So You Want to Become a Registered Dietician?
A little background for you guys:
I graduated with a BA in International Studies and upon graduating realized I had no idea what I wanted to do with this degree. Found myself in a marketing position with an awesome company..just to find out that marketing is NOT my passion. Nor is sitting at a desk all day. Seriously I had such a hard time with this and totally wasn't expecting that to be an issue. Anyways, I went into super panic mode trying to find my passion. To say the least..it was a rough year. I felt like the harder I looked, the less I knew of what I wanted out of life and work. Flash forward to November 2014, I was driving home from work finally allowing myself to stop working so hard on, you guessed it, myself. While mindlessly listening to NPR my ears suddenly perked up to an interview with a Registered Dietician talking about her line of work. Wait, registered dietician..why does that sound familiar? Oh yea, my college roommates sister does that! The interview was really inspiring talking about working with the older generation where they try to ensure the population gets all their nutrients and the food is also not horrendous. You may think I am a bit stupid for admitting this, but I never realized RD's work with nutrition and health. It sounded medical, like nursing (HAHAHAHAH..I am an idiot). So to no surprise, I spent the rest of that evening, and the next days, weeks, and months researching everything I could on becoming an RD. Funny thing about finally finding out what your passions really are is that you suddenly second guess yourself. Is this really what I wanted to do? What if I change my mind? And why the hell did it take me this long to figure it
out!? Turns out passions tend to hide from us. They are so much a part of our lives that we don't even think about them as passions. It's more of who you are.
But seriously, finally figuring out what you are passionate about is such an amazing feeling. However, this is only the beginning in becoming a RD.
Step 1 - What exactly is a Registered Dietician?
According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, RD's are food and nutrition experts who have completed the following:
- completed a MINIMUM of a bachelors degree with courses that have been accredited or approved by Accreditation Council for Education in Nutrition Dietetics (ACEND). So not any bachelors degree will work here..it has to be nutrition related. This might be obvious for some..but it was a bit confusing for me.
- completed an ACEND - accredited supervised practice program aka an INTERNSHIP usually lasting between 6 to 12 months. This is often referred to as DI or Dietetic Internship.
- passing a national examination
- and then as a RD you will have to continue professional educational requirements to maintain registration.
Step 2 - Two options
- Bachelors degree: For those who don't already have a bachelors degree, but you know you want to become an RD this would be your best option. This typically is a four year degree that includes the accredited courses approved by ACEND that you will need to complete before completing the Dietetic Internship.
- Masters degree: If you are like me and didn't realize this is what you wanted to do until already graduating with a BA, I would suggest getting a Masters degree. Rumor has it that eventually all RD's will be required to get a Master's, but either way wouldn't you rather have a Masters degree than a second Bachelors degree? This path may not necessarily be faster than the Bachelors route if you have no background in nutrition although I found a program that hopefully won't take me longer than 2-3 years. It really depends on the program you chose. Don't forget you will need to take specific courses for the DI which is sometimes separate than if you were just getting a Masters degree. That's where the extra year comes in for me.
Now everyone is different and have various goals, so do your own research and talk to the programs you are interested to make the best decision for yourself. If this part sounds confusing, its because it is. Feel free to leave questions in the comments section or email me directly if you need any clarification!
Step 3 - Coordinated vs Not Coordinated
- Coordinated Programs: These programs allow you to complete the required dietitian coursework for DI and guarantees you a stop in an internship. Internships are very competitive so this is a definite perk. However, there are not many of these programs so they are very hard to get in. However, if you find one that speaks to you go for it!
- Not Coordinated: Majority of programs are like this. Basically you get into a Bachelor or Masters program to complete the dietician coursework. Then apply separately to the DI. These are usually easier to get into, but you have to worry about getting into an internship after which isn't guaranteed.
Step 4 - Applying
- Prerequisites (for future grad students only): This could take you 1-2 years depending on your BA degree. It took me a year of science courses (yay!). Some programs allow you to work on these while already in their program. Most, require at least some to be completed before acceptance. Mine does a mixed of both. I had to complete a couple courses before I could start the program, and the rest can be completed while already in the program.
- GRE: the dreaded GRE...my biggest tip is don't let this kill you. I stressed way to much over it mostly because I wanted to get into a coordinated program. Definitely STUDY for it! The percentile you want really depends on the program. Figure out where you want to get in and then strive for that score. Remember, at the end of the day this is only one part of application.
- Experience: I had none related to nutrition, so I quickly started volunteering for two organizations to help my application out. One I ended up committing to almost every week whereas the other one I volunteered at once. Find something that you can stick with at least for a few months. And enjoy it! This is a way for you to learn about the field of nutrition, not just to polish up your application.
- Other requirements: recommendations and personal statements and previous education (GPA). There may be other parts that different programs request for, but these are the main ones that I found almost all asked for.
Tip 1: Shadow someone in this field! I had the privilege of already personally knowing one that let me shadow her for a day. It was very eye opening and helped calm my concerns whether this is really what I want to do. Don't be afraid to email people in your community!
Tip 2 : Don't apply to a million programs. Find out what you want in a program and then narrow down your options to 5. From there maybe even cut that down to 1-3. Applications are really time consuming and draining so the less you have to complete the more time you can dedicate to them.
Tip 3 : Have a friend, coworker, mentor proof read your work, especially for your personal statements. I am forever grateful for my friend helping me out with this. Having a second pair of eyes look over your stuff can help solidify your application.