Right now, the RDN credential is considered a Bachelor’s-level degree, but beginning in the year 2024, that will change. You will need a Master’s degree to become a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist. So to become an RDN after you have obtained your bachelor’s, you will need to find an accredited Master’s-level program that offers something called a Didactic Program in Dietetics (or DPD for short).
The good news is that there are many accredited Master’s-level DPD programs all across the country. You will complete all of your classroom coursework and then spend time completing an internship in a clinical setting applying what you’ve learned (usually this means an in-patient facility like a hospital). You are also required to intern in a kitchen and in a community-based setting. This leads me to my next point… doing what you love…
For me, I was a bit disappointed in the education I received when I completed my Registered Dietitian Nutritionist education. Much of what you end up learning is very clinical–like when somebody is bed-ridden in the hospital and cannot chew or swallow on their own, what nutrients are you going to provide in their nasogastric tube? What I wanted to do was prevent others from getting sick and ending up in the hospital in the first place! But as a dietitian, I wasn’t able to take the time to educate these folks about their diet and guide them towards a healthier lifestyle.
Plus, when I started working with those folks that weren’t hospitalized but were walking around with chronic diseases like type 2 diabetes, heart disease, or even autoimmune diseases, I quickly learned that they wanted to know what foods they should eat, if I had any recipes for them to take home, and they had all these questions about supplements that I couldn’t answer. That’s because everything I learned was so clinical. We really didn’t talk about food. We spent most of our time talking about nutrients.
This is why I pursued my doctorate. I wanted to know more about disease prevention and lifestyle. I wanted to be able to better serve these patients I was seeing. If you like the clinical setting and want to assist those that are hospitalized, that is fantastic. Please pursue that. We need more well-trained clinical dietitians. But if your goals are different, then consider a different path… following your passion.
There are many Master’s-level nutrition programs that do not prepare students to become Registered Dietitian Nutritionists. Rather, they emphasize other areas of nutrition, like holistic nutrition where the emphasis is preventing disease through nutrition and lifestyle… or nutrition research… or nutrition and exercise science… or nutrition and public health.
You may wonder, “Aren’t Registered Dietitian Nutritionists considered the nutrition experts? Won’t employers be looking for someone with the RDN credential?” Not necessarily. Dietitians know clinical nutrition very well, but that doesn’t mean they necessarily know how to create an effective nutrition education program for example, or know how to conduct nutrition research. And if you follow the path that most aligns with your passions, you will be more effective. This then translates to others noticing how good and effective you are, which opens more doors for you.
I will end with a personal story…
My doctorate is in public health–no one has any idea what that means or what that is. I knew that someday I wanted to teach at the college or university level. I wanted to help future professionals understand how important nutrition and lifestyle is for overall health and wellness. So before I chose my educational path, I asked every professor and professional in academia I knew this question:
“Should I get a PhD or a doctorate in public health?”
They all said the same thing: “Oh, if you want to be a professor some day, go for the PhD. Everyone knows what that is and it’s well-respected.”
So I looked at PhD programs, but I couldn’t find one that suited my interests. Instead, I found a doctoral program in public health that seemed perfect for me. All the classes sounded interesting!
I took a leap of faith and pursued the public health degree instead. Soon, my faculty noticed how passionate I was about the material I was learning. They took notice. I was recruited to assist them with research. They liked my work ethic. So they helped get me jobs. And now, even though no one knows what a doctorate in public health really is, I have 4 jobs:
- I am Department Chair
- I have two adjunct faculty positions
- I was recruited by my brother to host this podcast
The bottom line is: yes, the future is very bright for Registered Dietitians and nutritionists. In fact, it was recently reported that it’s one of the best careers for millennials with an expected job growth of 21% over the next 7 years. But find the area of nutrition that most interests you. And for anyone else looking to pursue a degree or career path, first think about what most interests you. If you’re exploring degree programs, look at the list of courses… do they seem interesting to you? If so, then that’s the program you should consider pursuing.