Becoming a Registered Dietitian

The American Dietetic Association (ADA) has four requirements to become a registered dietitian (RD):

  1. A baccalaureate degree.
  2. Completion of a specific list of didactic requirements (topics taught in the classroom with evidence that the student sufficiently understands the topics).
  3. At least 1200 hours of supervised practice (an internship working under the supervision of a RD)
  4. Passing a nationally administered exam.

*Number (2) and (3) must be completed at an ADA accredited facility.

Western Carolina University (WCU) has both an accredited undergraduate program in dietetics and an accredited internship.  If you attend WCU and receive your degree in nutrition, you will complete both (1) and (2) above.  If you do not complete a degree in nutrition from an accredited institution, you do not have to obtain a second undergrad degree, but have to attend an accredited institution and complete the didactic requirements. 

In order to enter the internship at WCU, as with most institutions, you must first be accepted into graduate school and then apply for the internship (there are a few hospitals that have internships that do not require graduate school acceptance). Our internship, as all internships in dietetics, is competitive. Presently we are accepting eight students per year. The internship is for seven months full-time. You do not have to complete any graduate courses prior to the internship, nor do you have to complete any after the internship. You will receive nine hours of graduate credit for the internship.  By the fall of 2009 we hope to initiate a new format with our internship and much of the current structure will change.

If you receive an undergraduate degree in an area other than nutrition, you may come to WCU and take the required nutrition and prerequisite courses. You may do this while seeking a second undergraduate degree or as a special or non-degree student.  As you approach the senior level, you may apply to grad school and take some of the 400 level (senior) courses at the 500 level (graduate) and obtain graduate credit while completing requirements preparing for entry into an internship. You may obtain as many as 18 graduate credit hours at the 500 level. Thus, after the internship is complete, you will have much of your master’s degree complete.

Additional Information

Once the RD status is obtained, there are continuing professional educational hours that must be completed (75 hours per five years) to maintain registration.

Some RDs hold additional certifications in specialized areas of practice, such as pediatric or renal nutrition, nutrition support, and diabetes education. These certifications are awarded through CDR, the credentialing agency for ADA, and/or other medical and nutrition organizations and are recognized within the profession, but are not required.

In addition to RD credentialing, many states have regulatory laws for dietitians and nutrition practitioners. In North Carolina, these state requirements are met through the same education and training required to become an RD.

College Course Work

Dietitians study a variety of subjects, ranging from food and nutrition sciences, foodservice systems management, business, economics, computer science, culinary arts, sociology, and communication. Additional science courses include chemistry, biochemistry, physiology, microbiology, and anatomy.

Employment Opportunities

Registered dietitians work in a wide variety of employment settings, including health care, business and industry, public health, education, research, and private practice.
Many work environments, particularly those in medical and health care settings, require that an individual be credentialed as an RD.
RDs work in:

  • Hospitals, HMOs or other health care facilities, educating patients about nutrition  and administering medical nutrition therapy as part of the health care team. They  may also manage the foodservice operations in these settings, as well as in  schools, day-care centers, and correctional facilities, overseeing everything from  food purchasing and preparation to managing staff.
  • Sports nutrition and corporate wellness programs, educating clients about the  connection between food, fitness, and health.
  • Food and nutrition-related businesses and industries, working in  communications, consumer affairs, public relations, marketing, or product  development.
  • Private practice, working under contract with health care or food companies, or  in their own business. RDs may provide services to foodservice or restaurant  managers, food vendors, and distributors, or athletes, nursing home residents, or  company employees.
  • Community and public health settings teaching monitoring, and advising the  public, and helping to improve their quality of life through healthy eating habits.
  • Universities and medical centers, teaching physicians, nurses, dietetics students,  and others the sophisticated science of foods and nutrition.
  • Research areas in food and pharmaceutical companies, universities, and  hospitals, directing or conducting experiments to answer critical nutrition  questions and find alternative foods or nutrition recommendations for the public.

Where to Start if You Already Have a Degree

If you already have a bachelor's degree that is not in dietetics, and are interested in becoming a registered dietitian, you should have your college transcript evaluated by a director of a dietetics program accredited by CADE (Western Carolina University is accredited). The program director will evaluate your previous academic preparation and identify the courses that you would need to complete at that school to meet the academic requirements for dietetic registration. It may be possible to complete the required dietetics coursework while enrolled in a graduate program. The dietetics program director can advise you of your options. Once the required coursework is completed, you are eligible to apply to a CADE-accredited supervised practice program (Internship, which Western Carolina also has).

Salaries and Job Outlook

According to ADA's 2005 Dietetics Compensation and Benefits Survey, half of all RDs in the U.S. who have been working full-time in the field for five years or less earn between $35,000 and $46,000 per year. As with any profession, salaries and fees vary by region of the country, employment settings, scope of responsibility, and supply of RDs. Salaries increase with years of experience and many RDs, particularly those in management, business, and consulting earn incomes above $72,000.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment of dietitians is expected to grow about as fast as the average for all occupations through the year 2014 because of increased emphasis on disease prevention, a growing and aging population, and public interest in nutrition. Employment in hospitals is expected to show little change because of anticipated slow growth and reduced patients' lengths of hospital stay. Faster growth, however, is anticipated in nursing homes, residential care facilities, and physician clinics.

For more information, contact:
Dr. Wayne E. Billon, RD, LDN
Nutrition and Dietetics Program Director
Department of Health Sciences
130 Moore Hall
Western Carolina University
Cullowhee, NC 28723

Or you can contact the American Dietetic Association:
Operations staff
800-877-1600 ext. 5400 for ADAF scholarship information.

For career guidance contact:
ADA Student Operations
120 South Riverside Plaza, Suite 2000
Chicago, Illinois 60606-6995
Phone: 800-877-1600 ext. 5400
Fax: 312-899-4817


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