How to Become a
Dietitian

Woman dietitian with a stethoscope around her neck writing on her desk

There is a lot to consider when choosing a career. And if you’re thinking about becoming a Dietitian, you’ve come to the right place. This guide contains helpful information about what it takes to become a Dietitian, including education requirements, important skills and more.

What Does a Dietitian Do?

A Dietician, or Registered Dietitian, works to educate a client in order to address any nutritional concerns he or she may have, as well as how to lead a healthy lifestyle or achieve a specific health-related goal.  The Dietitian can address a client’s health needs and diet, and counsel them on nutrition issues. Also, the  Dietician, or Nutritionist, gives recommendations to a client in order to promote general healthy eating habits. Registered dietitians can also read food labels and review grocery shopping lists for clients who want to be healthy. They also work with clients who have obesity or eating disorders. Lastly, they can work with athletes to meet their nutrition needs.

While many patients are adult, a large proportion of them are babies and young children. These stages are crucial, as eating habits affect physical and neurological growth. The dietitian ensures that the child is growing appropriately and that his or her nutrition needs are met.

Registered Dietitians and Registered Nutritionists work in a variety of practice settings. You can find them in hospitals, health and wellness centers, outpatient clinics, health departments, public health agencies, home care, food companies, food service establishments in hospitals, restaurants, schools, and privately owned practices or clinics.

Some common Dietitian duties and responsibilities include:

  • Counseling patients on nutrition issues and healthy eating habits

  • Developing and changing meal plans as needed

  • Promoting good nutrition by speaking to groups about diet and nutrition

  • Keeping up with the latest nutritional science research

  • Writing reports to document patient progress

Dietitian Skills

A Dietitian’s skills include an extreme interest in nutrition and in people's health and wellbeing, Being a Dietitian means working one-on-one with a client. As such, Dietitians needs to be patient, empathetic and caring when helping a client. They must also have good communication skills as they need to explain complicated issues to those who may not have a science background. In addition, Dietitians must have a non-judgmental and understanding attitude about their clients.

Some other Dietitian skills include:

  • Analytical skills.Dietitians and nutritionists should be able to interpret scientific studies and translate nutrition science into practical eating advice

  • Listening skills.Dietitians must listen carefully to understand clients’ goals and concerns.

  • Problem-solving skills.Dietitians must evaluate the health status of clients and lay out to them what to eat, as well as why, in order to improve overall health.

How Do You Become a Dietitian?

Education and Training

A Dietitian, depending on what levels of school and advanced degrees that he or she has graduated from, as well as what programs or certificates they have achieved, is also known as a Dietitian Nutritionist, a Dietetic Technician, a Clinical Dietitian, a Consultant, a Clinical Nutrition Counselor, a Retail Dietitian, or a Certified Diabetes Educator.

According to our analysis of online job postings, employers are looking for Dietitian candidates who have at least a bachelor’s degree in food and nutrition. In addition, most job postings we looked at required prospective Dietitians to have received supervised training through an internship or as part of their coursework while as an undergraduate.

There are a few paths to becoming a Registered Dietitian or Registered Dietitian Nutritionist. All individuals pursuing this path must complete an undergraduate degree from an accredited college or university. Some complete an undergraduate (B.A. or B.S.) degree in nutrition or nutrition science while others pursue a graduate degree (M.S. or PhD) in nutrition – some may even do both. The coursework required for an Dietitian includes the fundamentals of nutrition, biochemistry, microbiology, physiology, and the medical nutrition therapy required to provide optimal patient care. This education provides aspiring dietitians with a solid science-based background that differentiates Dietitians from nutritionists – while anyone can be a nutritionist regardless of educational background, the extensive combination of a rigorous education, research training, and practical experience in patient-focused care is specific to those following the path towards becoming an Dietitian.

In some cases, individuals who complete an undergraduate degree in liberal arts or another non-human science discipline, prerequisite coursework is required before beginning a graduate degree in nutrition. These post-baccalaureate courses, such as general chemistry, organic chemistry, biochemistry, and anatomy and physiology, can take a few years to complete. Following these courses, the graduate degree often takes a minimum of two years after the prerequisites are completed.

Regardless of which education path a dietitian chooses, all Dietitians must complete the Dietetic Internship and a national comprehensive registration exam given by the Commission on Dietetic Registration. The Dietetic Internship lasts somewhere between 9 and 12 months and provides aspiring Dietitians with hands-on experience in various settings, including clinical, counseling, community, and food service environments. The examination covers a range of topics from those introduced during a student’s coursework to questions about developing appropriate therapies for specific nutrition-related diseases. Most Dietitians are also Licensed Dietitians (LD), Licensed Dietitian Nutritionists (LDN), or Certified Dietitian Nutritionist (CDN) based on the licensure law required by the state in which they practice.

