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Requirements to Be a Dietitian

by Oubria Tronshaw, studioD

Dietitians provide motivational support and dietary guidance to patients seeking a healthier relationship with food and nutrition. Services often include customized meal plans, information on the link between eating habits and good health, and encouraging and informative talks to large groups of people. Becoming a dietitian requires about four years of post-secondary education, as well as a significant amount of clinical practice. As of 2010, dietitians earned an average annual salary of $53,210, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Bachelor's Degree

Dietitians are required to have a bachelor’s degree from an accredited college or university, and typically major in foods and nutrition, dietetics, food service systems management or a similar major, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Dietitians seeking the Registered Dietitian, or RD designation through the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, are required to complete coursework approved through the Accreditation Council for Education in Nutrition and Dietetics of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Dietetic students typically study business, computer science, economics, sociology, culinary arts, communication, physiology, biochemistry, anatomy, chemistry and microbiology.

Clinical Practice

To apply classroom theories to real life practice, most dietitian education programs require students to complete numerous hours of supervised clinical practice. When this training component is not included, most certification bodies, including the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, require certification applicants to complete a postgraduate internship.

Certification Exam

Whether through an individual state agency, or through the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, RD certification applicants are required to pass a qualifying exam. Most exam requirements include having a bachelor’s degree and completing a set amount of supervised clinical practice. Although states do offer individual certifications, most employers prefer to hire applicants who have earned the RD designation, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The RD designation requirements typically correspond to the qualifications required by state certifying agencies. Often, continuing education credits are necessary to maintain certification.

Other Skills

Education, clinical practice, testing and certification are not the only requirements necessary to become a dietitian. Dietitians should also have excellent research and organizational skills, as well as the ability to connect with and motivate people. Dietitians also need to be dynamic communicators, both orally and in writing, and have the self-discipline required to practice the health principles they teach.

About the Author

Oubria Tronshaw specializes in topics related to parenting and business. She received a Bachelor of Arts in creative writing from the Santa Fe University of Art and Design, and a Master of Fine Arts in creative writing from Chicago State University. She currently teaches English at Harper Community College in the Chicago area.

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