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California State University, Long Beach
Department of Family and Consumer Sciences

Didactic Program in Dietetics

Becoming a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist

Steps to Becoming a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist

Many students wonder what it takes to become a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RD or RDN). While it is a rigorous road, the career path offers a variety of exciting options for employment. In order to become an RDN, students will follow these steps:

Step 1: Earn a bachelor’s degree and Verification Statement from an ACEND-accredited program

RD1This step occurs here at CSULB in our Didactic Program in Dietetics (DPD), where students complete a minimum of a bachelor’s degree in course work accredited by the Accreditation Council for Education in Nutrition and Dietetics(ACEND), the credentialing agency of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND). Upon completing all degree requirements (including minimum GPA of “C” or better in all DPD courses), graduating students will receive a Verification Statement, which is a document indicating they are ready to complete a dietetic internship.

During their senior year many of our students are busy with applications and to start Step 2 prior to graduation.

Step 2: Apply for admission in a dietetic internship

In order to become an RDN, students require an ACEND-accredited bachelor’s degree (Step 1) and to competitively apply and be matched to an ACEND-accredited dietetic internship (also called supervised practice programs) which are typically completed in 9-12 months. While the word “internship” may sound casual, a dietetic internship is a rigorous residency-type program which offers a minimum of 1200 hours of supervised experiences across a range of dietetic practice sites (i.e. clinical, food service, public health, research)

Students in our DPD are encouraged to vigorously pursue paid, volunteer, and shadowing nutrition-related experience across various disciplines in order to be competitive candidates for dietetic internships. Most dietetic internships prioritize grade point average (G.P.A.) in both the sciences and across all DPD-related coursework when selecting candidates. Therefore, current and prospective students are encouraged to diligently pursue academic excellence throughout their coursework (from the first chemistry class, all the way to medical nutrition therapy) in order to increase their chances of being matched. The current first-time match rate is around 50% across applicants in the United States.

Frequently housed in hospitals and universities, dietetic internships offer students additional education and exposure to the field of nutrition while they complete a variety of projects and assessments. Internships can be local or distance, full-time or part-time, and are typically unpaid and require some type of tuition. Some internships are “combined” and offer a graduate degree as part of the program (these are typically 2 years compared to the usual 9-12 months). CSULB offers a 2-year combined dietetic internship program with M.S. in Nutritional Science. Upon completing a dietetic internship, interns will receive a new verification statement indicating they are ready to take the exam.

Step 2.5: If not matched during Step 2, apply for admission in ISPP (Individualized Supervised Practice Pathways)

Our DPD is accredited to offer Individualized Supervised-Practice Pathways (ISPP).The CSULB-ISPP program is divided into two pathways:

  • Pathway 1 (P1) - accepts qualified DPD graduates who received a DPD Verification Statement (VS), and were not matched on one occasion through Dietetic Internship Centralized Application Services (DICAS).
  • Pathway 2 (P2) - accepts applicants who have earned doctoral degrees and met other criteria as set forth by the program.

ISPPs offer the same rigorous experiences and learning objectives as a dietetic internship (see this link for more information about other ISPP programs in the United States), but are designed to offer training opportunities for applicants who might not be matched or able to find a suitable internship that can be tailored to their needs. The CSULB-ISPP functions like a distance dietetic internship, meaning interns secure their own preceptors anywhere in the state of California. The ISPP also offers part-time tracks, which are rare in most traditional dietetic internships. More information on the ISPP and admission requirements can be found here.

Who is eligible to apply?

The CSULB-ISPP program is divided into two pathways:

  • Pathway 1 (P1) - accepts qualified DPD graduates who received a DPD Verification Statement (VS), and were not matched on one occasion through Dietetic Internship Centralized Application Services (DICAS).
  • Pathway 2 (P2) - accepts applicants who have earned doctoral degrees and met other criteria as set forth by the program.

More information on the ISPP and admission requirements can be found here.

Step 3: Pass a national exam and maintain professional development hours

After the dietetic internship, intern graduates will take a national examination administered by the Commission on Dietetic Registration (CDR), referred to informally as the “RD exam.” Upon passing this exam, the once intern will now earn the RDN credential after their name.

In order to maintain registration, the RDN must provide evidence of fulfilling continuing professional educational requirements to maintain registration. Some RDNs hold additional certifications in the specialized areas of practice, such as pediatric or renal nutrition, nutrition support, and diabetes education. These certifications are awarded through CDR and/or other medical and nutrition organizations and are recognized within the profession, but are not required. In addition to RDN credentialing, many states have regulatory laws (such as licensing) for dietitians and nutrition practitioners. Frequently these state requirements are met through the same education and training required to become a RDN.

Step 4: Master’s Degree (Required by 2024)

The field of nutrition and dietetics is ever advancing, and as of 2024, all entry-level registered RDNs will require a graduate degree in order to maintain their registration. For more information see the Graduate Degree Registration Eligibility Requirement FAQ.

Where Do Registered Dietitian Nutritionists Work?

The field of nutrition and dietetics is vibrant and diverse. RDNs work in:

  • Hospitals, HMOs, or other health care facilities, educating patients about nutrition and administering medical nutrition therapy as part of the health care team. They may also manage the foodservice operations in these settings, as well in schools, day-care centers, and correctional facilities, overseeing everything from food purchasing and preparation to managing staff.
  • Sports nutrition and corporate wellness programs, educating clients about the connection between food, fitness, and health.
  • Food and nutrition-related businesses and industries, working in RD2communications, consumer affairs, Private practice, working under contract with health care or food companies, or in their own business. RDNs may provide services to foodservice or restaurant managers, food vendors, and distributors, or athletes, nursing home residents, or company employees.
  • Community and public health settings teaching, monitoring, and advising the public, and helping to improve their quality of life through healthy eating habits.
  • Universities and medical centers, teaching physicians, nurses, dietetics students, and others in the science of food and nutrition.

According to a 2013 survey of practicing RDNs, approximately 32% reported working in acute care/inpatient hospital settings, 17% in outpatient settings, 11% in community/public health settings, 12% in food and nutrition management, 8% in business and consulting, 8% in long-term care facilities, and 6% in education/research.

Salary & Employment Outlook

https://c2.staticflickr.com/8/7324/11326601615_12df9ec2c1_b.jpgIn light of an increasingly competitive educational environment, students can be encouraged to know that they will be entering a field with very positive employment prospects. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, RDNs face excellent job outlook, with new positions expected to grow by 16% by 2024 (much faster than the average growth for other jobs). California has one of the highest levels of compensation nationally for RDNs, with an annual mean wage of $72,000. RDNs working in larger cities and urban areas tend to be more highly compensated. There is a significant range of salary levels depending on level of experience, graduate degree attainment, field of expertise (e.g. pediatrics, specialty services), and type of employer. RDNs working in for-profit companies and administrative roles are known to some of the most highly compensated in the field.

Employment opportunities are being influenced by the nation’s changing demographics, and the increased dietary consciousness of the general public. The U.S. Department of Statistics projects an increasing population of retiring senior citizens which is expected to result in an increased demand for nutritional services in hospitals, retirement homes, and senior citizen nutrition programs. The U.S. Department of Labor projects a large proportion of women of child-bearing age participating in the work force with a larger proportion of youngsters in day care and preschools which is expected to increase the demand for nutrition professionals to conduct research, develop training programs, and manage programs.

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Photo credit #1: (CC BY 2.0), Christiana Care

Photo credit #2: (CC BY 2.0), USDA

Photo credit #3: (CC BY 2.0), USDA