What Is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN)?

Registered Dietitian Nutritionists (RDNs) are food and nutrition experts who address today’s complex issues surrounding food and nutrition science.

They use the best available scientific evidence to advise people on what to eat to prevent and manage disease, lead a healthy lifestyle, or achieve a specific health-related goal.

The RDN credential is the most widely recognized credential for a food and nutrition expert. As such, 47 states currently require the RDN credential to practice dietetics.

registered dietitian nutritionist

How to become a dietitian

To obtain the RDN credential, one must:

  • Complete a minimum of a bachelor’s degree at an accredited university or college with coursework that is approved by the Accreditation Council for Education in Nutrition and Dietetics (ACEND) of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Beginning in 2024, however, a minimum of a graduate degree, which includes a master’s degree, practice doctorate or doctoral degree, will be required.
  • Complete a dietetic internship, which requires a minimum of 1200 hours of supervised practice in the three areas of dietetics: clinical dietetics, community dietetics and foodservice management.
  • Pass a national exam administered by the Commission on Dietetic Registration.
  • Complete 75 hours of continuing educational units every five years to maintain registration.

Where do dietitians work?

Dietitians work in a variety of settings and areas including:

  • Health-care facilities, providing medical nutrition therapy to help speed patients’ recovery and lay the groundwork for long-term health.
  • Sports nutrition and wellness programs, educating athletes and clients about the relationship between nutrition, athletic performance and health.
  • Food industry, working in public relations, consumer affairs and product development.
  • Community and public health, coordinating and implementing nutrition policy programs and carrying out programs in the general community to promote healthy eating habits.
  • University and research, directing or conducting scientific research to answer critical nutrition questions and make dietary recommendations for the public.
  •  Private practice, consulting in healthcare facilities, working with major food and supply vendors, writing and content development.

How much do dietitians make?

According to the Compensation and Benefits Survey of the Dietetics Profession by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, the 2019 median full-time salary for registered dietitians was $68,600 per year.

This breaks down to an hourly wage of $32.97, an 8.3% increase from the 2017 reported median hourly wage of $30.45.

Like most careers, compensation for dietitians depends on a number of factors, including years of experience, responsibility level, practice area, employment sector, and location.

Dietitians in the 10th percentile earned $24.04 per hour or $50,900 annually, with dietitians in the 90th percentile earning $51.28 per hour or $104,800 annually.

The bottom line

Dietitians are food and nutrition professionals.

They work in a variety of settings and areas, including health care facilities, academia, sports nutrition, community and public health, and private practice.

The annual salary for dietitians depends on factors such as experience, responsibility, practice area, and sector.