After Dietitians complete their education and licensing requirements, they must remain up to date on emerging nutrition-related topics by regularly completing continuing education courses approved by the Commission of Dietetic Registration. This helps ensure that Dietitians are providing their patients with the most accurate and relevant recommendations that are supported by the most recent research.

Finding a Job

Demand for Dietitians is increasing. The Bureau of Labor Statistics forecasts a 16 percent growth for the position through 2024. The faster-than-average growth for the profession is being driven primarily by people who want to live healthy lives, and are interested in a balanced diet.

Given this projected growth, aspiring Dietitians are likely to find many job opportunities in hospitals, nursing homes, cafeterias, schools, offices of health practitioners and outpatient care centers.

Any successful job search begins with crafting a high-quality resume that highlights your skills and experience. For guidance on creating a resume, take a look at JobHero’s library of Dietitians resume samples.

Once your resume is complete, you can search online for job opportunities. As you look for Dietitians openings, be sure to make the most of your professional network, including people you met through your internship or training, as well as those you meant while in college.

When applying for jobs, write a cover letter that expresses your interest in the position and highlights your qualifications and what you would bring to the role. Take a look at our cover letter samples for help.

Insights from a Dietitian

In order to get an inside look at how to become a Dietitian, we talked to Registered Dietitian Nutritionist Paula Wesson. Here’s what she had to tell us.

What is the common career path for Dietitians?

The most common path to become a Dietitian is to earn a B.S. in dietetics and complete a one-year unpaid internship. A lot of undergraduate coursework is science: chemistry, organic chemistry, biochemistry, microbiology, and anatomy. There are a limited number of spots for internships in the country. Students apply to a digital matching system during their senior year of undergrad. Usually the intern pays  "tuition" for the internship and many internships incorporate graduate-level courses.. After completion of the internship, an intern is eligible to sit for the board exam. Once he or she passes, he is a Registered Dietitian and must complete continuing education credits to remain a Dietitian. 

Some people complete a Master's or Doctorate degree prior to their internship, especially if they changed fields. When I was an intern, a fellow intern had a Bachelor's in biology and a Master's in dietetics. 

What type of person excels in this job?

There is not one type of person who excels in this job, because Dietitians can work in a variety of places. There are Dietitians who work in food science labs, grocery stores, schools, nursing homes, hospitals, government, and more locations. The type of person and the skills needed depend on what field of dietetics you enter.

What are some of the most important skills for Dietitians to have?

I work in a rehabilitation and skill nursing facility. Here, the Dietitian needs people skills because I spend a lot of time interacting with the residents. The dietitian here also has to be a team player. I work with many other people. I can't just say, "Okay, you're get some Ensure to drink." I have to communicate that to the doctors, nurses, aides, and food service employees. 

What do you find to be the most rewarding aspect of being a Dietitian? 

The most rewarding part of my job is definitely seeing changes in a patient. I have a resident who lost weight without trying and has gained some of it back. But it's not so much the weight that I care about. She seems to feel better. She smiles more, she's more talkative, and she seems more alert. That could all be because she's eating better and has more energy. 

How Much Do Dietitians Get Paid?

Dietitians are typically paid on annual basis, with the median annual wage in the United States being $57,910. The lowest-paid Dietitian makes $35,240 while the highest-paid can earn more than $80,000.

Top 10 States for Dietitian Salary

Dietitians in the following states make the highest median annual wage in the U.S.

    California

    $72,800

    Alaska

    $69,000

    Oregon

    $66,200

    New Hampshire

    $66,100

    New Jersey

    $65,900

    Hawaii

    $65,400

    Rhode Island

    $65,100

    Washington

    $64,800

    Nevada

    $64,400

    Connecticut

    $64,100

    Dietitian Resources

    Looking for more information? We put together this list of additional resources to help you continue exploring a career as a Dietitian.

    Professional Groups

    The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics
    Committed to improving the nation's health and advancing the profession of dietetics through research, education and advocacy.

    The International Confederation of Dietetic Associations (ICDA)
    The international organization for dietetics professionals.

    American Nutrition Association
    Educates both laypeople and professionals about the health benefits of nutrition and wellness.

    Dietitian Blogs

    The International Food Information Council Foundation
    Dedicated to the mission of effectively communicating science-based information on health, nutrition and food safety for the public good.

    Today's Dietitian
    Explores dietitian subjects, such as diabetes management, heart health, food allergies and weight control. The magazine also discusses the latest in industry research, nutritional supplements, and special dietary needs.

    MyDietitian.com
    Matches registered dietitians with clients online, utilizing today’s technology, in an effort to track their diet and provide professional education about the nutritional aspects of their diet.

    Dietitian Books

    American Dietetic Association Complete Food and Nutrition Guide, Revised and Updated 4th Edition
    Features the latest healthy eating advice that is up-to-date and evidence-based for many food and nutrition questions.

    The information in this article comes from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, job postings and other online sources.