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How to Become a Dietitian or Nutritionist

Most dietitians and nutritionists have earned a bachelor’s degree and receive supervised training through an internship or as a part of their coursework. Also, many states require dietitians and nutritionists to be licensed.


Most dietitians and nutritionists have earned a bachelor’s degree in dietetics, foods and nutrition, food service systems management, or a related area. Programs include courses in nutrition, physiology, chemistry, and biology. 


Dietitians and nutritionists typically participate in several hundred hours of supervised training, usually in the form of an internship following graduation from college. However, some programs in dietetics include this training as part of the coursework.

Many dietitians and nutritionists have advanced degrees. 

Licenses and Certification

Most states require licensure of dietitians and nutritionists. Other states require only state registration or certification, and a few have no state regulations.

Most states have enacted state licensure or certification for dietitians or nutritionists or both. The requirements for state licensure and state certification include having a bachelor’s degree in food and nutrition or a related area, supervised practice, and passing an exam.

One way to become licensed is to earn the Registered Dietitian (RD) credential. While the RD is not always required, the qualifications necessary to become an RD are parallel to the qualifications necessary to become a licensed dietitian in all states that require a license. Many employers prefer or require the RD, which is administered by the Commission on Dietetic Registration, the credentialing agency for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

The requirements for the RD credential are similar, but not identical to the licensing requirements in many states. The RD requires dietitians to complete education and supervised practice programs. These programs are accredited by the Accreditation Council for Education in Nutrition and Dietetics (ACEND). In order to maintain the RD credential, Registered Dietitians must complete continuing professional education courses. 

Important Qualities

Analytical skills. Dietitians must keep up to date with the latest nutrition research. They should be able to interpret scientific studies and translate nutrition science into practical eating advice.

Organizational skills. Because there are many aspects to the work of dietitians and nutritionists, they should have the ability to stay organized. Management dietitians, for example, must consider both the nutritional needs of their customers and the costs of meals.

People skills. Dietitians and nutritionists must listen carefully to understand clients’ goals and concerns. They also have to be emphatic to help clients confront and overcome dietary struggles.

Speaking skills. Dietitians and nutritionists must explain complicated topics in a way that people with less technical knowledge understand. For example, a clinical dietitian must be able to clearly tell clients about what to eat and why eating the recommended foods is important.

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2012-13 Edition