Be a Dietary Technician: Education and Career Roadmap
Learn how to become a dietary technician. Research the education requirements, training information and experience required for starting a career as a dietary technician.
Do I Want to Be a Dietary Technician?
Dietary technicians, or dietetic technicians, assist dietitians in planning and preparing meals that meet established nutritional guidelines. They might educate, screen and evaluate patients; monitor patient progress; and plan diets/menus for clients. Technicians might need to use tact and patience when dealing with their clients.
Becoming a dietary technician generally requires the Dietetic Technician, Registered (DTR) credential administered by the Commission on Dietetic Registration (CDR). Gaining this credential involves completion of an accredited associate degree program and 450 hours of supervised practice or a bachelor's degree coupled with completion of a didactic or coordinated dietetics program. The following table lists the main qualifications for dietary technicians:
|Degree Level||Associate degree is standard, though some employers require a bachelor's degree*|
|Degree Fields||Dietetic technician, nutrition, dietetics*|
|Certification||Certification is not mandatory, but many employers prefer to hire technicians registered with the CDR*|
|Experience||Experience requirements vary by employer, but one year of experience is often required*|
|Key Skills||Communication skills, ability to actively listen, reading comprehension, ability to think critically and make decisions, attention to detail, compassion and sensitivity**|
|Computer Skills||Familiarity with dietetic software like Axxya Systems Nutritionist Pro, CyberSoft NutriBase and CBORD Nutrition Service Suite as well as knowledge of spreadsheet software**|
|Additional Requirements||Ability to use cutlery, food scales, ovens and other cooking equipment necessary for preparing meals**|
Sources: *Monster.com and Careerbuilder.com Job postings (August 2012), **O*Net OnLine.
Step 1: Complete an Associate Degree Program
Completion of an associate degree program related to dietetics or nutrition is common for many dietetic technicians; in fact, becoming a DTR requires completion of at least an associate degree accredited by the Accreditation Council for Education in Nutrition and Dietetics (ACEND). Coursework typically includes general science courses, management of foodservice systems and food/nutrition sciences. Accredited dietetic technician programs also incorporate 450 hours of supervised practice into their curricula, which is required for the DTR credential. During this time, students will gain hands-on work experience and apply what they have learned throughout their coursework.
- Get relevant work experience during college. While experience is not always required to find employment as a dietetic technician, some employers prefer to hire candidates who've worked in the field. Students can take advantage of internships or fieldwork experiences offered by their programs, or they can seek student positions in a variety of health care settings. This will allow the student to become familiar with the responsibilities of the position and make contacts in the field.
Step 2: Consider Earning a Bachelor's Degree
Aspiring dietary technicians may also choose to earn a bachelor's degree program. Students do not need to major in dietetics or nutrition at this level, although majors related to dietetics and nutrition may result in the student requiring less additional coursework. Students who earn unrelated bachelor's degrees are required to complete supplementary coursework in an ACEND-accredited Coordinated Program (CP) or Didactic Program in Dietetics (DPD). A CP combines supervised experience with classroom instruction, while a DPD provides only classroom instruction in conjunction with a degree program. The student would then be responsible for applying to and completing an accredited supervised experience program .
If a student has already started a bachelor's degree program, he or she must consult with the program director of the school's dietetics technician program to determine if additional components must be completed. Depending on the previous coursework and any supervised experience the student may have already completed, the director may assign a DPD or CP program.
Step 3: Become a Dietetic Technician, Registered
After meeting the education and supervised experience requirements, aspiring dietary technicians can become registered by passing a national written examination administered by the CDR. Since many employers prefer to hire dietary technicians with the DTR credential, taking this examination may improve employment prospects. The multiple-choice exam varies in length, with each individual receiving an exam that contains a minimum of 110 questions and a maximum of 130 questions. Examinees can expect a variety of content to be covered on the exam, including food and nutrition sciences, management, food system services and nutrition care for individuals and groups.
- Use a study guide to prepare for exam. Examinees can choose to use a study guide to prepare for the DTR examination. The Study Guide for the Registration Examination for Dietetic Technicians is a valuable resource provided by the CDR that individuals can refer to prior to taking the exam. This study guide includes a practice exam, references and comprehensive study outline.
Step 4: Maintain Registration
Continuing education is needed to maintain registration as a registered dietetic technician. This includes the completion of 50 hours of continuing professional education over a five-year registration period. Activities comprising these units are listed through the CDR, though DTRs can request prior approval for an activity that is not listed.
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