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How do I Become a Registered Dietitian?

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  • Written By: Di L.
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 23 October 2017
  • Copyright Protected:
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A registered dietitian is a health professional who has received formal training approved by the American Dietetic Association (ADA) and passed a national examination. His or her job consists of planning nutrition programs, promoting healthy eating habits, and adjusting dietary recommendations to treat or prevent illnesses.

In the United States, the title of registered dietitian is protected legally by the ADA. To become a registered dietitian, one must first obtain a bachelor’s degree in dietetics, nutrition, food science, or a comparable area. One can also enter a master’s program in dietetics following a bachelor’s of science degree in another field of study. Following the completion of academic requirements, the student must complete 1200 hours of accredited internship, then complete the registration examination provided by the ADA. This is known as the didactic program. Once a person has become a registered dietitian, he or she must continue taking courses: 75 credit hours every five years in approved continuing education classes, in order to maintain his or her registration.

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Alternatively, the ADA recognizes coordinated programs in dietetics, where coursework and internships are combined. The number of credit hours spent in these programs is comparable, but courses and internships may be completed during the same period of time. Students who graduate from an ADA-approved coordinated program may sit for the registration exam without completing any further requirements. However, the continuing course requirements for registered dietitians are the same, regardless of whether the title was obtained through a didactic or a coordinated program.

Registered dietitians can work in a variety of environments, depending on their specialization. For example, a clinical dietitian is someone who provides nutritional services to patients in a hospital or nursing homes. He or she must be familiar with the different types of medical conditions that may be presented in such an environment and develop diets accordingly. On the other hand, consultant dietitians will often work for a health club, sports teams, or individuals who are concerned about issues such as high cholesterol, high blood pressure, weight loss, and others.

The term nutritionist is often used interchangeably with dietitian, but they do not mean the same thing. To become a registered dietitian, one must complete the requirements set forth by the ADA. On the other hand, a nutritionist is someone who provides counsel on dietary recommendations. Although a nutritionist may be highly educated, he or she is not held to the same rigorous standards as a registered dietitian.

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