How To Become a Dietitian (As a Career Change) + Tips For Dietetic Internship

  Jun 3, 2019  |  #Nutrition

“How to become a dietitian” is one of the more popular searches to my site. If you’re looking to change careers and study nutrition, this post is for you! 

How to become a Registered Dietitian career changer Pinterest

“How do you switch careers and become a dietitian? Is becoming a dietitian hard without a bachelor’s degree in nutrition? Is becoming a dietitian worth it?”

This is probably my most asked question in search terms that lead to my page. So, I figured it was time to write a run down post on for you on becoming a dietitian and share how I did it. 

How To Become a Registered Dietitian

I think it’s becoming more and more “normal” to change careers and go back to school for something different than you studied in undergrad. At least for me, that is exactly what I did and what led me to becoming a dietitian.

I have met so many other career change dietitians and I’m thankful for the path I’ve taken in learning about careers in food and nutrition. It also led me to the career and dream job I have right now. 

Dietitian on computer in the kitchen

So, let’s talk a little bit about how I took a long-winded path to become a dietitian and study nutrition. So, if you are considering it, you can learn how to do it too.

Here’s what we will discuss throughout this blog post.

  1. My Non-Nutrition Education 
  2. Taking Necessary Prerequisites For Dietetics Education
  3. Going to Graduate School
  4. Studying for the RD Exam And My Favorite Tools
  5. Becoming a Dietitian
    1. How To Become a Registered Dietitian (And Tips For Getting an Internship!)
    2. Steps To Become a Career Change Dietitian (A Summary If You’re Considering Changing Careers – Yes, it is Totally Possible!)
    3. How Long Does it Take To become a Dietitian?
  6. Looking For Nutrition and Dietetics Jobs
    1. What Can You Do With a Nutrition Degree
    2. Where Do Dietitians Work?

My Education Before Becoming A Registered Dietitian 

I originally went to college thinking I wanted to major in physical therapy or athletic training. At that point, becoming a dietitian wasn’t even on my radar. 

So, I initially declared that as my major and started taking science courses, like anatomy & physiology, biology, chemistry and physics.

All things that would actually help me down the road (little did I know). I say this because these are prereqs for most nutrition coursework. I even took a nutrition class as a science elective.

While I did really well and found nutrition interesting, it didn’t resonate with me as something to actually study or have a career in. 

girl picking out fruit at grocery store

I really enjoyed all of these classes and learning about athletic training in general. In fact, there was a lot of comradery in that major because many other athletes were interested in athletic training as well.

However, I soon learned that with my softball travel schedule (Division 1 college sports are no joke), it was really difficult to stay on top of the coursework and labwork. Obviously, it’s not impossible because many athletes do it.

Yet, I was just feeling stressed with all of the makeup work I had to complete when I missed class due to travel. 

Switching Majors As an Undergraduate

Because of this and for other reasons, I decided to change my major.

I then considered my love for sports. I wouldn’t necessarily say I had a love for business, but my father was a third generation business owner so I kind of grew up around it.

When I look back now (that I own my own “small” business), it was almost like the pieces were starting to fall into place.

Empty notebook with pen

I decided to study Sport Management.

Within this curriculum, I took classes like:

  • Marketing + Sports Marketing
  • Sports Law (learning about contracts)
  • Accounting
  • Sales
  • Sponsorship
  • Event Management

Most of these classes were geared specifically towards the athletic setting. For example, planning a large sporting event, or selling tickets for a professional sports team.

However, I use so many of those principles and knowledge now in my current business. I’m constantly selling myself and marketing to brands and clients.

I need to understand how to read and negotiate contracts. I also do a little accounting (balancing my inflow/outflow management).

Now, I look back and I’m so grateful for my long-winded path of getting to where I am currently.

So, How Did I Finally Get Into Nutrition?

Phew, long story of how to become a dietitian and we’re not done yet. So, after graduating with my BA in Sports Management, I worked for two years in collegiate sports in athletic communications, aka writing.

However, while I absolutely loved sports, I wasn’t fulfilled. I had the realization that I would be working at these events on nights and weekends, rather than actually getting to watch and enjoy them.

I bought a career journal and it helped me find my ultimate passion.

So, I made a change.

Girl looking out at city | Bucket List Tummy

How To Become a Registered Dietitian If You Already Have a Degree

In moving away from the athletic world, I spent time working for a real estate company, in finance at a bank, and finally as a Marketing Coordinator at a Law Firm. 

I decided I was really into nutrition and researched how to become a dietitian online

At this point, I knew nothing about intuitive eating or health at every size or the non-diet approach. I was convinced I wanted to help people “lose weight” and “get healthy.”

