You would think that a title like "nutritionist" denotes an established professional standard in terms of education and accreditation. Depending on where you live, however, that might not be the case. According to the American Dietetic Association, in some states anyone can call themselves a nutritionist, even if they have no experience or training. On the other hand, to claim the title "registered dietitian," you must be trained and authorized by the Commission on Dietetic Registration of the American Dietetic Association, or CADE.
Registered dietitians are licensed professionals who offer nutritional counseling in a variety of settings such as hospitals, schools, athletic facilities and HMOs. Some registered dietitians, or RDs, conduct research or teach in educational institutions. Still others work as nutritional journalists or consultants for food manufacturers. The American Dietetic Association observes that RDs who work their way up to management and business positions earn yearly salaries of $85,000 to $88,000.
To achieve RD accreditation, you must possess at least a baccalaureate degree from an American college or a foreign equivalent. This must include courses specifically mandated by CADE. If you have a bachelor's degree in a subject other than dietetics, you can have your grade transcripts evaluated by a dietetics program director, who can tell you what additional courses you will require to earn the RD certification. You also must complete an internship program lasting up to 12 months for full-time interns, or two years for part time.
Earning an RD certification requires a solid background in the basic sciences. You will need to take classes in anatomy, physiology, microbiology and biochemistry. This also requires courses specifically geared toward nutrition, including culinary arts, food service systems management, economics and sociology. If you're a high school student interested in pursuing a career as a registered dietitian, you would do well to study biology, math, chemistry and communications in preparation for college.
Job Prospects and Salaries
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics expects jobs in the dietetic field to grow at an average rate in the coming years. Growing interest in disease prevention, coupled with the needs of an aging population, should keep opportunities expanding at a steady pace. Also expected to grow rapidly are jobs with outpatient care centers, doctors' offices and food service contract providers.