It’s crazy to think I’ve been a registered dietitian for almost 4 years now! I am so lucky to be in this career that I really love. I get to talk and think about food all day every day. I get to help people make the connection between what they eat and how they feel. I get to be creative and scientific all at the same time. I get to help people manage & treat illnesses, and help prevent those illnesses all together with nutrition and lifestyle changes. It’s incredibly rewarding to be in this field and to be able to share it with so many other smart & talented dietitians.
Today, in honor of National Registered Dietitian Day, I’m sharing the ins and outs of what a registered dietitian is, what we do, what my journey as a RD has looked like thus far, and a few other tidbits to celebrate.
What is a Registered Dietitian?
According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND), registered dietitians (RDs) are food & nutrition experts who have met the following criteria to earn the RD credential:
- Completed a minimum of a bachelor’s degree in nutrition or dietetics. Dietetics programs include a variety of different courses, from biochemistry, to anatomy & physiology, to food science, to advanced human nutrition & metabolism, to quantity food production to business management to nutrition counseling.
- Completed a supervised practice program at a health-care facility, community agency, a foodservice corporation or combined. This is otherwise known as the dietetic internship which is similar to a medical residency, where we go through ‘rotations’ in various areas such as clinical, community nutrition and food service. These internships are not taken lightly by dietetics students, as only 50% of people who apply get matched to one. They typically last between 9 and 12 months.
- Passed a national examination (RD exam) administered by the Commission on Dietetic Registration (CDR).
- Completed continuing professional educational requirements to maintain registration.
To sum it up, to become a RD, you must complete a bachelor of science in nutrition or dietetics, finish a year or so long dietetic internship, pass an exam and get 75 credits of continuing education every 5 years. By the year 2024, RDs will also be required to have their master’s degrees!
What Do Registered Dietitians Do?
There is no one-size-fits-all answer to this question, because really there are so many different things that RDs can do. The possibilities are endless, which is why I love the profession so much. And no, RDs don’t just “help people diet” or “tell people what to eat.” In fact, helping people “diet” and lose weight is my least favorite thing to do as a RD, and the opposite of what I focus on with my clients.
RDs work in a variety of settings, including healthcare, business and industry, community/public health, education, research, government agencies and private practice. Here’s an overview of areas in which you may find an RD (sourced from AND):
- Hospitals or other healthcare facilities, educating patients about nutrition and administering medical nutrition therapy as part of the healthcare team.
- Foodservice operations in hospitals & healthcare facilities, as well as in schools, day-care centers and correctional facilities, over-seeing 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 business and industries, working in communications, consumer affairs, public relations, marketing, product development or consulting with chefs in restaurants and culinary schools.
- Private practice, working under contract with healthcare or food companies, or in their own business.
- Community and public health settings, teaching, monitoring and advising the public and helping improve their quality of life through healthy eating habits (this is what my current job is focused on!)
- Universities and medical centers, teaching physician’s assistants, nurses, dietetics students, dentists and others the sophisticated science of foods and nutrition.
- Research areas in food and pharmaceutical companies, universities and hospitals directing or conducting experiments to answer critical nutrition questions and find alternative foods or nutrition recommendations for the public.
My Journey as a Registered Dietitian
I completed my Bachelor of Science in Nutrition & Dietetics through the University of Wisconsin-Stout in 2013, and then went on to do my dietetic internship through Mount Mary University in Milwaukee, WI. While I was there, I did my clinicals at Froedert Hospital, where I got to “rotate” through all of the different units, from intensive care to cardiology to gastrointestinal. I had the opportunity to work with RDs who were working in inpatient and outpatient settings in the hospital. During my internship, I also did a rotation at a school, a hunger relief program called the Milwaukee Hunger Task Force and a pediatric diabetes clinic. My internship was unique in that it was combined with a Master’s program. While I was there, I finished half of my Master’s degree, and then decided to take a break. I picked it back up with their online program a couple years later, and just recently finished it in December 2017.
Following graduation from the internship, I spent about 3 months studying for the RD exam which covered everything from clinical dietetics to foodservice to business management. I will never forget the day that I passed that test, when all the years of studying finally paid off. After becoming a RD, I had to obtain my license – which is required by law to provide nutrition counseling in Minnesota.
Now that I’ve been a RD for almost 4 years, I have worked in a few different settings. I started out working for a corporate wellness company, in which I did some health advising and health coaching. Then, I moved on to a clinical-based position where I gained some experience with tube-fed patients. NOW, I am working in a community setting for Open Arms of Minnesota (OAM). OAM is a non-profit meal delivery program that provides medically tailored meals to individuals with chronic illnesses. There, I help with menu planning & nutrition analysis, provide nutrition education & counseling to our clients who are diagnosed with HIV/AIDS, cancer, MS and ALS, supervise dietetic interns, and a variety of other community outreach/health promotion activities.
I have RD friends who work in a variety of other settings, including grocery stores, community clinics, hospital, nursing homes, corporate wellness companies and private practice.
Shout out to my favorite RD blogs
Here are just a few of my favorite blogs/websites written by dietitians. Some are focused on mostly recipes, while others are lifestyle and some are a mix (like me!).
Registered Dietitians are the nutrition experts!
This day in age, we are exposed to SO MUCH nutrition information. Every 5 seconds there’s a new claim about ‘the best food to eat’ or ‘the best way to lose weight.’ And often times, the 780 articles you read on the internet, your mom’s cousin’s best friend, or the sales person at GNC are anything but credible. Dietitians can answer your nutrition questions based on scientific evidence. They’ll work with you to sort through the noise so you can find an eating pattern that is healthy for YOU and your lifestyle. They can help you set reasonable goals and habits that you can keep up with for the long-term. And most of all, dietitians can teach you how to make ‘all foods fit’ into your lifestyle so you can live your best nourished life.
I hope this blog post helps you recognize RDs as nutrition experts & you know who to turn to for the best evidence-based nutrition information 🙂
Happy RD Day to all my RD Friends!