Have you heard about the career path called – dietitian? Have you ever thought “How do I become a dietitian?” or “How to Become A Dietitian?” Well look no further! Here are your answers for how you become a dietitian! Cheat sheet included!
I remember when I was in college for what I thought was going to be my degree – the ever present nursing degree as all parents like to push their kids into that field because it is needed desperately across the globe. My mom was ever persistent in the fact that nurses only worked 3-4 days a week and made really good money. So as most kids do, I followed my mom’s advice – nursing school it was.
I never imagined that on my first day of clinicals, two years into college, that I would never want to complete the course work. 2 years of hard earned work, accepted into clinicals, and in the field practicing. I knew that first day at the hospital that it was not my calling. I knew that I was never going to be a nurse. I had never heard of a dietitian until the semester I started clinicals when I took, surprisingly, a communications course. Everyone had to talk about their majors and what they wanted to do with their lives in the future. Out of a class of 20, the lone girl talked about becoming a dietitian. It was a shocker for me because I had never heard of this – not in high school and not in my first year or so in college. We asked questions about how you would become a dietitian, what you could do, etc.
It was a real eye opener to know that you could do other things in health care besides becoming a physician and becoming a nurse. Did this deter me from my *then* future career? Heck no. I was on the path to become a nurse until that dreadful day in the NICU, Labor and delivery, and Postpartum. My 19 year old self was traumatized. *ha ha* I was just a baby trying to learn my first semester in a university medical center.
When that semester ended, I knew two things: I had to transfer to another program and my credits needed to transfer because I wasn’t willing to spend more money than I had to. During that summer semester, I took a dietetics course – intro to nutrition and also spoke with an advisor at a different college about dietetics.
Maybe it was the idea that I could finish on time or maybe it was the passion that my future professor had for the field of dietetics, but whatever the case. I was a new career path as a dietitian. I remember the conversion like it was yesterday. I had to finish in two years to keep my grants and TOPS and she said lets do it. How many hours you want to take? 21 hours a semester for 2 years and I was able to obtain my Bachelor’s of Science in Dietetics. Now, they don’t even let you take those many hours in one semester because it is draining and boy, was it draining. It was brutal to the fullest possible extent.
So in May 2013 I got my bachelor’s degree in dietetics from Nicholls State University. I couldn’t have worked harder, especially having a baby between my last two semesters. Ya’ll – when they tell you that you can achieve anything if you put your mind to it, I can attest to that. Was it worth it? Absolutely. Once you complete your bachelor’s degree, you are given a verification statement stating that you have completed all of the prerequisites to apply for internships.
To become a dietitian, you have to complete a 1200 hour internship once you finish your bachelors. I didn’t do that right away. Instead, I went on to work in a nursing home as a dietary manager doing both food service and clinical aspects without holding that registered dietitian title. I knew that I wanted more out of life than to be stuck as a dietary manager and started applying for internships. This is crucial because you only have 5 years from the time you graduate to applying for internships for your verification statement to be valid. If you go beyond that point, you have to retake classes. Between that and another child, I got accepted into the University of Houston’s distance dietetic internship – one of the fastest internships out there – 6 months.
With two kids under 2 and a full time job, there was little time to play around, much less move to another state for an internship so I had to use the resources around me. I got approved for food service management credit because of my job of 2 years and only had to complete community and clinical. In a separate post, I’ll talk about distance internships and what they mean to you or potentially could mean. You are on your own – from finding preceptors to going to your rotations and keeping your documents.
During the normal work week, I was in my internship and on the nights and weekends I was working my dietary manager job. 90-hours plus a week for 4 months. I cannot begin to tell you the exhaustion that caused me. The thought of nothing else except having that credential behind me name. Registered Dietitian.
Once you complete your 1200 hour internship, you move on to take the registered dietitian exam through the Commission on Dietetic Registration, which holds the national exam for all dietitians. This requires a lot of studying because it covers general food information on why breads rise, food service management with formulas that you have to memorize to medical nutrition therapy that you have to know about. It is a lot of information!
Alas, I passed the exam the first try and had that credential I worked so hard for – registered dietitian. The good news for those that are in the process of becoming a dietitian is that they do not have to go on and get a master’s degree. By 2024, the new standards are that anyone that sits for the registered dietitian exam will have to have a master’s degree. Of course, those that are already dietitians will be grandfathered in. So if you are considering this as your future career path, just know that you will have to obtain a master’s degree.
As far as licensing goes, some states require licensing and some do not. This is up to state law to determine the licensing laws.
Cheat Sheet on becoming a dietitian:
- You need to get a bachelor’s degree in dietetics
- If you already have a degree, you can just take the didactic courses in dietetics to get the needed classes without having to retake all of your classes
- You will have to get a verification statement to apply to dietetic internships. Visit: Eatright.org for accredited universities and programs!
- Apply to dietetic internships based on your timeframe for completing it and location
- Sit for the registered dietitian exam
- Pass the exam!
***2024 standards – have a master’s degree and then pass the RD exam!***