Pathway to Becoming an RD/RDN

The field of nutrition and dietetics is dynamic, diverse, and continuously evolving. Registered dietitian nutritionists play an essential role in healthcare by delivering medical nutrition therapy, promoting health, and preventing and/or managing nutrition-related disease. Furthermore, RDNs are employed in a variety of commercial and institutional settings including, food service management, sustainable food systems and agriculture, community nutrition, public relations, and public policy both home and abroad. A growing number of RDNs work in private practice or as entrepreneurs providing nutrition products and services to consumers. In addition, registered dietitian nutritionists provide a vital service to national, international, and state government agencies through programs such as Women Infants and Children (WIC) and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program-Education (SNAP-ED), as well as agencies such as the USDA and FDA.

For more information on the pathway to becoming a registered dietitian nutritionist, including required coursework, supervised practice hours, and the CDR credentialing exam, please visit our undergraduate DPD program website.

Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN)

The field of nutrition and dietetics is dynamic, diverse and continuously evolving. Dietitians provide medical nutrition therapy in hospitals and clinics. They are also employed as consultants and managers, in public relations, and food and culinary positions where they manage foodservice operations in health care or other institutional and commercial settings. They write books, articles and newsletters. Dietitians are active in the health and wellness industry and in corporate wellness where they address health promotion and chronic disease prevention. Dietitians also work in national, international and state government agencies for programs such as Women Infants and Children (WIC) and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program-Education (SNAP-ED), as well as agencies such as the USDA and FDA. A growing number of RDNs work in private practice or as entrepreneurs providing nutrition products and services to consumers. RDNs also work as humanitarians around the world in the area of public policy to help during times of nutritional crises.

Here are the steps that you need to take to become a Registered Dietitian/Nutritionist (RDN) as required by the Commission on Dietetic Registration (CDR).

  1. Individuals complete coursework in a Didactic Program in Dietetics (DPD) accredited by ACEND (Accreditation Council for Education of Nutritionists and Dietitians) which is achieved by completing a Bachelor of Science degree from an accredited program at a four-year university.
  2. Graduates from DPD programs apply to Dietetic Internships (also called supervised practice in programs) approved by ACEND. The dietetic internship is an intensive training program (lasting 1200 hours) where graduates are mentored by practicing dietitians and receive graduate credit. These internships typically cost between $9,000 - $14,000. There are a few that have a much lower fee cost and some that are free and pay a stipend. Programs that offer a graduate degree along with the supervised practice will be more expensive. There are limited no-cost programs and few offer a stipend. Application into a Dietetic Internship program is competitive and not all graduates who apply are matched.
  3. Once graduates have completed the Dietetic Internship/supervised practice program they can apply to take the CDR credentialing exam to become an RDN. The national registration examination is administered by the Commission on Dietetic Registration (CDR) website: www.cdrnet.org.

Graduates who successfully complete the ACEND-accredited DPD program at the University of Massachusetts Amherst are eligible to apply to an ACEND-accredited Dietetic Internship. The UMass acceptance rate has averaged over 80% for the last three years. (NOTE: ACEND is the accreditation arm of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND). AND is located at 120 South Riverside Plaza, Suite 2190, Chicago, IL 60606-6995, 312-899-0040, (web: ACEND@eatright.org)

Changes to these steps starting Jan 1, 2024:

Effective January 1, 2024, the Commission on Dietetic Registration (CDR) will require a minimum of a Master’s degree to be eligible to take the credentialing exam to become a registered dietitian/nutritionist (RDN). Approval to sit for the registration examination with a Bachelor’s degree requires that individuals have completed the DPD and Dietetic Internship (and so have met all eligibility requirements) before December 31, 2023 at 12.00 midnight Central time. They must also have submitted the application for approval to take the exam into the CDR’s Registration Eligibility Processing System (REPS) before 12:00 midnight Central Time, December 31, 2023. If you miss this deadline, you will have to have a Master’s degree and completed 1200 hours of supervised practice to be eligible to apply to take the exam. For questions about this deadline please contact https://www.cdrnet.org/ or call 1 (800) 877-1600 Ext. 5500.

For more information about the new Master’s degree requirement visit CDR website: https://www.cdrnet.org/graduatedegree.

Here are the steps to show the options that UMass Amherst BS graduates will have to meet the new requirements. 

  1. Individuals complete their coursework in the UMass Amherst Didactic Program in Dietetics (DPD) which is accredited by ACEND (Accreditation Council for Education of Nutritionists and Dietitians) by following the undergraduate Dietetics Track in the Nutrition Department.
  2. Students graduating from the UMass Amherst Nutrition undergraduate program have the following options to meet the new 2024 guidelines:
    1. Complete the 4+1 Masters program at UMass Amherst which allows them to complete the BS and MS in five years and then apply to a dietetic internship not associated with an MS degree.  These are typically based in hospitals.
    2. Complete an MS, MPH, MA, MBA in another department or college (these may be one or two years in duration), then apply to a Dietetic Internship which is not associated with a graduate degree.
    3. Apply to dietetic internship which will give a graduate degree, typically an MS or MPH while also completing a dietetic internship (these are usually two years in duration).

While at UMass Amherst, DPD students are given guidance on how to work through the process of applying to a dietetic internship.

Licensed Nutritionist Dietitian (LDN)

In most states, RDNs also must obtain licensure or certification to practice. It is ACEND’s considered opinion that the program is designed to and does meet all state dietetics licensure and certification laws as some states may interpret their statutes differently.

Most people are unaware of the fact that individuals do not need to be licensed to call themselves a “nutritionist.” The term “Nutritionist” is not protected. However, the term “Licensed Nutritionist/Dietitian” is protected by licensure in Massachusetts. Most positions will require licensure or RDN certification, and frequently both.  In Massachusetts there are educational and experiential prerequisites for obtaining the LDN:

The LDN Licensure Board accepts the CDR (Commission on Dietetic Registration) internship and examination as equivalent to the statutory requirements for professional experience and a Board-administered examination. So, the fully qualified RDN only has to pay a licensure fee for the LDN license.

Without the RDN credential, graduates who wish to become licensed must meet one of the following criteria:

  1. You must have a Bachelor's Degree or higher for licensure. Your major course of study should be in dietetics and nutrition, human nutrition, nutrition education, public health nutrition, or a very similar field.
  2. The law requires professional experience prior to licensure. The experience may be a Board-approved formal, post-baccalaureate internship of not less than 900 hours in the Field of Dietetics and Nutrition and supervised by a licensed dietitian/nutritionist, or it may be paid professional experience. The length of that experience depends on your level of nutrition education:
  • An individual with a Doctoral Degree must have one year of post-degree experience.
  • An individual with a Master's Degree must have two years of post-degree experience.
  • An individual with a Bachelor's Degree must have three years of post-degree experience.

For information on Massachusetts state licensure, visit https://www.mass.gov/orgs/board-of-registration-of-dietitians-and-nutritionists or contact the Massachusetts Division of Professional Licensure, 1000 Washington Street, Suite 710, Boston, 617-727-9925 or visit the licensure website at http://www.mass.gov/ocabr/government/oca-agencies/dpl-lp/ (Click on “Division of Professional Licensure Boards” and then “Dietitians and Nutritionists”).

For more information about state licensure requirements in other states in the US, click here.