Registered Dietitian Jobs

A Registered Dietitian, sometimes abbreviated “RD,” is regarded in the medical and health field as a food and nutrition expert.

These individuals most often work in a job related to the prevention and treatment of disease through nutrition education and diet implementation.

Many Registered Dietitians work in hospital or clinical settings with other medical professionals such as doctors and physical therapists. In addition RDs work in city, state and national government most often in public health or agriculture. Jobs are also available within industry to provide consultation to supermarkets and food companies, and corporate-based jobs can be found through employee wellness programs. Collegiate and professional athletic associations employ RDs who specialize in sports nutrition. Some RDs begin private practices for client nutritional consultation, consult for companies on contract, or become freelance health writers. Registered Dietitians who obtain advance degrees such as a doctorate or medical degree may work in academic-based research and as a college professor.

There are minimum academic and professional requirements necessary to obtain the RD credential. These rules and requirements are initiated and enforced by a variety of divisions housed within the American Dietetic Association (ADA). To become an RD, you must complete a bachelor’s degree program from an accredited college or university. Accreditation is granted by the Commission on Accreditation for Dietetics Education (CADE) of the ADA. The courses within an approved program will focus on chemistry, biochemistry, physiology, microbiology and often extend to topics such as food service, economics and culinary arts.

In addition to the completion of a bachelor’s degree program, students must then complete a practice program, often called an internship, which is supervised by the CADE. Internships typically range from 6 to 12 months in duration, are unpaid, and can take place at hospitals, schools and wellness centers. Sometimes these internships are combined with academic studies.
After the completion of the bachelor’s degree and a supervised internship, students must successfully pass a national exam. This exam is conducted by the Commission on Dietetic Registration (CDR).

Upon passing the exam, students will be given the title of Registered Dietitian, however, to maintain the title completion of continuing education is required.

Continuing education credits are earned by taking courses or attending professional conferences throughout each year which have been approved by the ADA.

Some states also have accreditation laws for practicing dietitians. This often involves licensure and provides the identification of a Licensed Dietitian, or LD. Requirements for each state are different. According to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, 35 states require that nutrition professionals be licensed, 12 require legal certification, and 1 requires that professionals be registered. The requirements necessary to meet state laws are usually aligned with those of the ADA, meaning that when you complete continuing education for ADA you will also have the continuing education credits necessary to remain licensed by the state.  

From this point, as an RD, you may decide to obtain a master’s degree or doctorate in a nutritional field or in a field that will help guide your nutritional work. For example, food science could lead to work in the food industry, culinary arts is beneficial for the restaurant industry, and exercise science compliments desired work in sports nutrition. Earning a doctorate will allow you to pursue a career in research and seek a position as a tenured professor at a college or university.

A Registered Dietitian will complete a variety of day-to-day duties which are based on the type of position and work environment. Dietitians in a hospital setting work with other medical professionals such as doctors and physical therapists to provide appropriate care for patients. This can include nutrition consultation, evaluation of lab results as they relate to food intake, and diet plan development and prescription often including medical nutrition therapy.

A dietitian working in a private practice, public health, agriculture, corporate wellness or a community setting will provide nutrition consultations, and may also be responsible for education and outreach. This can include conducting nutrition education classes, developing and implementing nutrition-related programs such as a weight loss program, providing preventative health screenings, and developing educational materials such as articles and newsletters for the public. These RDs may also be part of local, state and federal health coalitions and task forces which influence public policy.

Dietitians may also work with the food service department of hospitals, nursing homes, schools and private organizations directing the day-to-day operations of food purchasing, preparation and distribution. Those working in the food or health industry may serve as a consultant regarding the nutritional value of food products or pharmaceuticals. Duties related to marketing may be involved and in some cases work duties can include nutrient analysis and lab testing.
Dietitians who specialize in sports nutrition provide nutritional consultations and diet prescription for athletes. The focus can be increased performance, improved endurance, increased strength or weight loss.

A career as a food and nutrition professor at a college or university often involves academic research. Duties include teaching undergraduate or graduate classes, seeking external funding such as grants to conduct nutrition research, and the successful publication of research articles in peer-reviewed journals.
If you plan to seek a job as a Registered Dietitian you should know that many who work with consumers and the general public are required to work hours outside of the typical 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. work day. For example, teaching evening and weekend educational classes is often necessary to provide an accessible time for those in the community wishing to attend.

Salaries vary greatly depending on location within the United States, level of education and the number of years working in the food and nutrition field. Data collected by the ADA in 2009 indicate that half of Registered Dietitians, working in the field five years or less, make $51,000 to $62,200 per year. Salaries increase for more experienced RDs who work in management or business positions with reports of $85,000 to $88,000 per year.

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