“How do you switch careers and become a dietitian? Is becoming a dietitian hard without a bachelor’s degree in nutrition?” I’m answering this and more questions in this post!
“How do you switch careers and become a dietitian? Is becoming a dietitian hard without a bachelor’s degree in nutrition?”
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.
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.
So, let’s talk a little bit about how I took a long-winded path to eventually deciding to 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.
- My Education and How I Switched Majors
- Taking Necessary Prerequisites For Dietetics Education
- Going to Graduate School
- Studying for the RD Exam And My Favorite Tools
- Becoming a Dietitian
- How To Become a Registered Dietitian
- How I Became a Career Change Dietitian (A Summary If You’re Considering Changing Careers – Yes, it is Totally Possible!)
- Looking For Nutrition and Dietetics Jobs
- What Can You Do With a Nutrition Degree
- Where Do Dietitians Work?
My Education Before Becoming A Dietitian
I originally went to college thinking I wanted to major in physical therapy or athletic training. 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.
Speaking of nutrition, I even took a nutrition class as a science elective. I did really well and I found it interesting, but for some reason, it didn’t resonate with me as something to actually study or have a career in.
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 considered childhood education, and this would only last for a hot minute (maybe a semester at most, truthfully). I figured I loved children so why not?
But, I quickly realized that wasn’t what I wanted to do for a career as well. Fortunately, I hadn’t declared this as a major, but instead, just took a few prereq classes to get my feet wet.
From there, I had a brief period where I felt lost and didn’t know what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. There is so much pressure in deciding a college major. It really is hard to know what you want to do at that age.
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.
Isn’t it weird how that happens?
Where Science Meets Business
When I changed my major for the final time in college, I decided to study Sport Management. I was happy with this decision. UMass Amherst was well-known for having one of the top Sport Management programs, so I knew it would set me up well for my career.
Within this curriculum, I took classes like:
- Marketing + Sports Marketing
- Sports Law (learning about contracts)
- 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 much 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 becoming 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.
Again, things I totally use in my business now with blog writing and freelance writing. I did recaps of collegiate games, interviewed coaches and athletes and put my own personal spin on these writeups.
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.
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. At this time, I was slowly getting into the “Healthy Blog World,” where I was reading regular blogs from well-known bloggers.
I decided I was really into nutrition.
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.
But, I finally took the leap and did them.
Taking Necessary Prerequisites For Dietetics Education
The tricky thing about prerequisites is that each school you want to apply to may have different education requirements and prerequisites. 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!
While I was taking prereqs, I was also consuming a ton of books on Audiobooks, 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 ones 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.
Going to Graduate School
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.
Studying 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:
- Visual Veggies (Yes, this program is pricey, but in my opinion, it’s 110% worth it for the way it helps you study!)
- Krause textbook
- RD exam practice tests
- already made for you flashcards
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.
Becoming a Dietitian and How I Became a Career-Change Dietitian
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. 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.
Once you graduate and pass the exam, the fun job search begins! So, what kind of jobs can you get in nutrition and dietetics?
Nutrition and Dietetics Jobs
What Can You Do With a Nutrition Degree?
In this day and age, it really is possible to do whatever you’d like in nutrition. If you can dream it, you can do it.
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! 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
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.
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?
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