RD to be: Things to know

As I wrap up the last of couple of weeks of graduate school (!!), I have been alternating between moods of exhaustion and reflection. Today I thought I’d share some of the things I have learned while going to school to be a registered dietitian nutritionist.  

For some background, my undergraduate degree is in public health. During my junior year, I realized that I wanted to pursue a career as a dietitian. Since a masters degree is not required (yet) to be a registered dietitian, often times people who do not have an undergraduate degree in nutrition will opt to do post-undergrad work to get all the classes required to be an RD (referred to as DPDs). However, I knew I wanted to get my masters degree and Winthrop University makes it relatively easy to both at the same time. Keep in mind this means my schedule was not the typical grad school schedule, I took 14-16 hours and had many day time classes. Luckily, my undergrad was bachelors of science, so I took care of about half of DPDs in my undergrad.

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Here is a short list of things I’d tell someone who is considering becoming a RD:

Getting an internship is competitive: To be an RD, you must complete an internship that lasts anywhere from 6 months to 2 years. Most are 9 months, full-time, and unpaid. The internship provides valuable experience with rotations in basically all realms of dietetics. However, as right now the acceptance rate for internships is 50%. This doesn’t mean it is impossible, it just means that you might have to try more than once. Getting field experience as well as doing well in classes will go a long way! I was fortunate to find an RD who took me on in my first year and helped me to get ample experience at a long-term care facility. Working at a diabetes camp was a great help too!

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The expenses add up: tuition, books, academy memberships, vaccines for the internship, gas for traveling to all the places you’ll volunteer. I don’t say this to deter you, but to warn you. Make sure you have a good idea about the costs before you go all in. It has to be something you really want!

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^make friends with budget-friendly legumes

Forget your fads, stick with the science. Dietetics is a medical profession, so it uses evidenced-based practices. In school, we did not do a lot of discussing on topics that are not grounded in research. Terms like “super food” and “detox” are not used frequently. 

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“Needs more research” is a phrase you will hear over and over and over. The field is relatively new, so there are many things, like vitamins therapy for cancer or chromium for insulin resistance, that are evolving as we gain more insight. The field is ever-changing, i.e. for the longest time eggs were thought to raise serum cholesterol, but now it looks like dietary cholesterol and serum cholesterol aren’t a causal relationship. You have to keep an open mind and not be too frustrated when current thinking changes. It’s rather fun to be in a cutting edge field!

There is so much variety– clinical nutrition, diabetes education, research, public health, counseling, food service, marketing, sports nutrition, long-term care… the list goes on. As you complete your studies, you may discover a passion for something you didn’t know existed. My passion is in counseling, but I am keeping my options open, because I truly love (most) all of it.

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Sometimes you will just learn things for the test. If you are like me and opt to do graduate school concurrently with the required undergrad classes, time will be limited. Sometimes you will not be able to remember everything you learn. This may be disappointing, it was for me at first, but remember once you are in your field of choice, you will be able to absorb everything like a sponge.

It’s not always glamorous. If you imagine a career of helping individuals who want help and are passionate to learn about nutrition, you might have a hard time finding it. Being a dietitian is tough, with no shows and patients who don’t want to be there.Many times the people who need nutrition advice are the people who don’t want to be there. The people who you will see will often be people who are referred by their doctor after a new diagnoses. Sometimes it will be someone who is there for a quick fix and doesn’t like what you have to say. Or maybe a patient’s primary concern is getting food, not the amount nutrition in the food. Having a passion for helping people to develop a desire for improved nutrition is vital.

Be open minded. Please, please, please don’t be a food snob. Get it in your head that eating fast food and being healthy aren’t mutually exclusive. People have different experiences and different priorities. Don’t assume your way of eating is superior or the only way.

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Respect food. Nutrition is about the science, but it is also about the food. Having a love for food, cooking, eating with others, trying new foods, etc is vital. It’s important to understand that food is our fuel, but it is also a source of joy and a part of our culture and community with others.

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Lastly, care for people. Nutrition is medicine that allows people to live healthy lives. Caring about the welfare of others is one of the most important qualities of a dietitian. Taking the time to understand where they are coming from and what their needs are will be how you find success.

That’s all I have for today… soon I will post a reflection of my overall grad school experience!

 

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31 thoughts on “RD to be: Things to know

  1. I really love that you stay grounded in science, facts, not hypotheticals. 🙂 Thank you for reminding me not to be a food snob. It’s really encouraging especially coming from someone who is studying nutrition. 🙂 Is there any chance you would offer online dietitian services after you graduate? God is with you sister! Praying for strength for you to complete the last part of this marathon!

  2. I can imagine that it is a frustrating field at times! Habits are hard to change, especially food habits- there has to be a willingness to accept that they NEED to change.
    I think you will make a remarkable counselor! You are very good at accepting people and listening to them.

