How To Become a Registered Dietitian (Plus Duties and FAQs)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Updated September 29, 2022 | Published May 25, 2022

Updated September 29, 2022

Published May 25, 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Related: Becoming a Dietician

Are you interested in a career as a dietician, but are not sure how to start preparing for it? In this video, we break down the skills and education needed, average salaries and give 5 additional tips to help you land a job in the healthcare industry!

Registered dietitians provide support and education to clients to help them develop healthier lifestyles through diet and nutrition. These nutritional experts meet extensive training and licensing requirements to earn the necessary credential to become a registered dietitian. If you're interested in jobs related to health and nutrition, you may want to learn more about registered dietitians and the path to pursue this career. In this article, we explain what these professionals do, describe how to become a registered dietitian and answer other frequently asked questions to help you learn more about this field.

What does a registered dietitian do?

A registered dietitian (RD) advises clients on matters related to food and nutrition to help them improve their diet and lifestyle. RDs are credentialed professionals who recommend changes clients can make to develop healthier habits, manage health conditions or prevent illnesses. For example, a registered dietitian may work with a client who has diabetes to teach them how to prepare meals to balance their blood sugar levels.

Registered dietitians can work in a variety of settings, such as hospitals, long-term care facilities, cafeterias, community organizations, public health clinics or government agencies. Other RDs who are self-employed may work with individual clients or consult with companies. While their duties may vary based on where they work, these professionals typically have the following responsibilities:

  • Perform nutritional assessments or diagnostic testing to determine clients' dietary needs

  • Develop customized meal plans for clients based on their needs and preferences

  • Monitor clients' progress and adjust nutrition plans as necessary

  • Counsel clients on diet and nutrition to help them learn healthy eating habits

  • Perform advocacy and outreach in communities to promote nutrition and healthy eating

  • Educate others about issues related to diet and nutrition, such as healthy cooking or disease prevention

  • Stay updated on the latest nutritional research to recommend new solutions for clients

Related: What Is a Registered Dietitian?

How to become a registered dietitian

Here are the steps you can take to become a registered dietitian and find employment:

1. Earn a bachelor's degree

A bachelor's degree is the minimum educational requirement to become a registered dietitian. Earn a bachelor's degree in dietetics, clinical nutrition or a related area. It's important to complete an undergraduate program accredited through the Accreditation Council for Education in Nutrition and Dietetics (ACEND) to prepare you for a career as a registered dietitian. Completing an ACEND-accredited program is a requirement to pass the registration exam after you graduate. During these programs, you typically take courses in areas such as:

  • Organic chemistry

  • Anatomy

  • Physiology

  • Statistics

  • Genetics

  • Psychology

  • Nutritional therapy

  • Public policy

  • Applied food principles and food systems

  • Evidence-based nutrition

Related: Required Education for a Dietitian: What You Need To Know

2. Complete an internship

An ACEND-accredited internship is another requirement to earn the registered dietitian designation. Apply for internship programs to meet this requirement and gain clinical experience. During an internship, you complete 1,200 hours of supervised practice under a licensed professional. You may complete your internship at a college or university, a health care facility, a government agency or a business. It typically takes between eight and 24 months to complete a dietetic internship, depending on whether you work part- or full-time as an intern.

3. Pass a registration exam

After earning a bachelor's degree and finishing an internship program, you can apply to take the Commission on Dietetic Registration (CDR) exam administered by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. The exam is administered throughout the year at over 250 exam sites. Find a testing center near you and make an appointment to take the exam as early as possible. The exam takes two and a half hours to complete. It includes up to 145 questions focused on these four areas:

  • Principles of dietetics: This section of the exam features questions about food and nutrition, education and research applications. It accounts for 21% of the exam.

  • Nutrition care for individuals and groups: This part of the exam asks questions related to screening and assessment, diagnosis, planning and monitoring. It's worth 45% of the total exam.

  • Management of food and nutrition programs and services: This section of the exam evaluates candidates' knowledge of management functions, regulatory compliance and public relations. It makes up 21% of the exam.

