The educational path involved in becoming a dietitian or nutritionist are very similar with the largest variability in the type of education one chooses to pursue. Individuals who pursue a degree in dietetics are referred to as dietitians and those who pursue a degree in nutrition are referred to as nutritionists. Their job functions are responsibilities are similar and cross licensure may be possible.
Individuals who pursue a degree in dietetics through an academic institution accredited by the Commission on Accreditation for Dietetics Education of the American Dietetic Association, are able to become registered dietitians. Dietetics degrees are a four-year bachelor's degree or graduate degree focusing on food and nutrition science, food service management, business, culinary arts, sociology and other science courses. Individuals are also required to complete a supervised practice program between six months and one year in length.
An alternate route to the four-year dietetics degree is a two-year dietetic technician program accredited by the Commission on Accreditation for Dietetics Education. Individuals who complete the associate degree are trained in food and nutrition and have completed a 450-hour internship. Internships, or supervised practice experiences, are done in a variety of facilities, including health care and food service facilities. Upon completion of the degree, individuals must pass the national certification exam given by the Commission on Dietetic Registration.
A degree in nutrition can be obtained through the associate, bachelor and graduate levels as well as a nutrition certification program. An associate degree in nutrition prepares individuals for entry level nutritionist positions and to move forward with a four-year degree. Bachelor's degrees in nutrition are required for licensure as a dietitian when graduating from an accredited program. Completion of an internship is highly recommended along with courses in nutrition, biology, sociology and business.
Dietetic technicians are required to pass a national examination given by the Commission on Dietetic Registration and the appropriate state licensure. Registered Dietitians are licensed by the Commission on Dietetic Registration and their appropriate states as well. Registered Dietitians also have the option of becoming board certified in sub specialities, including pediatric nutrition, gerontological nutrition, sports dietetics, renal nutrition and oncology nutrition. A nutritionist is not a specifically licensed position, however when graduating from an accredited program individuals may sit for the registered dietitian examination.