The profession of dietetics
A world of opportunities
Registered Dietitians (RDs) are highly qualified professionals, widely recognized as the most reliable sources of nutrition information. They represent a diverse group of professionals who are uniquely qualified, by virtue of their academic preparation, as nutrition practitioners working with people and groups of people to improve nutritional health.
The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics is the professional association for over 61,000 dietitians in the U.S. and sets the educational and experiential standards for dietitians. The Commission on Dietetic Registration (CDR) is the credentialing agency fo the Academy and administers a national registration exam for dietitians. Once the test is passed, an individual may list the credential of RD (or RDN, if preferred). Only students who have completed an academy approved educational program and required work experience are allowed to take the registration exam.
Once registered, individuals may work in hospitals, extended care facilities, school systems, health departments, food businesses, sports nutrition, or in private practice. Michigan currently does not have licensure or certification for dietitians, therefore the RD and RDN titles make them eligible for dietetic practice. However, graduates moving out of state are responsible for informing themselves of the other states' licensure laws.
The areas of dietetic practice
Settings include healthcare institutions, schools, cafeterias, and restaurants. They are responsible for personnel management, menu planning, budgeting, and purchasing wherever food is served.
RDs in clinical practice are a vital part of the medical team in hospitals, nursing homes, health maintenance organizations, and other healthcare facilities. They work alongside physicians, nurses, and therapists to speed patients' recovery and plan for long-term health. RDs may specialize in a particular area of clinical nutrition such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, or pediatrics.
Opportunities include public and home health agencies, daycare centers, health and recreation clubs, and government-funded nutrition programs. Specific areas of community nutrition include working with pregnant and lactating women, children, disabled or limited-resource individuals and families.
RDs in the field of education work in colleges, universities, community or technical schools. They may teach future physicians, nurses, dietitians, and other healthcare providers. They often serve as mentors to bring qualified students into the profession.
Professionals work in government agencies, food and pharmaceutical companies, and in universities and medical centers. They are involved with experiments to answer key nutrition questions. These may involve the development of new food products, the study of diet and disease, and the determination of appropriate recommendations for the public.
RDs in business work for food and nutrition related industries. They work in product research and development, marketing, sales, public relations and many other areas vital to companies who seek to meet consumer demand for healthy food products and nutrition education products.
Professionals who serve as consultant dietitians either are under contract with a healthcare facility or in business for themselves in private practice. They work with people to determine nutritional health, make recommendations on many nutrition-related health conditions such as weight management and diabetes. They also work in the area of wellness programs with clients who may be athletes and company employees.
Why you should become an RD
The field of dietetics and nutrition provides many exciting opportunities to make a difference in people's lives through improved nutritional health. The profession is expanding at an extraordinary rate and now encompasses many varied areas with endless possibilities on the horizon. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics expects employment of dietitians to grow faster than the average profession. If you are intrigued by the relationship between nutrition and health, fascinated by the complexity of food composition, and want to work with people to improve their health through nutrition, then dietetics is the profession for you.
How to become an RD
There are currently two ways to become a dietitian:
Enroll in an academy-accredited Coordinated Program in Dietetics (CPD) which combines either a bachelor's or master's degree (classroom learning) with supervised practice experience (similar to an internship).
-- OR --
Enroll in an academy-approved bachelor's degree program at a university. After you receive your degree, you apply to an accredited Dietetic Internship (usually at a hospital or health department).
Once you complete either program, you are eligible to take the Registration Examination for Dietitians. When you pass the exam, you become an RD. This allows you to use the initials "RD" after your name.