The average person walks through the grocery store and sees dinner. A registered dietitian sees data: that pieces of meat has "X" grams of protein; that this cereal is a healthy energy source; that this yogurt has 50 percent too much added sugar. Registered dietitians, sometimes called RDs or RDNs (registered dietitian nutritionists) for short, are experts on food and its effects on the body. It's a complicated subject, so all RDs have to complete formal training. Are you considering working in this field? Getting a master's degree is optional, but a master's degree should increase your earning potential.
Registered dietitians advise people about food choices and nutrition issues. When an RD meets with a client, she might start by assessing the client's current food intake and overall health needs. The RD can then make recommendations and even design meal plans that will help the client meet his or her health and weight goals. A client may see a registered dietitian when he is first diagnosed with a condition that has a nutritional component, like diabetes, or if he wants to lose weight or needs to make a drastic change to his diet for another reason.
These professionals also work for organizations like hospitals, nursing homes and schools, consulting on menu design and food choices to make sure that the offerings meet the needs of the population. Some RDs also do educational outreach. They may visit schools, community centers and private companies to teach groups about proper nutrition.
The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics sets the educational requirements for becoming an RD. A bachelor's degree is the first requirement. The degree must include course work that's approved by the Accreditation Council for Education in Nutrition and Dietetics (ACEND) of the Academy. The next step is to complete a practice program, which is essentially an intensive internship at a health care facility, community agency or food service company. Finally, a new dietitian must pass an exam administered by the Commission on Dietetic Registration (CDR).
Having a master's degree is not a requirement to become a registered dietitian, but many people opt to take this step anyway.
Registered dietitians work in all kinds of settings. Because they're often employed in hospitals, schools and government agencies, these jobs are available in all geographical areas. RDs generally work standard office hours, although those who are employed in hospital settings may have to work weekend or holiday hours to oversee the dietary needs of patients.
Years of Experience and Salary
The median dietetics salary was $59,410, as of May 2017. Median means that half earned more than $59,410 and half earned less. But that figure includes all RDs, many of whom have only a bachelor's degree. Expect a higher nutritionist salary with a master's degree.
In the 2013 Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics Compensation and Benefits Survey, the median salary for an RD with a master's was $1.89 more per hour than the median salary for an RD with just a bachelor's. (More recent data is available only to members of the ADA.) That was a drop from 2011, when the difference was $2.41 per hour.
This is a field in which experience is absolutely linked with salary. The typical is often more than $10,000 higher for an RD who has a decade or more of experience, compared to that of an RD in the first years of her career.
Job Growth Trend
Thanks to the rise in obesity and the aging population in the United States, registered dietitians are critically needed. The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that demand will continue to increase, with the number of dietitian and nutritionist jobs in the U.S. rising by 15 percent between 2016 and 2026.