Exactly how long does it take to become a Dietitian?
This is a question I pondered religiously before finally deciding to go back to school. Similarly, if you’ve ever found yourself googling, “how long to become a dietitian,” you’re in the right place.
This article will explain the process of becoming a dietitian and how long it takes. I am a career-changer dietitian myself, so I have that perspective.
It covers the following questions:
- What are the requirements to become a Dietitian?
- How many years does it take to become a Dietitian?
- Questions to ask when wondering how long it takes to become a Dietitian
- What’s the difference between a Dietitian and a nutritionist?
- How long does the Dietetic Internship take?
- How long should you study for the RD Exam?
I was overwhelmed with the idea of taking prerequisites, applying to schools and programs and applying to a dietetic internship.
On top of that, I then had to pass the RD exam (a board certified exam) and maintain continuing education credentials.
I wondered if all of it was worth it to become a dietitian. I had quite the road ahead of me.
And, of course, you may be wondering how to become a dietitian in your state of practice. Like, for example, how to become a Registered Dietitian in Maryland, or how to become a dietitian in North Carolina.
These are the two states that were pertinent to me, at least.
What Are the Requirements to Become a Dietitian?
To become a Registered Dietitian, you must:
- Earn a bachelor’s or master’s degree from an accredited ACEND program (The Accreditation Council for Education in Nutrition and Dietetics)
- Secure and complete a dietetic internship (internships are very competitive)
- Pass the RD Exam
- Become licensed in the state you wish to practice in
- Complete continuing education every 5 years to maintain your license and registration (this is through CDR, the Commission on Dietetic Registration)
How Many Years Does it Take to Become a RD?
When I’m talking to undergrads or people thinking about making the switch to a nutrition career, a common question revolves around the education required to become a dietitian.
Generally speaking, the minimum amount of time it will take is 4-5 years, accounting for course work and your 1200 hour internship, which usually takes a year on its own. A bachelor’s degree typically requires 4 years of full time studies, though if you are taking classes part time, that time will be lengthened.
The internship can be completed during schooling time, or after, and can take up to two years. It can also be completed in as short as 8-10 months (45 weeks).
There are 1200 hours required, so the time to complete may depend on your ability to multi-task, have a part time job, live comfortably and more.
Many programs can cater to your interests to a dietetic internship program (ie – sports nutrition, corporate wellness, clinical, food service, etc).
How Long Does it Take to Become a Dietitian? It Depends
In figuring out how many years it takes to become a Registered Dietitian, the following questions may help provide more detail and context for your answer:
- Are you studying nutrition as an undergraduate or are you changing careers to become a dietitian? Starting in 2024, all prospective Registered Dietitians will need to have a graduate degree before being able to sit for the RD exam. More information is outlined from the CDR here.
- Are you applying to a didactic program or a coordinated program? With a didactic program, you’ll have to apply to a dietetic internship separately. There is no guarantee that you’ll get matched the first time around so it may take more time. With a coordinated program, your internship will be included with your coursework.
- Are you doing an in-person program or a distance program? With more and more people changing careers and having other responsibilities, virtual and distance dietetic programs are gaining in popularity.
Here is a complete exhaustive list with distance programs and dietetic internships. Some popular ones are:
- University of Alabama
- Buffalo State SUNY
- Western Illinois University
- Iowa State University
- Eastern Michigan University
- Are you completing a distance dietetic internship or an in person one? Logistics may be easier for one or the other, depending on your location, commitments and more. Refer to the list from the previous question.
If you’re looking to become a dietitian, you have to take into account the time it will take to take prereqs for your desired program of choice and add in the time for the actual program itself and internship.
What’s the Difference Between a Dietitian and a Nutritionist?
The difference between a dietitian and nutritionist is SUCH a big deal. They may be used interchangeably but they are definitely not one in the same. So if you’re seeking how to become a registered nutritionist, that is not a certified credential.
A dietitian is an accredited term. Meaning that this person completed the above requirements (schooling and a bachelor’s, soon to be master’s degree), internship hours, sat and passed the board exam, and maintains continuing education hours every 5 years.
A nutritionist, on the other hand, is not a credentialed term. Anyone can call themselves a nutritionist, whether you studied nutrition or not.
The person at your gym can call themselves a nutritionist even without any background in nutrition.
As you can imagine, this is where things can get scary. If you’re taking nutrition advice from someone with no background in nutrition or your chronic health condition, there can be devastating consequences.
Currently, 47 states, Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia have statutory provisions that either limit the use of titles to qualified individuals or exclusivity clauses to practice regarding the dietetics profession or associated titles, like dietitian and nutritionist.
States without licensure include:
How Long Does the Dietetic Internship (DI) Take?
As mentioned earlier, it will take somewhere between 8 months – two years to complete your dietetic internship. It will somewhat depend on if you are in a didactic or coordinated program, and if you have to apply to your DI separately.
You can also find internship preceptors outside of the internship programs. Here’s a list of accredited internship providers.
How Long Should You Study for the RD Exam?
However, this will be different for everyone.
The RD exam takes about 2.5 hours and you can sign up here for information on where to take it.
According to the test specifications, the exam is made up of:
- 25% Dietetic Principles
- 40% Nutrition Care Process
- 21% Food and Nutrition Program Management
- 14% Foodservice
Once you pass the exam, you are good to go! Just make sure you are licensed in the state you wish to practice in (as long as it requires licensure).
Then, be sure to maintain 75 continuing education credentials every five years.
You can get nutrition continuing education hours in so many ways, like:
- journals and reading articles
- specialist programs (Ie – CDE – certified diabetes educator, CSSD- certified specialist in sports dietetic)
- events (FNCE, DPG events)
- and probably many more
I hope this post is helpful in deciphering some of the vague and long laundry lists of requirements to become a dietitian.
In short, it’s not a short process, but it is such a rewarding career and 1000% worth it (in my opinion) if you LOVE nutrition and want to make a difference in peoples’ lives.
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