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What is a Dietitian?

Learn more about the important role of dietitians and nutrition experts and why they are essential members of the modern health care team.

hospital dietitian consults with a male patient who's in bedThe Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics defines a registered dietitian as a food and nutrition expert who has met the minimum academic and professional requirements to qualify for the RD credential.

In addition to RD credentialing, many states including Kansas have regulatory laws for dietitians and nutrition practitioners. State requirements frequently are met through the same education and training required to become an RD.

Registered dietitians must meet the following criteria to obtain the RD credential:

  1. Receive a bachelor’s degree from an accredited university or college and complete course work approved by the Accreditation Council for Education in Nutrition and Dietetics of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

    Students wishing to become registered dietitians study subjects including food and nutrition sciences, foodservice systems management, business, economics, computer science, culinary arts, sociology, communications, biochemistry, physiology, microbiology, anatomy and chemistry.

    KU does not provide a didactic program in dietetics and is unable to provide the verification statement required for application to dietetic internships.

    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). More information is available on the eligibility and requirements page.
  2. Complete a ACEND-accredited supervised practice program at a health care facility, community agency, or a food service corporation, or combined with undergraduate or graduate studies.

    KU offers a dietetic internship program that includes the option to also enter the master's degree program in dietetics and nutrition.
  3. Pass a national examination administered by the Commission on Dietetic Registration.

    Students completing KU's dietetic internship graduate certificate program are eligible to complete the national examination. KU dietetic interns have an excellent first-time pass rate and outstanding job placement upon receiving their graduate certificate.
  4. Once the RD is obtained, the registered dietitian must complete continuing education requirements to maintain registration.

Some registered dietitians hold additional certifications in specialized areas of practice. These are awarded through the Commission on Dietetic Registration, and/or other medical and nutrition organizations and are recognized within the profession. These are not required credentials but note expertise in specialty fields. Some of the certifications include renal nutrition, pediatric nutrition, nutrition support, sports, and diabetes education.

The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics maintains a list of registered dietitians providing medical nutrition services to the public. The Kansas Department of Health and Environment maintains a list of dietitians licensed to practice in the state of Kansas. Licensed Dietitians from Kansas use the “LD” credential.

A Career in Demand

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment of registered dietitians is expected to grow because of increased emphasis on disease prevention, the growing elderly population and public interest in nutrition.

Registered dietitians are trained to work in a variety of areas:

  • Hospitals and other health care facilities providing medical nutrition therapy.
  • Sports nutrition and corporate wellness programs providing preventative services educating clients about the connection between nutrition, physical activity and health.
  • Food and nutrition-related business and industries working in communications, consumer affairs, public relations, marketing product development or consulting with restaurants and culinary schools.
  • Private practice working under contract with health care or food companies or in their own business

The Importance of the Registered Dietitan

Some individuals call themselves “nutritionists” and offer nutrition services without education, formal training, and licensing as a nutrition professional. However, the registered dietitian has a college degree and years of advanced training plus has passed a national examination to obtain the RD credential. The registered dietitian is the nutrition expert.

School of Health Professions

Dietetics and Nutrition
KU Medical Center
3901 Rainbow Boulevard
Mailstop 4013
Kansas City, KS 66160
913-588-5355 • 711 TTY