I was fascinated by eating healthy and communicating that to others. 

The only thing stopping me was having to go back to school for a registered dietitian education.

I was so intimidated by taking necessary prereqs in order to apply to graduate programs and thinking about getting a dietetic internship

But, I finally took the leap and did them (This post talks about the best tips for how to get a dietetic internship).

How Hard is It To Become a Registered Dietitian?

These steps are specifically for those who want to change careers to become a dietitian. It can be time consuming. 

1. Take prerequisites

First, if you have a degree in anything other than nutrition, you have to take prerequisites, which vary by school. This makes things tricky. 

I would recommend looking at which schools you want to apply to BEFORE taking prereqs, and try to take as many common ones as possible! 

Taking notes and studying for RD exam in coffee shop | Bucket List Tummy

While I was taking prereqs, I was also consuming a ton of books on Audible, the easiest way for me to study and listen to literally everything!

Eat Right Pro does a great job of breaking down which schools you are eligible for and what prereqs may be necessary.  It does vary slightly from program to program.

The prereqs don’t really matter whether you’re looking for clinical jobs or public health nutrition jobs (if you even know that, initially).

However, the common courses to become a dietitian are: 

  • general chemistry (with a lab)
  • organic chemistry (with a lab)
  • biology (with a lab)
  • anatomy and physiology
  • microbiology (with a lab)
  • biochemistry (some require multiple biochem courses)
  • introduction to nutrition

There are also several online dietetics courses you can take and registered dietitian programs online for those who are working full-time. 

2. Choose your graduate program (or undergraduate program if you go that route)

Lucky for me, some of my undergrad courses (remember when I studied athletic training?!) transferred. So, I had one less organic chemistry to take, and my anatomy and physiology and biology also transferred.

I remember taking organic chemistry and microbiology at a local school as my prereqs. I also took an introduction to nutrition course while working full time (at nights after work).

This confirmed my interest in health and nutrition. 

I’ll never forget taking an online biochemistry course as my final prereq before starting a coordinated MPH program at UNC Chapel Hill. The program I went through was a 2.5 year program, with 3 rounds of rotations (internships) included (see below for more on that).

So, when I graduated, I graduated with a Master’s Degree in Public Health Nutrition, as well as a verification statement needed to take the RD Exam. 

3. Complete a Verified Internship (1200 Hours)

More on this below. 

4. Study For the RD Exam

This is a huge topic in and of itself, so I’ve written an extensive blog post on my one month plan for studying for the RD Exam.

I don’t want to repeat everything here, but I will share my favorite resources for studying:

I think it’s totally possible to study for the exam in less time (2 weeks) but I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it.

At least for me, taking time to study and let the information sink in (over days and weeks with multiple flashcards and Visual Veggies quizzes) works best. 

Coffee, laptop and study materials in becoming a dietitian | Bucket List Tummy

Wrap Up: Becoming a Dietitian

If you’re wondering how to become a Registered Dietitian, here’s what you need to know.

First off, get alot of sleep, good smelling candles and massages because it may get a little stressful. 🙂

In order to become a dietitian (career changer dietitian or not), you have to complete necessary coursework (as mentioned above), earn a verification statement, complete a 1200 hour supervised internship program and study for and pass the RD exam.

Additionally, you will need to follow state requirements and maintain licensure if necessary. All registered dietitians need to earn 75 continuing education credits every 5 years. 

Again, the steps required are:

  • Complete a minimum of a bachelor’s degree at a US regionally accredited university or college and course work accredited by the Accreditation Council for Education in Nutrition and Dietetics (ACEND®) of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Here, you will take the DPD (Didactic Program) Coursework, which are the core classes that everyone takes. 
    • This website is super helpful in determining what schools offer distance programs and what prereqs are necessary for each program. 
  • Complete an ACEND®-accredited supervised internship at a health-care facility, community agency, or a foodservice corporation or combined with undergraduate or graduate studies. Typically, a practice program will run six to 12 months in length.
    • Some programs include this internship as part of their program. They are called “Coordinated Programs.” I went to a coordinated program for grad school, so I received my MPH concurrently while doing my internship.
    • If you don’t do a coordinated program, once you complete your DPD requirements, you will need to apply to an internship separately (All Access Internships will help you match). To do this, you will receive a verification statement indicating completion of the didactic program in dietetics components prior to applying to the dietetic internship match.
    • Pass a national examination administered by the Commission on Dietetic Registration (CDR). For more information regarding the examination, refer to CDR’s website at www.cdrnet.org.
  • Complete continuing professional educational requirements to maintain registration. We call these CEU’s and you have to complete 75 every 5 years.

