What is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist?

Registered Dietitians (RDs) are food and nutrition experts who have met the following criteria to earn the RD 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.

How Is an RD Different Than a Nutritionist?

The "RD" credential is a legally protected title that can only be used by practitioners who are authorized by the Commission on Dietetic Registration of the American Dietetic Association.

Some RDs may call themselves "nutritionists," but not all nutritionists are registered dietitians. The definition and requirements for the term "nutritionist" vary. Some states have licensure laws that define the scope of practice for someone using the designation "nutritionist," but in other states, virtually anyone can call him- or herself a "nutritionist" regardless of education or training.

Qualifications of a Registered Dietitian (RD)

Academic and professional requirements include:

  • Earned a bachelor's degree with course work approved by ADA's Commission on Accreditation for Dietetics Education. Coursework typically includes food and nutrition sciences, foodservice systems management, business, economics, computer science, sociology, biochemistry, physiology, microbiology and chemistry.
  • Completed an accredited, supervised practice program at a health-care facility, community agency or foodservice corporation.
  • Passed a national examination administered by the Commission on Dietetic Registration.
  • Completes continuing professional educational requirements to maintain registration.

Approximately 50% of RDs hold advanced degrees. Some RDs also hold additional certifications in specialized areas of practice, such as pediatric or renal nutrition, nutrition support and diabetes education.  Registered dietitians who are members of the American Dietetic Association are not only food and nutrition experts - they are leaders in the field of dietetics. Every one of ADA's wide array of member benefits is designed to advance their knowledge and skills and enhance their networking opportunities.

What Services do RDs Provide?

The majority of registered dietitians work in the treatment and prevention of disease (administering medical nutrition therapy, as part of medical teams), often in hospitals, HMOs, private practice or other health care facilities. In addition, a large number of registered dietitians work in community and public health settings and academia and research. A growing number of registered dietitians work with food and nutrition industry and business, journalism, sports nutrition, corporate wellness programs and other non-traditional work settings.

Practice AreaRDs
Clinical Nutrition—Acute care/inpatient 30%
Clinical Nutrition—Ambulatory care 15%
Clinical Nutrition—Long-term care 10%
Community Nutrition 11%
Food and Nutrition Management 12%
Consultation and Business 11%
Education and Research 6%

Services of Registered Dietitians

  • Hospitals, HMOs or other health care facilities, educating patients about nutrition and administering medical nutrition therapy as part of the health care team. RDs may also manage the foodservice operations in these settings, as well as in schools, day-care centers, and correctional facilities, overseeing 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 businesses and industries, working in communications, consumer affairs, public relations, marketing, or product development.
  • Private practice, working under contract with health care or food companies, or in their own business. RDs 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 to improve their quality of life through healthy eating habits.
  • Universities and medical centers, teaching physicians, nurses, dietetics students, 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.
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