Hey guys! A few days ago, I got an email from someone wanting to know if they could ask me some questions about becoming a registered dietitian. I love helping other future RDs because I would not be where I am today had other RDs not helped me. So of course I told her that I would be more than happy to answer whatever she wanted to know.
Once I got her list, I thought it would be a great blog post! I answered all of these questions based on my own personal experiences. Some things may vary by job, locality, facility, etc. but I hope the information is still helpful to anyone out there thinking about becoming a dietitian. Enjoy!
1.What do you like and dislike the most about being a dietitian?
I love that I can educate people on positive diet changes that can have a direct impact on their health. Poor nutrition contributes to so many chronic diseases, and it is great when I can help someone make that connection and want improve their health.
I wouldn’t say I dislike anything specific about being a dietitian per se, but something that is difficult is that there is a lot of misinformation out there about nutrition. It is frustrating when I see either people giving poor nutrition advice that isn’t evidence-based or when I see people believing and following this advice.
2. What was your major and concentration or specialty if applicable.
Undergrad: Human Nutrition, Foods and Exercise (concentration = the science of food, nutrition and exercise)
Grad: Health Education
Dietetic Internship: School Food Service Management (because I worked in school food service at the time)
3. What was the coursework like (for your BS) and how many science courses were there?
I went to Virginia Tech and you can view their current nutrition coursework here. Besides my freshman year and electives, almost all of my classes were science courses. I may or may not have had to repeat organic chemistry but who’s keeping track, right?
4. If this isn’t too personal, what was your pay like after you graduated and if it was unusually high or low, what is the expected pay for a dietitian fresh out of the internship?
This one is definitely going to vary by area. Where I live, an entry-level dietitian is going to make in the 35-45k range. My first job out of school was working as a school nutritionist and my salary was on the same pay scale as a teacher’s salary.
5. What was your internship like/ where did you intern/ how long was it/ did you have to pay for it?
6. Did you do a didactic or coordinated program?
7. How competitive was your internship/ did you get your first choice?
I’m not sure about my specific internship program but in general there is a 50% match rate with internship programs. I applied to 5 internship programs and was matched with my first choice- Utah State University. My program was unique in that the application requires 1,000+ hours of either work or volunteer experience. I did have a high GPA, a master’s degree and 5 years of experience in school nutrition when I applied so I think all of those factors helped me get in to my first choice program.
8. If I were for some reason to not get an internship the first try, what would my options be?
You have a lot of options! Your GPA, letters of recommendations and work/volunteer experience are all factored in to the match process. So if you don’t get matched the first time then start looking at how you can improve each of those.
1.) Complete a master’s degree and focus on getting really good grades to increase your GPA.
2.) Consider applying to a graduate level coordinated program so that you can complete a master’s degree and your internship at the same time.
3.) Take a year or two off and gain nutrition-related work or volunteer experience.
9. Are there state specific licensing requirements as there are with nurses and if so does that have any impact at all?
Licensure varies by state and licensing requirements are completely independent from your actual dietetics registration. You can look up your state’s requirements on the CDR website here. I live in NC and have to maintain my license to work in a hospital.
10. Is there a cost to maintain your license/credentials i.e. CEUs?
Registration: $60 yearly
NC License: $75 yearly?
Academy Membership (optional): $165 yearly
CEUs: 75 every 5 years. You can get a lot of these for free if you stay on top of it.
11.What is an average day like for you?
I have a post all about A Day in the Life of a Clinical RD here
12. Do you work as part of a team within the hospital or with other dietitians or do you generally function as a consultant (if so are you your own boss?)
I work as part of a team of RDs and I would say that this is the case for most inpatient dietitians. You may see the consulting end of things more in an outpatient setting, a super small facility and in private practice.
13. Do you spend a fair amount of time walking around or are you generally sitting most of the day?
Half of the day is spent on my feet walking around visiting patients and the other half is spent at my desk charting.
14. Do you ever spend time in a lab doing lab work?
No, I do not ever have to go into a lab to do anything as an inpatient clinical RD. All of my time is spent visiting/assessing/educating patients.
