What is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist?

Becoming a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist

Registered Dietitian Nutritionists (RDNs) are food and nutrition experts who have met the following criteria to earn the RDN credential:

  • Completed a minimum of a bachelor’s degree at a US regionally accredited university or college and course work accredited or approved by the Accreditation Council for Education in Nutrition and Dietetics (ACEND) of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
  • Completed an ACEND-accredited supervised practice program 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.
  • Passed 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.
  • Completed continuing professional educational requirements to maintain registration.
  • Some RDNs hold additional certifications in specialized areas of practice. These are awarded through CDR, the credentialing agency for the Academy, and/or other medical and nutrition organizations and are recognized within the profession, but are not required. Some of the certifications include pediatric or renal nutrition, sports dietetics, nutrition support and diabetes education.
  • In addition to RDN credentialing, many states have regulatory laws for dietitians and nutrition practitioners. Frequently these state requirements are met through the same education and training required to become an RDN.

College Coursework

Dietitians study a variety of subjects, ranging from food and nutrition sciences, foodservice systems management, business, economics, computer science, culinary arts, sociology and communication to science courses such as biochemistry, physiology, microbiology, anatomy and chemistry.

International Professionals

Individuals who completed their education and training outside of the US, or received credentials in another country, may be eligible to become credentialed RDNs in the US. Individuals who have completed the education and credentialing requirements in one country may be eligible for another country's credentialing examination if the two countries have entered into a "reciprocity" agreement to allow this. If reciprocity does not apply, you must have your academic degree validated as equivalent to the bachelor's or master's degree conferred by a US regionally-accredited college or university and complete an ACEND-approved supervised practice requirement to establish your eligibility to sit for the exam. It is important to note that all individuals who establish registration eligibility — whether under the provisions of a reciprocity agreement or through the combination of a validated academic degree and supervised practice program — must successfully write the Registration Examination for Dietitians to earn the RDN credential.

Employment Opportunities

Registered dietitian nutritionists work in a wide variety of employment settings, including health care, business and industry, community/public health, education, research, government agencies and private practice.

Many work environments, particularly those in medical and health-care settings, require that an individual be credentialed as an RDN. RDNs work in:

  • Hospitals, HMO's or other health-care facilities, educating patients about nutrition and administering medical nutrition therapy as part of the health-care team. They may also manage the foodservice operations in these settings, as well as in schools, day-care centers and correctional facilities, over-seeing everything from food purchasing and preparation to managing staff.
  • Sports nutrition and corporate wellness programs, educating clients about the connection between food, fitness and health.
  • Food and nutrition-related business and industries, working in communications, consumer affairs, public relations, marketing, product development or consulting with chefs in restaurants and culinary schools.
  • Private practice, working under contract with health-care or food companies, or in their own business. RDNs may provide services to foodservice or restaurant managers, food vendors and distributors or athletes, nursing home residents or company employees.
  • Community and public health settings, teaching, monitoring and advising the public and helping improve their quality of life through healthy eating habits.
  • Universities and medical centers, teaching physician’s assistants, nurses, dietetics students, dentists and others the sophisticated science of foods and nutrition.
  • Research areas in food and pharmaceutical companies, universities and hospitals directing or conducting experiments to answer critical nutrition questions and find alternative foods or nutrition recommendations for the public.