Tips For Getting a Dietetic Internship

If you don’t apply to or get into a coordinated program, you will have to apply for a separate didactic internship, which can be a very competitive process.

I highly recommend working with All Access Dietetics because they’re pros with helping you get matched to a dietetic internship. 

They’ve been doing it for years and know how to make you the most competitive applicant for an internship.

It’s worth investing in one-on-one coaching because then you have a 98% likelihood of getting matched (their numbers are that high!) and being able to start your career as an RD sooner (more on that below).

If you’re looking for a more budget-friendly option, they also have a self-study membership program you can work through at your own pace, with access to a facebook group and others who are going through what you are. 

Keep Track of Continuing Education (CEU’s)

Once you become a credentialed RD, there are PLENTY of opportunities to earn CEU’s, like attending FNCE (The annual food and nutrition conference), completing courses, webinars, online quizzes, and smaller retreats. 

Once you graduate and pass the exam, the fun job search begins! So, what kind of jobs can you get in nutrition and dietetics?

Dietitian Jobs

There are so many different registered dietitian jobs available now – you can even create your own!

If you can dream it, you can do it.

Registered Dietitian Entrepreneur taking picture of food

What Can You Do With a Nutrition Degree?

From working in a supermarket or hospital to owning your own private practice and everything in between, there are so many options.

You can even choose to specialize in a population you may love, such as children, older adults, eating disorders, cancer patients, kidney disease, diabetes, pregnancy and so much more. 

Where Do Dietitians Work?

We no longer live in a world where dietitians are only allocated to clinical settings! There are registered dietitian jobs and opportunities galore. 

I remember initially thinking, “where do dietitians work if they don’t work in a hospital?” The answer is…LOTS OF PLACES!

  • Sports Dietitian (working with high school, collegiate, professional sports)
  • Food Service or Food Service Management
  • Clinical Dietitian (Working in a hospital, inpatient or outpatient)
  • Working in public health (there are several public health nutrition jobs, like working at a health department, in WIC, developing programs for schools, organizations
  • Research Dietitian
  • Corporate Wellness
  • Private Practice, Nutrition Counseling
  • Social Media Management, Marketing & PR For Food Brands
  • Grocery Store Dietitian
  • Freelance Writing
  • Recipe Development and Photography
  • Public Speaking
  • Working As a Professor, Teacher or in Education 
  • Working in Nursing Homes, Substance Abuse Centers

Is Becoming a Dietitian Worth it?

I think it depends on your individual scenario, but for me – absolutely! Had I not changed careers, taken prequisites and gone back to school, I would still probably be thinking about nutrition and learning about it.

But I wouldn’t have the necessary qualifications and expertise to practice it like I would now that I’m a dieitian. 

Or, you can be an entrepreneur like me, you can do several things. With technology growing, you’re even able to do virtual counseling and telemedicine now, too. 

Inclusive text in coffee shop | Bucket List Tummy

Other Resources:

If you’re interested in learning more about blogging, monetization, email marketing and SEO (Search Engine Optimization), I HIGHLY recommend Erica Julson’s courses. 

I’ve completed three and they are so helpful and worth every penny and more!

Another resource I wholeheartedly recommend for SEO and blogging is Keysearch

I hope that helps. If you have any specific questions, please let me know.

I also offer 1:1 mentoring services to dietitians with business questions, RD’s to be, or those looking to get into nutrition but feel overwhelmed about where to start. 

Did you change majors in college?

What part of nutrition is most interesting to you?

This post may contain affiliate links, which help support Bucket List Tummy at no additional cost to you. Thank you for your support!

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8 responses to “How To Become a Dietitian (As a Career Change) + Tips For Dietetic Internship

  1. Excellent post, Sarah. I am so happy for you finding out what you truly love to do…and respect you for the determination and dedication it took for you to accomplish this!

  2. Hey, I am currently studying to become a RD, but my school is not an accredited dietetic school. I am taking the science prerequisites courses and getting my undergrad degree. Can I transfer my credits to get my master’s in dietetics?

    (I thought one couldn’t transfer credits, but maybe it is only to get another bachelor’s degree)

    🙂

    1. I think it is dependent on the school! For example, my undergraduate science prerequisites did transfer over since they were within an allotted time frame. I would call admissions and ask.

  3. You did mention in your blog that you can work in Education or as a Teacher. One can work as a health teacher?

    1. Are you talking about a health teacher in a high school setting? You wouldn’t necessarily need a nutrition degree for that, though I’m sure it would be helpful. It you were teaching at a college course level, there would likely be more stringent qualificiations, and it’s probably encouraged to get the Registered Dietitian credential, and/or advanced degrees and education (ie Masters/PhD).

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