How to be a Registered Dietitian

Wondering how to be a registered dietitian? You’re not alone. I am constantly receiving emails and phone calls from prospective students wanting to interview me and pick my brain about how I got my start as a Chicago dietitian and what advice I can give to aspiring dietitians. Finally I decided to put it down all on paper…err…blog post. Here’s my story.

Undergraduate History:

My career as a Registered Dietitian began back in college. As my final year of college at Loyola University of Chicago was approaching, I was contemplating my next educational move. I was a Biology student, so most of my friends were looking into med school applications and studying for the MCAT. I wasn’t so sure this is the route I wanted to go…another 7+ years of school, residency, blood and guts, cadavers…I decided to pass. But I still really loved the science field and helping people so I continued to search for alternatives.

Health and wellness had always been a hobby of mine – I loved taking yoga classes at the university gym, took up running, and even volunteered one spring on an organic farm in Michigan where I lived with a local family and learned about the daily duties of running an organic farm. It was here that I learned how much I really loved food. I would help collect eggs from the chicken coop, milk cows at the crack of dawn, cook dinner, and spend the evenings paging through cookbooks and seed catalogs at the kitchen table.

How to be a registered dietitian How to be a registered dietitian How to be a registered dietitian

I returned from this experience knowing I wanted to have a career in food and nutrition. So I began researching what that really meant. What type of additional education would I need? What certifications are required? Where do you even go to do any of this? I was clueless, but determined. So if you are like me and starting from square one, here is the checklist of what you will need:

 

An important note to make that many dietetic students are confused by is that different schools offer different combinations of these components. A school may offer…

  • ONLY the DPD program.
  • ONLY the Dietetic Internship.
  • BOTH the DPD program and the Dietetic Internship (some programs are “coordinated” meaning if you get excepted into the program you receive both the DPD and the Internship, while others are not).
  • And to complicate things even further, some schools only offer a DPD program that results in a Bachelor’s degree (BS), while other schools offer a DPD program that can result in a Master’s in either science of business (MS or MBA) or a Doctorate (PhD) degree.

 

Graduate School:

Ok, are you still with me? Good. If you are an aspiring dietitian, look at the options above and decide what you want your career to look like. Then, research schools that fit that criteria. I wanted to get my master’s in science (MS) and complete my internship via a coordinated program. Coordinated programs are great because they save time and energy (you only have to apply once versus applying to a DPD program and later a Dietetic Internship). However, that being said, they are also more competitive to get into.

I was willing to take my chances and of course devised a Plan B just in case. I wanted to stay in Chicago (since my boyfriend, now husband, would also be working here), so I applied to the Masters in Nutrition Coordinated Program at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC). As for Plan B, I also applied to the University of Nebraska at Lincoln program – born and raised in Omaha, NE this was my second choice. Even though it wasn’t a “coordinated” program, the school offered both the DPD program, a Dietetic Internship, and the option of pursuing an graduate degree.

Any DPD program you attend will be science based. You are required to take things like chemistry, anatomy, biochemistry and more. In researching these programs, I was thankful to have already completed most of the pre-requisite science classes from 4 years as a Biology major. However, there were a few I still needed and I later spent my summers completing pre-requisite requirements for BOTH schools just in case.

How to be a registered dietitian How to be a registered dietitian

Fast forward a year. I graduated from Loyola in 2008 and was on my way for UIC the following year to become an RD! I was over the moon with my career decision and couldn’t wait to get started! I spent two years completing coursework (during which I started my food blog – then called just Eat Chic), one year completing my internship (during which I ran my first half marathon and got engaged!), and finally graduated in 2011 armed and ready to take the RD exam. My final year in school I took up a job as a Nutrition Coach for Lifetime Fitness. I was commuting to my job by day and attending class by night. Oh yeah, and working in the university Biology lab on the weekends. Needless to say it was a busy year. We were planning a wedding, moving to a new place, and now I had to study for the RD exam…no pressure.

How to be a registered dietitian How to be a registered dietitian

 

Leading Up to Today:

I couldn’t have been prouder when I left the testing center officially a Registered Dietitian. With RD licensure in hand, and almost a year of Nutrition Coaching experience under my belt, it was time to begin working towards my dream of running my own nutrition private practice. In the meantime, I also took up a new gig with Whole Foods Market as a Healthy Eating Specialist. As part of the marketing team, I taught cooking classes, offered nutrition seminars and led grocery store tours – truly a dream job and one that was bittersweet to have to give up.

How to be a registered dietitian How to be a registered dietitian How to be a registered dietitian

But here I am today, a Registered Dietitian with a Master’s degree in Nutrition Science owning and operating my own nutrition private practice. It’s been (and continues to be) an adventure filled with hard work, fulfillment, and never a dull moment!

Check out my About page to learn more about my nutrition philosophy and how to contact me!

Comments

  1. It took me awhile longer to find the courage to go back to school. I’m looking in to schools right now and UIC’s program is one of them. I can’t seem to find much about their program outside of the university’s website. Would you be able to offer your perspective on the program? Any pros or cons? Thank you!

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