  • Food service systems: This exam area focuses on questions related to menu development, procurement, production, sanitation, safety and facility planning. It accounts for 13% of the exam.

4. Earn a license

Some states may require you to earn a license before you can begin working as a registered dietitian. The CDR can provide you with information about licensing requirements in the state where you plan to practice. The process of earning a license varies by each state. In some states, you may be eligible for licensure based on your degree and CDR exam score, while other states may require an additional licensing exam. Check the licensing process for your state to make sure you meet the requirements to work as an RD.

5. Maintain your credential

The CDR requires registered dietitians to meet professional development requirements to maintain their credentials. These requirements include 75 continuing education credits every five years, with at least one credit in ethics. You record these credits by creating a learning plan through the CDR, where you can submit your continuing education activities as you complete them. Once you meet the minimum professional development requirements, your RD credential renews for another five years.

FAQs about registered dietitians

Here are the answers to some other frequently asked questions about a career as a registered dietitian:

What are some helpful soft skills for a registered dietitian?

While it's important for registered dietitians to be knowledgeable about diet and nutrition, they can also benefit from having a range of soft skills. These skills help RDs interact with clients and develop effective nutrition plans to address their needs. Some soft skills that can be helpful for a registered dietitian to have include:

  • Communication: Well-developed communication skills can help registered dietitians explain complex nutritional information to their clients in an understandable way. These professionals also use listening skills to understand clients' concerns and preferences to create personalized nutrition plans.

  • Decision-making: Registered dietitians use decision-making skills, including reasoning and intuition, to develop effective solutions for their clients. They consider nutritional research and other factors, such as medical history, to determine the appropriate meal plan for each client.

  • Organization: Many registered dietitians have various clients, and organization skills can help them manage their workloads effectively. They use these skills to document their clients' progress, maintain thorough records, schedule appointments and perform various other tasks, such as billing.

  • Problem-solving: It's helpful for RDs to have problem-solving skills so they can evaluate clients' progress and make adjustments to nutritional plans if necessary. They analyze problems and research potential solutions to help their clients overcome any challenges they may experience.

  • Interpersonal skills: Registered dietitians use interpersonal skills to develop relationships with their clients. Some interpersonal skills, such as empathy and listening, can help them understand and build trust with their clients, which can lead to improved outcomes.

Related: Interpersonal Skills: Definitions and Examples

What's the work environment for a registered dietitian?

The work environment for a registered dietitian can vary based on their employer. Some RDs work in health care facilities, such as hospitals or nursing homes, where they may divide their time between interacting with patients and developing nutritional therapy plans. Registered dietitians employed by community or government agencies often work in an office, where they plan and promote events to educate the public about diet and nutrition. Self-employed RDs may work in an office, or they may travel to meet clients at their homes or businesses. These RDs may have additional responsibilities, such as marketing and accounting.

Most registered dietitians work full-time positions with a standard schedule each week. They may work evenings or weekends when meeting with clients who are unavailable to meet with them during their regular hours.

What's the average salary of a registered dietitian?

While salary data is unavailable specifically for registered dietitians, these professionals are comparable to dietitians, who earn an average salary of $52,112 per year. The salary for a registered dietitian can vary based on their geographic area, employer and level of experience. Many registered dietitians receive additional benefits through their employer, such as paid time off, health and dental insurance, continuing education credits and retirement savings plans. These benefits can contribute to their overall compensation package. For the most up-to-date salary information from Indeed, click on the link provided.

Related: 12 Popular Careers in Nutrition (With FAQ)

What's the job outlook for registered dietitians?

There's a strong job outlook for registered dietitians in the near future. Employment of dietitians and nutritionists, which includes registered dietitians, may grow 11% by 2030, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). This rate is much faster than the average growth of occupations in the general workforce. The BLS expects employers to have around 5,900 job openings for dietitians and nutritionists each year over the next decade. This employment growth is likely to occur as the population continues to age, creating a demand for dietetic and nutrition services to help people stay healthy and prevent illnesses.

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