effort to best answer those questions about our profession and the paths to becoming an RD, I collaborated with 9 other Registered Dietitians on your most frequently asked questions. Below are our answers!
I hope this information serves as a resource to those seeking out a career in nutrition, or those simply interested in what being a dietitian is all about. Each of the participating dietitians is also a blogger and links to their sites can be found with their responses throughout. Please visit their blogs, as they are all wonderful resources. We are THE nutrition professionals in the nutrition field!
Gina of Erica of Kath of Corinne of Erin of Kasey of Kristen B. of Melinda of Estela of Weekly Bite
Questions for the RD’s
Q: How many years of schooling did it take to become a Registered Dietitian (RD)?
To become a Registered Dietitian one must complete a minimum of a bachelor’s degree at a US regionally accredited university or college (either a Coordinated Program in Dietetics or Didactic Program in Dietetics) and course work accredited or approved by the Commission on Accreditation for Dietetics Education (CADE) of the American Dietetic Association (ADA). Next, one must complete a CADE-accredited supervised practice program at a health-care facility, community agency, or a food service corporation or combined with undergraduate or graduate studies. Typically, a practice program will run six to 12 months in length, and this is the Dietetic Internship. Note: There are many program that offer combined master’s and internship opportunities. After the successful completion of an internship, you must pass a national examination administered by the Commission on Dietetic Registration (CDR), commonly referred to as the “RD exam”. After becoming a Registered Dietitian, one must uphold registration and state licensure (in most states), and complete 75 continuing education units (CEU’s) every 5 years. An RD can be audited for the successful completion of their CEU’s and professional portfolio.
Q: How can I find schools with nutrition programs?
The programs are linked above and you can locate programs based on geographic location.
Q: Were the science classes really hard?
Most of us found the chemistry classes to be challenging. Gina’s best advice is to get a tutor and ask questions! Kristen B. and Melinda also agree that a tutor is a smart route to go. Estela’s advice is simple: study your booty off and you’ll do fine. Erin suggest study groups, and like Gina…ask questions! Erin pointed out that if the TA or professor says something you don’t understand, you’re never alone! Kath suggests taking science classes at a community college, but that if you simply hate science, nutrition may not be the right field for you. Kath approximated that 1/2 of her curriculum was science, and that is definitely true! Corinne initially let the sciences scare her into another major, but she quickly had a change of heart She worked hard and excelled in the sciences, and even came to love them! Kristen B. hated organic chemistry (like us all, it sounds like!), but she didn’t let that get in her way. Melinda had a great point in saying that sciences really “click” when you see them in play every day, and that most dietitians use math every day in their practice. I would like to make note that dietitians are MEDICAL professionals — our scope of practice goes far beyond food, cooking, and crunching numbers and so the sciences are very important to our practice. Don’t let all of that scare you, Estela, Kath, Erica, Kasey, and the others all confirm: these classes are doable if you put in the time and effort!
Q: What area of nutrition do you currently work in? What area of nutrition are you least interested in?
I work as a renal dietitian (nearly full-time) and I operate Mid Ohio Nutrition Specialists, LLC with 2 other RD’s mostly seeing kidney disease, diabetes, and weight management patients. I am least interested in community nutrition (i.e. WIC).
Kasey works at an inner-city hospital as a clinical dietitian; she is least interested in food service management.
Erica currently works in pediatrics, with eating disorders, and children with developmental delay; she is least interested in food service management and nutrition support (tube feeding and IV nutrition).
Estela is a stay-at-home mom and full-time blogger. Prior to her new role, she was the Director of Clinical Nutrition at Georgetown University Hospital and ran a private practice on the side.
Melinda currently teaches online with 2 universities while she is overseas. Prior to leaving the states she worked at a hospital as an in-patient and out-patient dietitian. She is least interested in long-term care (i.e. extended care facilities) because of the slower pace.
Kristen B. works as an out-patient pediatric dietitian. She least enjoys the in-patient hospital setting.
Corinne performs one-on-one counseling, group classes, speaking engagements, and writing. She least enjoys food service management, like a lot of the others!
Kath was least interested in food service management and now she’s opening a bakery and loves it! She is also a full-time blogger and freelance writer.
Erin currently works in weight-loss and at WIC (Women Infant and Children services). While she does not enjoy WIC because of non-compliance, she finds weight loss to be so rewarding!
