A registered dietitian or registered dietitian nutritionist (RD or RDN) is a credentialed healthcare professional. Dietitians apply their knowledge of nutrition to develop dietary strategies to meet the health needs of populations and individuals.


What is a registered dietitian?

A registered dietitian is a credentialed healthcare professional who specializes in nutrition and developing eating plans (diets) to meet health needs. Dietitians complete specific training and qualifications to earn their designation. In the U.S., they earn it from the Commission on Dietetic Registration (CDR), which is the credentialing agency for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND).

You can recognize a registered dietitian by the letters listed after their name: RD for registered dietitian, or RDN for registered dietitian nutritionist, which is a more recent version of the same degree. If a dietitian is practicing in a state that requires them to have a license, they’ll also have an LD for licensed dietitian after the RD or RDN. Some dietitians also have extra credentials in dietetic specialties.


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What does a dietitian do?

Dietitians study and implement the science of nutrition to meet the health needs of populations, communities or individuals. They work in a variety of settings, from clinical healthcare facilities to community institutions to the private sector. They research and educate people on nutrition and food science, and they design and direct eating plans for individuals or groups with various health needs.

Some specific types of dietitians include:

  • Clinical dietitians. These RDs work in clinical healthcare settings, like hospitals and nursing homes, as part of a team of healthcare providers. They oversee nutrition for people receiving care in their facility, considering their health conditions and needs.
  • Community dietitians. Community dietitians promote general health and wellness through nutrition and food planning. They work for government and nonprofit agencies, corporate wellness programs, health maintenance organizations and community fitness centers.
  • Management dietitians. Management dietitians oversee meal planning and food service programs for organizations, like school cafeterias, prisons and restaurant chains. They design menus, supervise staff and ensure organizations meet quality, safety and nutritional standards.
  • Consultant dietitians. Consultant RDs work as individual contractors or in private practice. They help clients design eating plans for their specific needs and goals. Sometimes, they specialize in certain types of needs and goals, like sports nutrition and weight management.
  • Research dietitians. Some dietitians work as researchers for a university, pharmaceutical lab or health services agency. They investigate ways that diets affect populations. Some might specialize in a particular topic, like food allergies and intolerances or diet and genetics.

How could a dietitian help me?

If you ever need hospital care, a registered dietitian might be an important part of your healthcare team. Whether you’re recovering from surgery or critical illness, a gastrointestinal disease or a type of malnutrition, you’ll need specific nutrition to support and sustain you. A dietitian will assess and determine your needs, develop a formula and deliver it, either by mouth, by tube or through an IV.

Alternatively, you might choose to visit a dietitian on your own to help you develop a personalized nutrition plan. Maybe you’ve been diagnosed with a chronic health condition that requires you to change your eating habits, and you’re not sure where to start. Or you might want professional advice on how best to lose weight or gain weight, enhance your physical performance or feed your family.


How do you become a registered dietitian?

The steps to becoming a registered dietitian include:

  1. An accredited college degree.
  2. Supervised practice requirements.
  3. Passing a national exam.
  4. Meeting state requirements to practice.


The first step to becoming a registered dietitian is earning a college degree from an accredited dietetics program. The U.S. Accreditation Council for Education in Nutrition and Dietetics (ACEND) independently reviews these programs to make sure they offer the necessary coursework. Previously, a bachelor’s degree was the minimum requirement, but effective January 1, 2024, a master’s degree is required.

Supervised practice

The supervised practice requirement is at least 1,000 hours in an accredited internship program. Some dietetic degree programs offer supervised practical experience along with your coursework requirements so that you can complete both together. Other degree programs don’t include practical experience, but they qualify you to apply for an internship through an online matching process.

Qualifying exam

Completing your education requirements and your practical experience requirements qualifies you to take the CDR’s Registration Examination for Registered Dietitians. (This is called RDN eligibility.) It’s a standardized, multiple-choice test that you’ll take on a computer at an authorized test center. It typically takes about three-and-a-half hours to complete. A passing score earns your RD or RDN credentials.

State practice requirements

Some states require you to have a license to practice as a registered dietitian. The license might give you additional letters (LD) after your name. You can apply for a license once you’re registered with the CDR. But different states have different requirements to acquire one. You’ll have to do your own due diligence. If your registration expires, your license will also expire, and you’ll need to renew it.

How long does it take to become a registered dietitian?

It takes an average of four years to earn a bachelor’s degree and two years to earn a master’s degree. After that, you’ll need to complete at least 1,000 hours of supervised practice before you can take the national exam to earn your RD or RDN credentials. You might complete this requirement in as little as six months if you’re working at it full-time, or over a year if you’re working at it part-time.

