So You Want to Be an RD?

The field of nutrition is rising in popularity and it’s about time. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than one-third of adults in the U.S. are obese (35.7%) and obesity-related conditions such as heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes and certain types of cancer are leading causes of preventable death. The focus of healthcare is leaning more towards disease prevention, rather than costly treatment. Registered dietitians (RDs) can play an essential role in implementing this strategy towards health promotion and disease prevention through diet improvements.

As an RD working in the field of food communications, I am often asked to give guidance for those who are considering a career in dietetics. My mom used to tell me I should be on TV to talk about food (thanks mom). It’s not that easy and here are some things you should know before deciding to become a registered dietitian.

1. It takes time and work.

Anyone can call themselves a nutritionist, but only a registered dietitian (RD) or registered dietitian nutritionist (RDN) has completed the required education and training set forth by American Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. This includes a specialized college course track, a full-time internship program that lasts 9 to 12 month s (unpaid!) and a rigorous examination. Many positions also require that RDs hold a Master’s degree in nutrition or public health, which will likely become a requirement in the coming years.

2. It is a science- and a communications-based profession.

There isn’t a quick fix to this, and many people become discouraged when they learn they will need to don protective eyewear and a white coat in a chemistry lab in order to become an RD. It doesn’t end there. To be able understand the importance of food safety, you must have a strong microbiology background. To fully grasp the chemical makeup of macro and micronutrients and how they function in the body, you have to comprehend basic biochemistry.

You will also need to acquire the skills necessary to interpret research studies and be able to apply them to your practice. Therefore, not only do you need to learn the science, you have to be able to communicate what you have learned in to everyday situations. For instance, when someone asks you WHY they should include more fiber in the diet, your answer should be science-based and applicable to their education level. Think “science geek” meets “people person.”

3. Not all dietitians write books or go on TV to talk about the latest fad diet.

You can do that if you want, but there are so many different career paths in the field of dietetics. The opportunities are endless! RDs work in clinical settings such as hospitals or clinics providing medical nutrition therapy to those with specific health needs. They also work in foodservice, and in the public health sector. A growing part of the field is dietitians that write for media outlets and work with food companies to help translate their science to the public.

Finally, I have asked author and media spokesperson, Pat Baird MA, RDN, FADA (@PatBairdRD) to provide a few words of wisdom for those interested in the field.

“For anyone who is interested in becoming an RD, I’d recommend they be certain this is what they want to do. It’s challenging to get there. In addition to the academic curriculum, a one-year internship is required – and the internships are competitive. In the long run, it’s a career that is exciting and has many facets to it. That means many opportunities and different careers within the same discipline!”

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