Nutrition/Dietitian Degree Programs – Information and Resources
Overview of the Dietitian/Nutrition Field
The dietitian and nutritionist field is a growing one, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. They estimated there will be 21 percent more jobs available in this industry by the year 2022 that means the job outlook in this area is growing faster than most.
If you are pondering career choices and enjoy working with people, then nutrition management is a practical path. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states that diabetes is becoming more common in this country. Over 30 years, the number of diagnosed cases has tripled, leaving more than 20 million people fighting the disease.
As the numbers go up, the need for risk assessment and health management becomes clearer. Healthcare in the U.S. is switching focus to one of wellness and prevention, as opposed to a service-driven system. This means primary care physicians are organizing health management teams to help fight chronic illnesses like diabetes and cardiovascular disease. A dietician is a critical part of that team and key in managing wellness and behavior.
Dietician vs. Nutritionist: Is There a Difference?
The two terms are often used interchangeably, but a nutritionist is a broader option. It can refer to someone with an education in nutritional science, but without any kind of state licensure, according to Nutritionist-World. A nutritionist may plan menus and instruct people on proper nutrition to manage their health.
Dietician, however, almost always indicates national certification. To work in this field, you must be either a:
•Registered Dietician (RT)
•Dietetic Technician Registered (DTR)
Both designations mean you pass an examination giving by the Commission on Dietetic Registration, or CDR. This is the credentialing agency of the American Dietetic Association, ADA. A dietitian works to assess the nutritional needs of a patient, usually as part of a health care team.
Both of these terms, dietician and nutritionist refers to a professional that promotes healthy eating habits to prevent disease and promote fuller lives.
Nutrition/Dietitian Degree Levels
To become a registered professional in this field, you must complete a two or four-year accredited program. There are schools that offer online certification training that takes under a year to complete, but most are associated with sports nutrition or fitness. This career path is geared more for a personal trainer than a dietician.
Associate Degree for Dietetic Technician
Community colleges, such as LaGuardia at the City University in New York, offer an associate level degree in this field. A graduate from this program would have the title Dietetic Technician (DT). This choice is often a gateway to a higher degree in nutrition science, but it does allow you to work in the field while you take classes to complete a four-year program.
Employment opportunities for a Dietetic Technician are found at:
•Home health care services
Curriculum for the Dietetic Technician program includes classes in:
•Life and Physical Sciences
•Human Anatomy and Physiology
•Foundations of Chemistry
•Life Cycle Nutrition
•Food and Culture
•Principles of Sanitation
Upon completion, a graduate with an Associate of Science degree from an accredited school may take an exam to become a Dietetic Technician Registered, or DTR. It is common for a university to partner with a community college, so graduates of a two-year program can transfer those credits to complete the four-year plan.
A student who is looking to work as a Registered Dietitian must finish a four-year program at an accredited school. General education courses for programs completed at the university level include:
There is a focus on science as part of this academic program, as well, explains Kansas State University. Students must successfully complete classes in:
After finishing school, graduates have a Bachelor of Science degree in:
•Food and Nutrition
The classification of the Bachelor of Science degree depends on the school.
In order to sit for the national exam and become a Registered Dietitian, students must complete a clinical training program, as well as obtain a four-year degree. Internships must be done at a program approved by the Accreditation Council for Education in Nutrition and Dietetics, or ACEND.
Internships are available at:
Once the internship ends, RD candidates sit for a national exam administered by the Commission of Dietetic Registration. Times and locations of the exams are available on the Commission’s website. The site also offers study resources such as a practice test.
Both the DTR and RD certification requires you attend an accredited program. The accrediting agency for dietetics is ACEND. The website offers a search engine to find local schools that meet their qualifications. They also provide a list of schools with denied recognition.
Employment opportunities are available for those with DTR or RD certification, but there are schools that offer a master’s degree program in this field, if you wish to obtain a graduate degree. U.S. News provides a list of the top schools with a master’s program in nutrition and dietetics. Most of them can be completed online.
To obtain a master’s degree in this field, graduate students complete an additional 36 credit hours, submit a thesis and work on a major research project. They must defend their thesis in front of a supervisory committee to become a Master of Science in Dietetics.