Continuing education requirement

It takes a lot to become a registered dietitian. But after you’ve earned your credentials, you also have to maintain them. The CDR requires that you stay up to date in your field to stay registered. This means completing a certain number of continuing education hours (CEUs) within each five-year cycle. (Currently, it’s 75). Some people choose to earn additional credentials with these education units.

What are the different specialties a registered dietitian can have?

A registered dietitian may choose to specialize in nutrition and diet planning for a particular community or particular health requirements. For example, they might want to focus on nutrition for children, seniors or athletes, or for people with specific health conditions that affect their dietary needs. A registered dietitian can go on to earn additional certifications in various specialties, including:

  • Geriatric nutrition. A Board-Certified Specialist in Gerontological Nutrition (CSG) specializes in the nutrition needs of older adults. They create nutrition plans to help prevent and treat some of the common conditions that can affect this population, from osteoporosis to malnutrition.
  • Pediatric nutrition. A Board-Certified Specialist in Pediatric Nutrition (CSP) specializes in the nutrition needs of children from birth to age 21. They design nutrition plans to meet children’s general growth and development needs while also addressing special needs and conditions.
  • Pediatric critical care nutrition. A Board-Certified Specialist in Pediatric Critical Care Nutrition (CSPCC) is a clinical dietitian who works with a team of healthcare providers caring for children in intensive care. They provide medical nutrition therapy critical to these children’s recovery.
  • Obesity and weight management. A Board-Certified Specialist in Obesity and Weight Management (CSOWM) offers holistic support for people trying to manage their weight to prevent or treat obesity, including education, dietary planning and other interventions.
  • Sports nutrition. A Board-Certified Specialist in Sports Dietetics (CSSD) specializes in nutrition for athletes and other highly active professionals, like police, military and rescue forces. They work with individuals and teams to help maximize their overall fitness and performance in the field.
  • Renal nutrition. A Board-Certified Specialist in Renal Nutrition (CSR) designs personalized renal diets for people with chronic kidney disease (CKD) and kidney failure. They offer nutritional assessment, monitoring, education and planning to support your kidneys at all disease stages.
  • Oncology nutrition. A Board-Certified Specialist in Oncology Nutrition (CSO) specializes in the nutrition needs of people in treatment for or recovering from cancer. They work with your healthcare team to help reinforce your health and address common nutritional challenges.
  • Eating disorders. A Certified Eating Disorders Registered Dietitian (CEDRD) specializes in nutritional rehabilitation for people with eating disorders. A registered dietitian can earn this credential from the International Association of Eating Disorder Professionals (IAEDP).
  • Diabetes nutrition and care. A Certified Diabetes Care and Education Specialist (CDCES) helps people prevent and manage diabetes through diet and education. A registered dietitian can earn this credential from the U.S. Certification Board for Diabetes Care and Education (CBDCE).
  • Functional nutrition. An Integrative and Functional Nutrition Certified Practitioner (IFNCP) specializes in nutrition from the perspective of functional medicine, a science-based, whole systems approach to identifying the treating the root causes of chronic disease. A registered dietitian can earn this credential from the Integrative and Functional Nutrition Academy.


Additional Common Questions

What is a registered dietetic technician?

Nutrition and Dietetics Technician, Registered (NDTR) is an alternative credential you can earn from the CDR. NDTRs play a supportive role to registered dietitians. They help evaluate people’s nutritional status, educate people about food choices and monitor their progress while under a dietitian’s care. The credential requires a two-year associate degree, 450 hours of supervised practice and passing an exam.

What is a certified nutrition specialist?

Certified Nutrition Specialist (CNS) is a certification offered by the U.S. Board for Certification of Nutrition Specialists (BCNS). A CNS is a healthcare professional with an advanced degree (a master’s or doctorate) who’s chosen to specialize in nutrition. Like dietitians, CNSs earn their credentials through a combination of specialized coursework, supervised practice and passing a certifying exam.

A certified nutrition specialist has similar expertise to a dietitian, and they might have a similar career. But their title isn’t as nationally recognized or legally standardized as a dietitian’s is. Some states will license a CNS to practice medical nutrition therapy, and others won’t. A CNS may also have trouble distinguishing themselves from noncredentialed practitioners calling themselves “nutritionists.”

A note from Cleveland Clinic

Nutrition is a global, local and individual concern, and dietitians can contribute on all these fronts. They offer science-backed strategies to help meet people’s general and specific nutrition needs. Whether they’re working in a clinical or community setting, behind the scenes or directly with patients, dietitians improve people’s health and wellbeing in important and sometimes crucial ways.

Medically Reviewed

Last reviewed on 11/02/2023.

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