Perhaps someone might work in a lab if they worked in research & development.
15. Are you required to research or publish?
No. Many of my professors at Virginia Tech were involved in research and published their findings, though.
16. I am fluent in Chinese and would love to get my medical translators license within the next year; would there ever be a possibility for a dietitian to work within a hospital or clinic doing translator work part of the time or do dietitians generally work full time exclusively?
Anytime someone is bilingual, this can only be beneficial…. especially if you’re applying for jobs in an area where there is a need for an applicant who is fluent in Chinese. Having said that, I typically do not see someone hired as both an RD and a translator in my personal experience.
17. Speaking of, where do RD’s usually work?
There are so many areas and they all are completely different! Here are some (although I’m sure I’m leaving some out)…
Clinical: inpatient (hospital), outpatient (medical office), long-term care (assisted living, long-term acute care, skilled nursing facility, etc.)
Food service: schools, hospitals, assisted living facilities, grocery stores
Community: WIC, public programs, gyms, sports teams
Private Practice: you could work for yourself counseling or consulting
18. As someone who is very conscious of living a compassionate and plant-based lifestyle, has that ever been a roadblock for you being a dietitian or are those ideals very accepted these day in the medical community?
Interesting question! In my opinion, part of being a good RD is meeting a patient where they are at and helping them make a lifestyle change that works for them. In an inpatient setting where I might only educate a person for 15 minutes, I try to identify their biggest issue/roadblock and help them set a goal that is realistic and attainable.
So I guess to answer your question, my personal eating/lifestyle habits generally do not come up to where they would cause a roadblock. I have my own thoughts on eating and food preferences, but my counseling typically focuses on the patient’s eating habits and food preferences.
19. What is the job mobility like? Are you generally in the same position for your career or are there opportunities (or perhaps pressure) to promote to a more managerial position?
This would be completely up to you. I find in my area that RDs move around a bit into different positions. In larger hospitals, there may be different tiers of dietitians based on experience. I don’t particularly see people being pressured into moving into management although there are certainly many opportunities if that’s what you’re looking for.
20. What are the hours usually like? Is it M-F 9-5 or is it shift work?
Again, completely dependent on what type of RD you are looking to become and where you would like to work.
I work a daytime schedule but it’s not always M-F. Sometimes I have off weekdays and work weekends. This might depend on the facility location and size. You would be looking at more of a M-F set schedule if you are working in a facility that is closed on the weekends (like a doctor’s office).
21. Is there an opportunity to work with a variety of clients or does the kind of internship you get usually lock you into the kind of dietitian you are going to be?
The internship definitely does not lock you into the kind of dietitian you’re going to be. If anything, it does the opposite. You get to ‘test out’ all areas of dietetics to see what is the best fit for you.
You can work with whatever types of clients/patients you wish depending on your career path. For example, if you want to work with athletes then you could become a sports dietitian. If you want to counsel people with diabetes then you could be a certified diabetes educator and work at a diabetes center. If you want to specifically do a lot of tube feedings then you could try to work at a long-term acute care facility.
My only piece of advice here is to expect to pick some sort of skill/area/specialty and focus on that. Dietitians cannot be experts on every single area of nutrition.
22. Do you feel this is a job that is a good job to have as a mother/ do you have plenty of time for your family?
Definitely! There are so many different areas of dietetics that you can find something that fits your lifestyle needs.
I don’t have kids so working weekends and holidays is not an issue for me. When I was a school dietitian, I had much more of a set schedule with holidays and weekends off. A private practice dietitian has a lot of flexibility in scheduling. It all depends!
23. Is it a mobile job? Is it easy to move with, either state to state or overseas?
There are dietitians all over the U.S. The tricky (or maybe just expensive part) would be checking on licensure as you move from state to state. I’m not sure about overseas, though. I guess that would depend on where you go and if that country accepted your registration from the U.S.
24. What is the job security/ job outlook like?
This probably varies by area. There seem to be plenty of opportunities for RDs in North Carolina.