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How to become a dietitian

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According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 40% of adults have obesity and are at risk for severe conditions such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and some cancers. Fewer than 10% of adults and adolescents eat sufficient fruits and vegetables, and 90% of Americans over the age of two consume more sodium than they should, putting them at risk for hypertension. 
Dietitians play an important role in combating these and other chronic conditions by helping their patients make informed decisions about the food they eat. Becoming a registered dietitian (RD) means choosing to prioritize the health and nutrition of others as your profession.  
Dietitians are considered allied health professionals, since they work in the health care industry but aren’t classified as doctors or nurses. If you’re interested in helping others improve their quality of life and making a real difference, then a career in the field of dietetics may be your calling. The process of becoming a dietitian takes patience, but it’s worth the commitment and effort. 

What does a dietitian do?

A dietitian's role varies based on their industry, company, and audience. However, their primary responsibility is helping people prevent or combat certain diseases and conditions through their dietary intake. For example, they might develop an eating regimen that combats obesity or one that avoids glutens for those with celiac disease, or they might create a dietary plan tailored specifically to a patient fighting cancer.  
Some of their most common duties include the following: 


  • Providing patients with nutritional strategies
  • Assisting patients in managing their weight-loss goals
  • Analyzing patient behaviors and how they affect health
  • Working as a consultant to prevent poor health and chronic diseases
  • Educating customers on behalf of organizations


Dietitian skill set

Each industry has specific expectations, but some required skills remain constant. Dietitians frequently work one-on-one with patients to help them see the importance of good nutritional habits. Others work as consultants with an individual, group, or food company to educate them on improving their clients’ health. 


  • Communication
    • Dietitians communicate with patients and health care team members. They must be able to simplify and effectively convey complicated information to people from all backgrounds.
  • Collaboration
    • Dietitians regularly work with colleagues and share information and resources with physicians, nurses, and specialists to ensure they are providing comprehensive care for their patients.
  • Biostatistics
    • Dietitians must analyze and interpret data, and understand the mathematical and scientific methods behind it.
  • Research
    • Dietitians sometimes conduct detailed research into their patients’ conditions to identify effective solutions.
  • Biology
    • Dietitians must understand the science of nutrition and its effect on the human body to offer guidance and proper care.

Education required to become a dietitian

If you’re interested in becoming a dietitian, the first step is to pursue the necessary education. Earning a degree in allied health will allow you to develop skills in communication, collaboration, analytics, and more. On the road to becoming a dietitian, there are numerous degrees and certificates that can help you prepare for future career opportunities. 


Undergraduate degrees

You have the choice of various nutrition and dietary undergraduate degrees if you want to become a dietitian. The most obvious would be a bachelor’s of science in nutrition and dietetics, but that is not the only degree that can prepare you to practice as a dietician. 

Future dietitians can also earn bachelor’s degrees in areas such as:  


  • Food science
  • Nutritional science
  • Consumer and family science
  • Food systems
  • Applied dietetics
  • Human physiology
  • Public health

Most undergraduate degrees also offer the opportunity to select a specific concentration. A concentration in food studies, for example, might give you more knowledge into the specifics around food preparation, storage, transportation, supply, and history. On the other hand, a concentration in nutrition might provide you with a more science-directed degree, focusing on the chemistry of food and how it specifically interacts with human biology. 


 Common undergraduate degree concentrations include: 


  • Food studies
  • Food management
  • Nutrition
  • Dietetics


Regardless of concentration, an undergraduate curriculum will likely cover the following topics:


  • Human nutrition: How nutrition differs at different stages of life
  • Clinical nutrition: How nutritional science can be used in a medical setting to manage disease
  • Nutrition and exercise: How physical activity and nutritional intake interact
  • Nutrition and culture: How food and nutrition are perceived by society and the role they play in daily life


Graduate degrees

Currently, you don’t need a graduate degree to become a registered dietitian. However, in 2017, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics’ Commission on Dietetic Registration amended its requirements for future registered dietitians. Starting in 2024, new dietitians will need at least a master’s degree.  


Even though it is currently not a professional requirement, a graduate degree can be highly beneficial. It can help make you a more appealing candidate for open positions and enhance your expertise to help people manage their diets.   


One of the more popular options is a master’s in nutrition and dietetics, but you might also consider a master’s in nutrition education, exercise and wellness, kinesiology, or even public health. 

Most graduate nutrition degrees offer a variety of concentrations or specializations to choose from, including: 


  •  Community health and nutrition
  • Clinical nutrition
  •  Food policy
  • Wellness
  • Food education

Graduate nutrition degrees tend to be much more in-depth and research-focused than undergraduate programs. While there is some overlap in topics, graduate courses go into greater detail than their undergraduate counterparts.  
Typical graduate nutrition programs include courses in:  


  • Nutrition communication
  •  Health promotion
  • Nutritional research and methodology
  • Biochemistry
  • The human life cycle



The nationally recognized registered dietitian (RD) credential is offered by the Commission on Dietetic Registration (CDR). Dietitians are required to obtain a license and certification in 47 states. To be eligible, candidates must:


  • Earn a minimum of a bachelor’s degree
  • Complete 1,200 hours of supervised practice through an 
  • Accreditation Council for Education in Nutrition and Dietetics-accredited dietetic internship
  • Pass the national CDR exam

Career outlook for dietitians

Dietitians work in a variety of areas — in hospitals as clinical dietitians, with government agencies in a public health capacity, in food companies as consultants, or in private practice.  
Although there are many paths to becoming a dietitian, the growth rate for this occupation as a whole is well above average, projected to increase 8% between 2019 and 2029, according to the U.S Bureau of Labor (BLS). The BLS reports that the median salary for dietitians and nutritionists in 2020 was $61,270. 
The demand for allied health workers is high, and there is still room for growth in the industry. The U.S. is currently on track to face a shortage of health care workers by 2030. Like other health care fields, dietitians can expect to find ample opportunities for their services long into the future. 

Career types and salaries

The opportunities for dietitians are plentiful and rewarding. Here are a few examples, along with their median salary from PayScale as of April 2021. 


  • Clinical dietitian ($52,900): Typically requires an associate or bachelor’s degree; works directly with patients in hospitals or nursing facilities; collaborates with physicians and nurses to properly align patients' nutritional needs with their specific care plans
  •  Wellness coach ($45,600): Typically requires a bachelor’s degree or higher; works outside of a medical facility, often in technology or fitness; provides nutrition information and expertise to help develop educational content for consumers
  • Food technologist ($57,800): Typically requires a bachelor’s degree; studies the composition of food; focuses on creating alternative methods for food safety, including preservation, processing, and packaging food products

Start your journey to becoming a dietitian

If you're interested in becoming a dietitian, the most important step is to find and pursue the proper education. There are many options available to accommodate your educational, personal, and professional needs.  
Based on your answers to a few simple questions, our recommendation engine can help you find a program that best suits your specific career goals.  


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