Few things remain constant throughout life the way food does. Dietitians specialize in food science and the relationship between food and humans. Laura Acosta, a lecturer in dietetics at the University of Florida, summarizes how to become a dietitian. “A Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RD or RDN) has a minimum of a four-year degree in Dietetics from a program accredited by the Accreditation Council for Education in Nutrition and Dietetics, and has completed an extensive (approximately 1200 hours) dietetic internship,” she said.
Read on to learn more about the career that meets at the intersection of food, health and the human experience.
What does a registered dietitian do?
Dietetics makes up a very broad industry, and rising dietitians have the option of pursuing many different tracks. These include helping patients with their health needs, developing meal plans, promoting nutrition and can pursued in a medical, community, clinical or pediatric setting. Once someone becomes a Registered Dietitian, they can help people in many ways, as food intersects so strongly with other areas of life.
Acosta detailed some of the roles that dietitians can take in different settings. In a clinical environment, jobs might include prescribing therapeutic diets and feeding through tubes, seeing patients in outpatient treatment, counseling, meal plans and accountability. Dietitians can assist with lifestyle changes to help fight with chronic disease in the wellness sector of dietetics. In the athletic realm, nutritionists focus on performance-enhancing sustenance.
What does it take to become a registered dietitian?
Becoming a dietitian begins with a bachelor’s degree. A nutrition or dietetics undergraduate course of study isn’t necessarily required to eventually become a dietitian, according to Stephanie Hill, a Florida State University junior. Her interest in the industry stems from the perpetual connection between food and health and the medicinal qualities of food. “Initially, I was interested in the power of food and the huge impact is has on life culturally, socially and on a micro level,” she said. During a student’s undergraduate years, they will take lower-division classes in the core sciences which lead up to more specialized courses.
Prospective dietitians must take didactic coursework on specific aspects of dietetics including human physiology and nutrition science, according to Jessie Furman, nutrition coordinator at the University of Florida RecSports department. She recommends that students keep an open mind as they go through this ever-changing field. Acosta teaches didactic courses at UF in the Didactic Program in Dietetics. “I absolutely love working with dietetics students. My students are engaged, motivated to succeed and passionate about educating the public on health and nutrition,” she said. Acosta teaches classes about nutrition and disease, medial nutrition therapy and nutrition counseling and communication.
All students who wish to become dietitians must complete an accredited internship program after obtaining their undergraduate degree with a minimum of 1,200 hours of supervised practice and experience, according to Furman. Hill plans on applying to the joint masters-internship program at FSU. “No matter what internship program you choose, you’ll be doing rounds through clinical, community, sports and food service,” she said. Hill encourages others not to feel discouraged by not knowing what they want to do with the degree because of the variety of fields they’ll experience as interns. About 50% of students who graduate from a Didactic Program in Dietetics get matched to an internship, so proactively seeking experiences through volunteering and training maintain utmost importance.
Currently, becoming a certified dietitian does not require a master’s degree. However, due to new regulations, by 2024, aspiring dietitians must attain a master’s degree. “I think this is really needed in our field to advance it,” Furman said. After changing her career and going back to school, Furman attended the University of Georgia and earned a master’s in Foods and Nutrition while taking her didactic coursework. Hill hopes to get a master’s degree in sports nutrition at FSU. “I just think it’s amazing that something that you can control on a daily basis can impact your health so greatly,” Hill said. The master’s programs that nutritionists can pursue vary depending on what specifically the student wants to pursue.
National certification exam
Upon completing the required coursework and internship experience, the time to take the national certification written exam approaches. All the questions cover knowledge from undergraduate courses and the required internship rotation. The exam tests students on principles of dietetics, nutrition care for individuals and groups, management of food and nutrition programs and services and foodservice systems, according to the Commission on Dietetic Registration.
What should you know about becoming a registered dietitian?
What income will I earn as a dietitian?
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the mean hourly wage for dietitians and nutritionists is $29.02 and the mean annual wage is $60,150.
How much will I be expected to work as a dietitian?
Most dietitians in the clinical and public health realm work less than 45 hours per week, according to Furman. Dietitians who work privately or who do research may work for longer periods of time.
What will my work environment be like?
Acosta, who has a background in fitness/wellness nutrition and clinical nutrition emphasizes the broad role of dietetics. Healthcare, wellness, food service, sustainability and athletics comprise just some of the areas dietitians work. Because food science remains so ingrained with humanity, dietitians work with a varied group of people from many walks of life.
What do I need to know about the future of dietetics?
Furman believes there may be a greater need for dietitians in the future as the current population ages. She also says that the new master’s degree requirement will elevate the quality of dietetics as an industry and have positive effects on society such as more consciousness about nutrition and healthier lifestyles.
Traits needed to become a registered dietitian
“Most important is having compassion, particularly if you’ll be working with patients or clients because nutrition is deeply personal and no scientific study or guideline will encourage a person to make positive nutrition changes in their life without a compassionate ear or response,” Furman said. Since dietetics as a field involves personal connection, having people skills and an open mind will lead to the most success.
Dietitians must keep themselves informed and up to date on reliable, evidence-based resources. The ability to distinguish between facts based in science and trends without dependable roots demands skill. Along with this, aspiring dietitians should be proactive in staying on top of their schoolwork, extracurricular involvement, internships and preparing for the exam.
Acosta asserts determination as one of the most notable attributes of her students. Due to the selectivity of internship matching and the rigor of all aspects of training, reaching end-goals and staying motivated requires unwavering determination.
“Being a dietitian is fulfilling and rewarding. I enjoy teaching, inspiring and empowering patients to become the healthiest version of themselves. The dietetics profession is also extremely broad and versatile—there is so much you can do with the RDN credential,” Laura Acosta, MS, RDN, CSSD, LDN, Lecturer in dietetics, said.
“As the RecSports Registered Dietitian, I function similar to a private practice dietitian. My work time is split between offices at Southwest Rec Center and at GatorWell where I provide one–on–one private nutrition counseling to UF students, faculty and staff. When not in counseling sessions, I also give group presentations or lead workshops to the UF community,” Jessie Furman, MS, RDN, LD/N, N, Nutrition Coordinator said.