How Do You Become a Dietitian?

It’s going to take a lot, if you’re up for the challenge.

Hi again! I hope you’ve all been having a great week. In this post I wanted to talk a little bit more about the path to become a dietitian because it can get quite complicated. My particular path is slightly more complex than what I’m going to detail today, but don’t worry. We’ll get into that in my next post.

And without further ado, let’s talk about what it takes to become a registered dietitian (RD) or registered dietitian nutritionist (RDN).

First thing to do: enroll in a nutrition program that has been accredited by the Accreditation Council for Education in Nutrition and Dietetics (ACEND). If you check out the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND) website you can find accredited programs across the nation that fit your specific criteria for college. They are handily found under the “Become an RD/DTR” tab.

It’s imperative that you enroll in an accredited program. There are a number of core competencies and fundamentals that must be met through the various nutrition courses and supporting science courses you will take. This is otherwise known as the didactic program in dietetics (DPD – there sure are a lot of acronyms aren’t there?).

Once you’ve toiled away through your program, the DPD director will issue you a verification statement. This is necessary to participate in the dietetic internship (DI); the practical experience portion of your dietetic path that culminates to 1200 hours or more. You have to apply to various programs that best suit your specifications and perhaps what you’re interested in practicing as a dietitian. Again, the Academy’s website has a whole list of accredited programs you can access. I’ve heard that application time is one of the most stressful times on this path (not to mention the wait to hear back from the programs you’ve applied to). While it will be challenging, it will also be rewarding. There’s only so much you can gain from the classroom; practical experience shapes you in such a way that you’ll feel completely confident about becoming a licensed dietitian. That’s me throwing a bone, but I can only imagine it to be true.

Ok, you’ve gotten accepted to your internship program (yes!), you complete your program (even better!), now you’re finally (finally!) ready to sit and take your exam. With luck on your side and a bit (or a lot) of studying – you’re a dietitian!

Some of you may be wondering what the difference is between a nutritionist and a dietitian – the answer is simply what I’ve explained. A dietitian is credentialed (look for the RD or RDN after their name). They’ve gone through this rigorous program to achieve their end goal. And, even after the years of college and training, they have to stay up to date and maintain continuing education credits. They never stop learning about the best ways to help others live healthy lives. This is one of the reasons I love the field.

I’m not bad-mouthing nutritionists, but there are more than a few who call themselves such and have absolutely no training to back up what they claim. You’ll find what irritates most dietitians is that for every credentialed individual giving advice and trying to help others become healthy through diet and exercise, there’s dozens who are quacks touting miracle products and unhealthy diets. That being said, not every nutritionist is a quack. In fact, some dietitians choose to call themselves nutritionists because it’s a term recognized by the public. Something a recent professor told me:

“Every dietitian is a nutritionist, but not every nutritionist is a dietitian.”

Basically, if you’re looking for sound nutrition advice, ask the individual about their credentials.

Because I don’t want to make this post too long, look for next week’s where I’m going to talk about how the path of becoming an RD can happen at any phase of life. There are ways to do it. So if you, like me, decided late in the game that you wanted to become a dietitian, I’ll tell you all about how it will be alright.

Blog Post 3

Question of the week: when you think of a dietitian, what are the first thoughts that come to mind?

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