Gina works in the community, as a community dietitian. She does a lot of private consults and teaches many classes. She does not enjoy clinical dietetics.
Q: What activities do you, as a dietitian, perform on a typical day?
As you can see based on the vast diversity of our work I am going to list duties we perform, including: nutrition assessments, nutrition education, goal setting, review blood results, collaborating with nurses, doctors, and other health care professionals, charting and paperwork, teach group classes, food and cooking demonstrations, perform home visits and educate family members on nutrition, create meal plans, lead group exercise classes, grocery store tours, breastfeeding education, meal planning/budget counseling, writing, cooking, emailing, photography, create marketing materials, creating diet orders, calculating tube-feeding and parenteral nutrition recommendations, screening patients for nutritional risk, creating coursework and curriculum, reviewing text books, precepting dietetic interns, performing staff in-services and education, and feeding the ones we love healthy and tasty meals blogging our way through.
Q: Are there any negative aspects of being an RD?
Kristen B. feels RD’s can be judged based on what they eat unfairly. “We like our wine and dessert, too!” she says. And I think we all agree with that! Melinda adds to Kristen’s comment by saying RD’s don’t enjoy being pegged as the “Food Police,” because we aren’t. She also shared that RD’s may be compensated at lower wages because it is a female-driven profession. Erin adds that you should go into nutrition because you love it — RD’s are not compensated exceptionally well, especially given the amount of schooling required. Erica finds one drawback to being an RD is potentially having to do things you don’t enjoy; most RD’s don’t love educating on all topics, and we have our expertise with which we know and enjoy most. Kasey finds non-compliance and poor communication with patients and clients to be challenging. Corinne doesn’t find any negative aspects to being an RD, she simply emphasizes that RD’s are the nutrition professionals despite the people, companies, and products that try to say otherwise. Estela adds by saying she finds it frustrating when doctors think they know nutrition better than RD’s, as well as “nutritionists” who devalue the role of a dietitian. Kath mentioned that obtaining CEU’s can be difficult (and expensive) for those self-employed or who do not work in large medical facilities. She goes on to share that nutrition can be a challenging field because the research can be inconclusive and constantly changing. Gina shares that she doesn’t enjoy being the only RD are her job and wishes she worked with other RD’s on a regular basis.
Q: Do you think the field of nutrition is secure, stable and steady for employment in the future?
Gina believes there will always be a need for RD’s, but that getting a master’s sets you apart. Erica agrees that RD’s are in demand, but that even health care jobs waver with economic stress. She encourages those interested in nutrition to gain experience and excel in school to better prepare you for a job search — landing your dream job right out the gates is not likely. In her 10 years of RD experience, Estela sees growth and stability for dietitians, and sees dietitians becoming more recognized as the nutrition experts. Erin and Kasey believe the rapidly rising rates of obesity will increase the demand for dietitians. Corinne agrees. As health care progresses, the importance of nutrition will continue to surface, she says. Kristen B. believes that nutrition is a stable career, especially for those in a clinical setting. Health care is a more stable job market, she says. Melinda shares much of the same opinion, adding that while private practice is an aspiration for many RD’s, the steady income of a salaried job with benefits can’t be over-looked.
Q: What nutrition-related work experiences should someone pursue during college to make themselves more employable or qualified for a dietetic internship?
Erica stresses that it’s important to get into the nutrition field early on and in any way you can, whether it be in a hospital, restaurant, or gym. Volunteer work is just as valuable as work experience, she adds! Kasey worked in biomedical research during college and was able to have two of her co-workers (RD’s) write letters of recommendation for her internship application. Melinda found that working in the diet office of a hospital was an invaluable experience and set her apart from other internship applicants because of her food service knowledge. Kristen B. volunteered to do projects for as many RD’s as she could and believes that the more experiences you hold, the better your chances of getting accepted to internship programs. Corinne recommends finding your passion and delve in, gaining as many experiences as you can to make yourself an expertise in a specific area. Kath and Estela recommend shadowing dietitians (just call and ask!) and gaining any clinical experiences that you can. Erin and Gina stress the importance of just being involved — join clubs and networks with nutrition as a common interest (most campuses have a nutrition or dietetics club), volunteer, gain work experiences in nutrition, and so on. Gina also finds food service experience to be very helpful on applications.
Q: Did you enjoy your internship experience? How long was it, and did you simultaneously complete a master’s, thesis, or hold a job?