  3. I think you would make a truly amazing counselor. It’s amazing how much food is PSYCHOLOGICAL as well – it’s so much more than fuel because of the cultural undertones and how people tend to identify with their food 🙂

    I also like the whole “just because you’re a nutritionist doesn’t mean you have to eat superiorly”. So true! Being in Kinesiology, I’ve heard some odd remarks: “you’re in kin, right? Does that mean you have a 6-pack? You’re lucky to be in kin – all the hot guys are there!” Well, about that…

    Anyways LOVE this post! You just keep becoming more and more amazing.

  4. You’re right on when you say that most often the people who need help do not want to be there. Although yesterday I saw two clients who were very enthusiastic about meeting with a dietitian, and those people are fun to work with. I can definitely see you in counseling. Good luck for what’s left – try to enjoy it!

  5. This is great–I love your honesty but I can see that you really have a passion for it. I hope you finish everything off well! It’s really something to be proud of! Congratulations 🙂

  6. What a wonderful resource for anything starting out or thinking about entering the field. The honesty is most crucial. Like any career, it is not all butterflies and rainbows as some may dream up – but you make it obvious that if your passion is there it is extremely rewarding. And how cool to be in a field that is so current and changing in the moment (though this could also drive some people – like me – a bit crazy).
    I’m a little confused – you don’t need to get a masters to be an RD? But you will have a masters after this year – a masters in “dietetics?” Will this give you more options than those who just completed the DPDs and not a master?

    1. I decided to get a masters because my school has a masters of science in human nutrition. I could do that while getting the DPDs. I think it will lead to a higher starting salary and it helps increase the chances of getting an internship! In the next few years, however, the academy of dietetics has decided that all new RDs will need to have their masters prior to becoming an RD.

  7. I really like this post, Kate.
    Sometimes I think if I could “do over” college, I would study something health-related instead of English! 😉
    I find nutrition SO interesting, and it’s about so much more than “you should eat this.”
    The most important points you made (IMO) are “be openminded” and “care for people.”
    I don’t know many dietitians personally, so the ones I do “know” are through blogging. As you probably know, many bloggers have lived very privileged lives. Maybe they’re different in their practice, but some people just seem so preachy and judgy and I can’t imagine being that way with clients.
    For some people, they live in food deserts. They grew up poor or stuck eating certain foods. They never had the opportunity to travel and eat ceviche and paella or whatever, so they eat what’s familiar. They struggle – even though they KNOW what’s healthy, so it’s very important to keep that in mind!
    You seem like you have a great balance of knowledge, passion, empathy, and flexibility. It must be so exciting to be approaching graduation! 🙂

    1. Yes! There is so much privilege scouring the internet. I don’t think it always gives a true representation of RD work. I wanted to post this to show it’s more than what we usually see!

  8. You’ll be a great dietician Kate. I love your approach to nutrition and you fire for the Lord. He will bless you greatly. Have you ever thought of being a missionary with your knowledge?

    1. Thanks girl!
      I have thought of doing mission work! I went to Ethiopia twice during my undergrad and definitely felt at home doing mission work. I would love to use my vacations in the future to do mission work.

  9. I’m so thankful for being in a dietetics program where the internships are found for us! Our internships are integrated in the program so I don’t have that added stress.
    I have to agree that you need to keep an open mind, nutrition is different for everyone and there really isn’t one perfect way to eat, it’s all about listening to the clients and accommodating their lifestyle!

    1. You have an internship set up? That is amazing! There are a few graduate programs in the US that are like that, but not many.
      You said it perfectly, it’s all about working with THEIR lifestyle.

      1. Yeah, so I have a Stage ( this is what we call it here) for 7 weeks this summer, then next winter I’ll have a semester long stage and same thing for the following fall, and then I graduate!
        All you have to do is enter a little survey on where you would rather take the stage and if you have a car, and they place you!

  10. I think this is one of my favorite posts you’ve written, Kate! Being an RD has always seemed like my “dream job” but science has always been my weakest subject. I’ve gone in another direction, but I love hearing about your experience training to be one!

  11. This post was so helpful! I am currently nearing the end of my sophomore year of college and there is a huge part of me that very much wants to pursue a career as a RD. I’m a health science major now, so I am working on all the pre-reqs. I like hearing from people who have been through the process, it helps me make my own decisions!

  12. Congratulations, Kate, and how exciting! I have never been familiar with RDs outside of the hospital setting (my Mom was an RN and IVT for a hospital). Very cool to learn more about what you do and the spectrum available. I appreciate your openness and acknowledgment that our understanding of nutrition is developing and changing…and that there is more than one way. Thank you for this! #LinkLove

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