How Do I Become a Registered Dietitian?

woman biting into an apple while contemplating, "How do I become a registered dietitian?"

Hello everyone! It’s Tuesday, so that means it’s time for another blog post. I hope that whatever last week held went well and that whatever this week holds may bear success! Today is the first of a series of posts. These posts will cover something I wish I’d known when starting college: how to become a registered dietitian-nutritionist (RD or RDN). When I first started my degree, I had a basic sense for what it took to earn those letters. Until now, however, I had no idea of all the different pathways that students could take to become an RDN!

If you wanted to simplify the process as much as possible, you could break it down into three steps.

  • First, have at least a bachelor’s degree at a school accredited by ACEND. (That’s the Accreditation Council for Education in Nutrition and Dietetics. They oversee the whole process of how to become an RD!)
  • Second, complete a dietetic internship (DI) at an ACEND-accredited facility. Many DIs are at universities, but there are several connected to Veterans Affairs hospitals and other such places.
  • Finally, with coursework, degree, and DI completed, take the exam and officially become an RD!

Although that final step is inflexible, because there’s no way of getting around that exam, there are several ways to check those first two boxes. In today’s post, I’ll be sharing the different routes to completing the first step: coursework and a degree.

Coordinated Program (CP)

The premise of a CP is that students complete both the bachelor’s degree and DI in just four years! CPs are more rare compared to DPDs, which I’ll discuss in a minute. Currently, only 62 schools offer CP programs in the US compared to 215 DPDs.

I’ve had no personal experience with a CP or met anyone who’s in a CP. From what I’ve heard they’re both amazing and hard. Many people choose CPs because the economical value of a degree and DI in four years is great! However, a normal degree and DI are tough on their own. Combined the two can be especially exhausting.

A Coordinated Program might fit your needs if you’re someone who’s …

  • Interested in getting into dietetics quickly
  • Have no prior college coursework

Didactic Program in Dietetics (DPD)

A Didactic Program in Dietetics is what most students are in if they choose dietetics as their first degree. DPDs are regulated by ACEND and are required to have certain coursework in sciences, foodservice, and nutrition to give all future RDs the same foundation. Completing a DPD will allow students to move on to the DI step.

If you’re applying for a degree in the field of nutrition, double check that it’s a DPD! Many schools offer degrees in nutrition, but unless they emphasize that the degree is in dietetics and/or is a DPD, you will not be eligible for the DI with that degree until you take the required coursework.

Prior Degree or Coursework

Sometimes people decide to go back to school because they are unsatisfied in their current job, or they find more and more that their true calling is in dietetics (KathEats provides a helpful, comprehensive post about her journey)! In this case, the returning student contacts a CP or DPD director and discusses which courses they would need to take. Most of the time, these courses will be part of the CP/DPD core). Once they’ve completed the program of their choice, a returning student would either move to the DI, if they went through a DPD, or immediately take the RD exam if they completed their CP.

As an aside, but sometimes students with a foreign degree want to become an RD in the US. In this case, the process is basically the same as it is for US students: discussing which courses can transfer from their previous experiences and then focusing on the CP/DPD core.

Future Education Models

Future Education Models is a very new program that the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics is working on. It offers an almost completely separate pathway to becoming an RDN. The premise of Future Education Models is to focus on competency rather than a timeline. By emphasizing how well they personally understand concepts, the student has the chance to work at their own pace!

Because Future Education Models are not connected to the traditional path to the RD exam, Future Bachelor (FB) students will need to complete a Future Graduate Program, CP, or DPD/DI after FB graduation. Because this concept is so new, only one school (Northern Arizona University through their NDTR track) is currently offering the FB track, while ten schools offer the Future Graduate Program.

My guess is based on the Academy’s looseness on their guidelines for Future Education Models, and well, the fact that they call them “future,” the fate of this program depends on its success in the long run.

That does it for this week! As promised, here are the links below if you want more information. Next week, we’ll talk about Dietetic Internships and what happens if you don’t get into one. Stay tuned!

Where are you in the process of becoming an RD? What are some things you’d like to learn more about?

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