Dietitian: Educational Requirements

Dietitians, or nutritionists, are healthcare professionals who develop and supervise diet programs that improve public health. They may serve as clinical dietitians in healthcare facilities, community dieticians in public health centers or management dieticians in food distribution facilities. Some dieticians work as self-employed consultants who provide nutritional services to clients. Read on to learn about education, licensing and certification for dieticians.

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Educational Requirements for Dietitians

The minimum requirement for a career in dietetics is a bachelor's degree; however, some dieticians hold graduate degrees. There were 279 bachelor's and 18 master's degree programs approved by the Dietetic Association's (ADA) Commission on Accreditation for Dietetics Education (CADE) in 2009 (www.eatright.org).

Bachelor's Degree

Dietitians must hold at least a bachelor's degree in dietetics, nutrition or another health science field. Some colleges and universities offer Bachelor of Science in Dietetics programs comprised of didactic curricula approved by the ADA. These 4-year degree programs provide classroom instruction in clinical dietetics and qualify students for entry into a supervised practicum or internship. Core courses may include human nutrition, experimental foods, medical nutrition therapy, food service organization and quantity food production.

Master's Degree

Dietitians wanting to advance may pursue a graduate degree, which might qualify them for research, public health or advanced clinical positions. Such programs may also be a viable option for a person who already holds a bachelor's degree in an unrelated field, but wishes to become a dietitian. Master of Science in Nutrition programs, for example, focus on research and clinical methods in nutrition and dietetics. Courses may include developmental nutrition, exercise physiology, metabolism, nutritional biochemistry and research methods. Students may also be required to complete a master's thesis.

Licensing Information for Dietitians

Most states require dietitians to obtain licensure, certification or registration to practice in the profession. Licensure is the strictest form of state regulation, maintaining that those who practice without a license are subject to prosecution. In states that require certification, dietitians must meet predetermined, state-specific qualifications to obtain certification. Certification usually is mandatory for the use of certain job titles. Those who are not certified may still practice in the profession, but are unable to use titles only available through certification. California is the only U.S. state that requires registration, which is the least restrictive form of regulation.

Professional Certification for Dietitians

The ADA offers the Registered Dietitian (RD) designation to food and nutrition professionals who hold bachelor's degrees from an approved educational program. Candidates for certification must also have completed a CADE-accredited practicum or internship program, which generally includes one year of supervised field work in a healthcare or food service facility. They are then eligible to sit for the Commission on Dietetic Registration's national exam and, upon passage, become certified. RDs must maintain certification by earning 75 continuing education credits every five years.

Career Outlook

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), dietitian jobs were predicted to increase 20% from 2010-2020. This was due to a greater demand for more health and nutrition programs, as well as a growing elderly population in need of nutritional services. Dietitians and nutritionists made a mean yearly wage of $56,170 in May 2012, reported the BLS.

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