Dietitians and nutritionists need at least a bachelor's degree.
Licensure, certification, or registration requirements vary by State.
Education and training. Becoming a
dietitian or nutritionist usually requires at least a bachelor's degree in
dietetics, foods and nutrition, food service systems management, or a related
area. Graduate degrees also are available. College students in these majors take
courses in foods, nutrition, institution management, chemistry, biochemistry,
biology, microbiology, and physiology. Other suggested courses include business,
mathematics, statistics, computer science, psychology, sociology, and economics.
High school students interested in becoming a dietitian or nutritionist should
take courses in biology, chemistry, mathematics, health, and communications.
As of 2008, there were 279 bachelor's degree programs and 18 master's degree
programs approved by the American Dietetic Association's Commission on
Accreditation for Dietetics Education.
Licensure. Of the 48 States and
jurisdictions with laws governing dietetics, 35 require licensure, 12 require
statutory certification, and 1 requires registration. Specific requirements vary
by State. As a result, interested candidates should determine the requirements
of the State in which they want to work before sitting for any exam.
In States that require licensure, only people who are licensed can work as
dietitians and nutritionists. States that require statutory certification limit
the use of occupational titles to people who meet certain requirements;
individuals without certification can still practice as a dietitian or
nutritionist but without using certain titles. Registration is the least
restrictive form of State regulation of dietitians and nutritionists.
Unregistered people are permitted to practice as a dietitian or nutritionist.
Certification and other qualifications.
Although not required, the Commission on Dietetic Registration of the American
Dietetic Association awards the Registered Dietitian credential to those who
pass an exam after completing academic coursework and a supervised internship.
This certification is different from the statutory certification regulated by
some States and discussed in the previous section. To maintain a Registered
Dietitian status, workers must complete at least 75 credit hours in approved
continuing education classes every 5 years.
A supervised internship, required for certification, can be completed in one
of two ways. The first requires the completion of a program accredited by the
Commission on Dietetic Registration. As of September 2009, there were 51
accredited programs that combined academic and supervised practice experience
and generally lasted 4 to 5 years. The second option requires the completion of
900 hours of supervised practice experience in any of the 243 accredited
internships. These internships may be full-time programs lasting 6 to 12 months
or part-time programs lasting 2 years.
Advancement. Experienced dietitians may
advance to management positions, such as assistant director, associate director,
or director of a dietetic department, or may become self-employed. Some
dietitians specialize in areas such as renal, diabetic, cardiovascular, or
pediatric dietetics. Others leave the occupation to become sales representatives
for equipment, pharmaceutical, or food manufacturers. A master's degree can help
some workers to advance their careers, particularly in career paths related to
research, advanced clinical positions, or public health.
Source: Bureau of Labor
Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook
Handbook, 2010-11 Edition