How to Become a Dietitian or Nutritionist
Dietitians and nutritionists must clearly explain nutrition plans to other healthcare workers.
To enter the occupation, dietitians and nutritionists typically need at least a bachelor’s degree. They also typically are required to have supervised training through an internship. Many states require dietitians and nutritionists to be licensed.
Dietitians and nutritionists typically need a bachelor's or higher degree in dietetics, food and nutrition, or a related field to enter the occupation. Many dietitians and nutritionists have an advanced degree.
Dietitians and nutritionists typically receive supervised training, usually in the form of an internship following graduation from college. Some schools offer coordinated programs in dietetics that allow students to complete supervised training as part of their undergraduate- or graduate-level coursework.
Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations
Many states require dietitians and nutritionists to be licensed in order to practice. Other states require only state registration or certification to use certain titles, and a few states have no regulations for this occupation.
The requirements for state licensure and state certification vary by state, but most include having a bachelor’s or an advanced degree in food and nutrition or a related area, completing supervised practice, and passing an exam.
Employers may prefer to hire candidates who have a professional credential, such as the Registered Dietitian (RD)/Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN) or the Certified Nutrition Specialist (CNS) designation. Although these credentials are not always required, the qualifications may be the same as those necessary for becoming a licensed dietitian or nutritionist in states that require a license.
The RD/RDN designation is administered by the Commission on Dietetic Registration, the credentialing agency for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. It requires completion of a minimum of a bachelor’s degree and a Dietetic Internship (DI), which includes supervised experience. Students may complete both criteria at once through a coordinated program, or they may finish their degree before applying for an internship. In order to maintain the RDN credential, dietitians and nutritionists must complete continuing professional education credits within a designated number of years. Beginning in 2024, education requirements will increase to a master’s degree.
The Certified Nutrition Specialist (CNS) designation is administered by the Board for Certification of Nutrition Specialists, the certifying arm of the American Nutrition Association. Many states accept the CNS credential or exam for licensure purposes. To qualify for the credential, applicants must have a master’s or doctoral degree, complete supervised experience, and pass an exam. To maintain the CNS credential, nutritionists must complete continuing education credits within a designated number of years.
Dietitians and nutritionists may seek additional certifications in an area of specialty, such as diabetes education, oncology nutrition, or sports dietetics.
Analytical skills. Dietitians and nutritionists must keep up with food and nutrition research. They should be able to interpret scientific studies and translate nutrition science into practical guidance.
Compassion. Dietitians and nutritionists must be caring and empathetic when helping clients address health and dietary issues and any related emotions.
Listening skills. Dietitians and nutritionists must listen carefully to understand clients’ goals and concerns. They may work with other healthcare workers as part of a team to improve the health of a client, and they need to listen to team members when creating nutrition plans.
Organizational skills. Dietitians and nutritionists must prepare and maintain many types of records for multiple clients. Self-employed dietitians and nutritionists may need to schedule appointments, manage employees, and bill insurance companies in addition to maintaining client files.
Problem-solving skills. Dietitians and nutritionists must evaluate the health status of clients and determine appropriate food choices to improve overall health or manage disease.
Speaking skills. Dietitians and nutritionists must explain complicated topics in a way that people can understand. They must clearly explain eating plans to clients and to other healthcare workers involved in a patient’s care.