At this level, the curriculum includes:
•Current issues in dietetics
•Basic research methodology
As well as 21 credit hours of electives that can involve business administration, culinary arts, health administration or food science courses.
Doctoral programs in nutrition offer advanced study. The curriculum includes:
•Advanced Nutrition: Protein, Fats and Carbohydrates
•Advanced Nutrition: Vitamins and Minerals
The program provides courses and seminars on research methodology and fieldwork. Once complete, the student would receive a Doctorate of Science in Dietetics. This level of education qualifies you to work as a teacher, researcher or administrator in the nutrition industry or specialize in a specific field.
ACEND offers an advanced residency program for those professionals wishing to go even further in their education. The APR program provides a comprehensive, evidence-based approach to advanced dietetics.
To qualify, applicants must have both a didactic and supervised experience in the field and have completed a master’s degree program. Those who don’t have a master’s degree can request a portfolio review.
The advanced residency program serves as a stepping stone to advanced certifications such as Sports Dietetics.
To maintain the credentials, an RD and DTR must earn continuing education credits, approximately 75 credit hours every five years. Credits can be obtained via MOOC online courses, webinars, seminars or attending industry conventions. For example, online industry magazine Today’s Dietitian offers monthly courses for continuing education credits. Offerings include:
•Dietary Influences on Lung Cancer
•Nonalcoholic Fatty Liver Disease
The magazine charges a tuition for many of the courses available, although they do have a few that are free of charge.
Specialties in Dietetics
After completing an education, dieticians can go on to work in a number of specialty fields.
Clinical practice – As a clinician, you find employment in a healthcare environment such as a hospital or long-term care facility to provide guidance and therapy to patients. Those with a clinical practice can consult with doctor’s offices, deliver outpatient service or conduct community education programs.
Some clinical dietitians have a sub-specialty, as well. Dietary plans for patients who rely on tube feedings, for example.
Community or Public Health – This dietary professional works to provide group nutrition plans for local schools, community shelters, public health agencies or neighborhood wellness programs.
Foodservice – A Foodservice specialist works on an even larger scale; for example, providing dietary advice for county school systems, large corporations, chain restaurants, prisons and health care facilities. This role requires a broader approach to creating nutritional standards that fit the needs of a diverse group. They are responsible for managing quality control and ensuring proper training of service staff.
Gerontological – With this specialty, the focus shifts to older individuals and their nutritional needs. A professional who works in this area might cater to nursing homes, community programs for seniors and government agencies for the aging. An RD with this niche usually has a dual education in gerontology and dietetics.
Neonatal – A neonatal dietician provides nutrition therapy for premature babies. They work as part of a critical care Neonatal Intensive Care unit. The RD would conduct an assessment of the patient and then design a diet plan customized for his or her needs. This specialty might also require you to work with new mothers to promote breastfeeding standards and educate them on infection control.
Pediatric – A pediatric specialist understands the dietary needs of children and adolescents. They work closely with pediatricians and focus on at-risk children. The goal is to provide education that helps reduce incidences of early onset type II diabetes, eating disorders, food allergies and childhood obesity.
Research – A research nutritionist works to develop social policy and set public standard for nutrition. They may work with product development, food service companies or do research for government agencies.
Administration – Administrative dieticians oversee large meal services such as schools or prison systems. This job is as much management as dietary planning. An administrator must deal with supply vendors, budgets and staffing. This is often reserved for those with higher education or years of vocational experience.
Why Choose this Field?
Choosing a career in the dietary or nutrition industry opens up many employment opportunities, especially given the direction healthcare reform is going and the shifting focus towards prevention and wellness care. Dieticians can work independently as consultants or find employment in health networks, school systems, government agencies or medical facilities.
As a nutrition expert, you have the opportunity to help others find ways to manage their relationship with food and make money doing something you enjoy. BLS reports the median pay in this field at around $55,000 a year or $26 per hour.
Medical science is consistently changing nutrition standards and policies. This means as a career professional, you can look forward to ongoing education and future challenges. A chance to work closely with people and make a difference is what makes this the career of choice for many driven individuals who care about public health.