Erin’s internship was 10 months and a 40-50 hour a week commitment which was tough, but looking back she really enjoyed it. Kath completed her internship while working part-time as a blogger and found that balance to be challenging. Corinne completed her master’s and internship in 20 months. She says it was a VERY intense period, but well worth the effort, passion, and dedication that went into completing. Kristen B. loved her internship and completed in 6 months. She loved the opportunity to learn about so many arenas of nutrition in such a short period of time. Melinda completed her internship in 10 months and worked 2 part-time jobs, mostly on the weekends. She went back for her master’s degree at a later time. Erica and I attended the same master’s/internship program where we completed our internship, master’s degree, and thesis in 15 months. Erica found great networking opportunities and potential jobs throughout her internship rotations; interning is a great way to network with dietitians in your community every day. Similarly, Estela completed a master’s along with her internship in one very intense year. Kasey loved her 6-month internship because of the diverse experiences and because of her internship director.
Q: Did many people in your undergraduate programs NOT get matched to a dietetic internship?
I will summarize in saying that most of us attended programs where at least one individual did NOT match to a dietetic internship on their first attempt. I think Erica’s advice was the best: it’s a challenging match, but if you don’t get it your first attempt, keep after your dreams. All good things are worth waiting (and working) for!
Q: Was the RD exam hard?
I think I will summarize in saying that most of us found the exam to be challenging, but more than anything…random! Melinda recommends taking your time during the exam and reading every question carefully. I will go further to say that I read every question twice. I read carefully, gave my initial answer, re-read, and then answered. Estela recommends preparing to do extra studying if you’re not a great test-taker. Erica recommends studying hard, but taking the exam as soon as possible! Statistics say the longer you wait, the less chance you have of passing. Corinne recommends these review materials and studying hard — you can’t “wing” this exam! Kath recommends not wasting time memorizing facts — much of the exam is examples and procedural-type questions. She recommends the RD In-A-Flash cards, and I also used them — great resource! Erin found the food service and regulation/law questions to be the most challenging. I think that of all areas of the test, this is the one area where memorization will help out. Gina strongly recommends taking an RD prep course; she says it was worth every penny!
Q: What is the best piece of advice you could give to someone entering the nutrition field to become an RD?
Kasey stresses that the field of dietetics is one for someone who possesses excellent communication and people skills, as well as patience. Erica’s advice is unique and I love it: Don’t be lame! Get out there and market yourself. In starting a business, I have to agree with this 110%! Melinda’s advice is also great — going into your internship do not assume what area of nutrition you’re most interested in — enter into each new experience with an open mind and learn as much as you can from every learning environment and opportunity. I also have to agree with this piece of advice — most students in my internships ended up LOVING the one area of nutrition they thought they would hate. I ended up loving food service management, for example. Kristen B. stressed the importance of networking with dietitians…and it’s never too early to start. Corinne agrees, networking can open up doors that you never even knew where there. Erin, Estela, and Corinne remind people to stay grounded in what brought you to nutrition in the first place, especially when times get tough and the road seems long and uphill. Love what you do! Kath advises keeping an open mind — there are so many creative ways to practice nutrition.
Q: What do you love about being a dietitian?
I think we all agree that we love what we do and that makes our work rewarding. Estela and Gina say they love everything about being a dietitian! Gina especially enjoys seeing others become passionate about nutrition, and Estela has enjoyed seeing her professional and real-life experiences with nutrition compliment one another. Erica loves helping others and seeing them discover how a healthy lifestyle affects their life. Erin loves that nutrition is always changing and therefore, we are always learning. She also enjoys being a voice of reason when not-so-great nutrition trends are being followed by the public. Kath loves talking about healthy food and seeing others try (and like!) new, healthy foods. She also loves the letters behind her name…and there’s nothing not to love about that! Corinne loves changing lives and inspiring people..she says there’s no better feeling! Kristen B. loves teaching and if she changes just one life, she knows she’s done something good Melinda loves the diverse options available in the nutrition field. Because she has a lot of different experiences, she can work in a multitude of fields at the same time. She and Kath also add that they love the flexible schedules, and I agree. Kasey loves being able to have a career in something she is so passionate about, and agrees that she loves the many career paths one can take in the field of nutrition.
I hope this dialogue was insightful and helpful! We love what we do!! Thanks for reading!