Is Becoming a Dietitian Worth It?

With years of education needed and countless hours of volunteer experience in the field required, is becoming a dietitian worth it?

Like many, my career journey started with many years of school before I hit the ground running at my first job and I’m often asked, is becoming a dietitian worth it? For me, becoming a dietitian meant four years of undergraduate work, two years of graduate school, and another year gaining experience as a volunteer intern. Tack on countless more hours for the time I spent building Eat Chic Chicago when I decided that I wanted to start a nutrition private practice.

So what’s the verdict? Is becoming a dietitian worth it? For me, the answer is 100% yes.

headshot image of Amari Thomsen for interview about Is Becoming a Dietitian Worth it

My career path as a registered dietitian (RD) has been exciting, challenging, unpredictable, and filled with so many incredible opportunities that continue to enhance my passion for nutrition. I’ve worked incredibly hard to get here (working 70+ hours a week since graduating in 2011) – pushing myself out of my comfort zone, saying yes to every opportunity that comes my way and committing to put in the work for the long run – no finish line in sight.

And I wouldn’t change it for the world – because I get to do what I love every single day.


But I’m not the only one.


There are so many RDs in private practice doing great work out there – the areas of expertise are endless and everyone has a unique niche in the field. I am constantly receiving and answering questions from RDs-to-be about my practice and clients. And while I love sharing the details about what I do, the beauty of this career path is that no two nutrition private practices are alike. There is no “one journey” or “right way” to approach becoming a dietitian and building a nutrition business.

In effort to showcase this, we took to the field – interviewing gut nutrition expert and friend, Renee Clerkin about her personal journey and how she feels about the question – is becoming a dietitian worth it?


Is Becoming a Dietitian Worth It? – Interview with Renee Clerkin

Renee Clerkin RD, LDN, CLT is a registered dietitian passionate about health, nutrition and happiness. She attended Indiana University where she earned a B.S. in Applied Health Science with a concentration in dietetics and minor in psychology. She completed her Dietetic Internship at Ball State University and is a member of The American Dietetic Association and The American Overseas Dietetic Association. When she is not working, Renee enjoys yoga, running, being outside, traveling, cooking and spending time with her family and friends.

headshot image of Renee Clerkin for interview about Is Becoming a Dietitian Worth it

On Nutrition Philosophy…

What is your nutrition philosophy related to gut health and immunity?

Gut health is so important to overall health and plays a crucial role in our immunity. We know that roughly 75% of our immunity resides in our gut. So, you can’t look at gut health without looking at other immune disorders and you can’t look at immunity without considering gut health. A healthy functioning gut is the foundation of a healthy functioning body. So when counseling clients, I always start with a discussion on gut health.

Initially, no one really wants to talk about gut health. It is kind of like the elephant in the room. Most people aren’t sure what is normal or not in terms of gut function and often don’t recognize the significance of a healthy functioning gut. Many people feel like their body is their enemy and it really doesn’t have to be that way. Once people learn how to really work with their body, instead of against it, it trickles down into all areas of their life. Their body becomes an asset to living their life, instead of a liability. I really believe that gut health is a good place to start.


On Patient Care and Client Interaction…

Being in a field where information is constantly changing, how do you handle contradictions in research when speaking with your clients? (For example, dietary cholesterol and the impact blood cholesterol levels or low-fat foods versus full-fat foods.)  

I think it is important to maintain an open mind. Nutrition is not black and white and we don’t know all the answers. This is one of the things I love most about nutrition – it is constantly evolving as we gain new information. I believe our job as dietitians is to look at the latest research, incorporate what we already know, and remember to stay flexible because every client is different and what is right for one, may not be right for another. I believe there are some underlying core principles about nutrition that are timeless, such as eating mindfully and incorporating a variety of nutrient-dense foods that nourish the body. From there we should keep an open mind because everything is evolving and we are constantly gaining new insights.


On Nutrition Trends…

Can you share with me some of the top research topics you are following regarding gut health and what resources you find credible?  In other words, do you have a few “go to” sites that you always use to keep you up to date? 

I am a member of some groups like LEAP – Lifestyle Eating and Performance and Dietitians in Integrative and Functional Medicine. I sign up for their listservs so I can continuously get information sent to me and I try to tackle a little bit of new information as often as I can. It allows me to see what information is bouncing back and forth between the experts in the field. Today’s Dietitian is another resource I use often. I listen to a lot of online seminars and try to also read as many books as I can. I am constantly learning.


You mention that you read a lot of books.  Is there a particular book you have read recently that you would recommend? 

There is a really good book called A New IBS Solution by Dr. Pimentel who believes that IBS symptoms are caused by small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO). The book offers a fresh perspective for treating IBS symptoms and provides good information that is easy to understand.


What will be the next hottest nutrition topic?

I think gut health, overall, will continue to grow as a really hot topic. I think fermented foods, probiotics, and clean eating will all be relevant to this and will continue to be important topics in the years ahead. I also believe awareness about food, in general, is rising and people will want even more information about where their food is coming from. Things like GMOs and organic are big topics here. Oh, and definitely sugar. I think people will be paying more attention to information about sugar consumption and the consumption of refined or processed foods.


On Business…

What do you feel is the single most effective way to expand your client base? 

Well I should start by saying that networking is not really my thing. I realized it just doesn’t feel “authentic” to me. I really try to practice what I preach and I think it’s really important to be true to myself and nurture the person I really am. This is really important to growing your business, because your clients can sense that and feel that when you are working with them. I have been really lucky to be able to grow my client base organically through word of mouth by working this way. If you can truly connect with your clients, it just spreads.


On Being a Dietitian…

What are the most frustrating things about being a dietitian and how do you handle them? 

I think one of the most frustrating things is just how much information is out there in our field. It’s confusing and a lot of that information out there is extreme. It breaks my heart because people read about all these things and they are told, “don’t do this” and “do this” and is it just plain confusing for everyone. Sorting through all of that is tough for a lot of people. Another thing that is frustrating for me is the business side of being a dietitian. I really love people but am not at all a linear type of person so I struggle with many aspects of running a business and I am always working on getting better at this.

How about on the client side, is there anything you find frustrating? 

Not really, except maybe boundaries. But really this is more my problem than my clients’ problem. I think most people try to push the envelope a little bit just because it’s natural to want to do that. It is uncomfortable for me to say no to people because my nature is to want to help them. That’s why it is so important to put some policies in place and stand by them.

What are some of the rules you put in place to help you set those boundaries? 

I make all my clients aware that I won’t answer emails or phone calls over the weekend. Clients are free to email me with quick questions in between sessions but I make it clear that I won’t go into too much detail over email. The best time to discuss something is during the session, not over email.

With all of the competition in our field, what advice would give to new dietitians trying to find their niche and is becoming a dietitian worth it?

Finding something you really care about is really important because it makes things all that much easier. Most of the time, I find that people who are really successful have a personal experience that is driving them forward…something that gives them a unique perspective on what they are doing.  Also, it’s important that you do something that energizes you not something that makes you feel drained. This is where various internship experiences can really help you. For me, I used my internships to figure out what I did NOT want to do. I found clinical work very draining and it’s difficult to be good at something that drains you. As a general rule, what you enjoy ends up being what you are really good at. In the end, honor who you are and don’t worry too much about the competition because there’s a lot of work to be done and we can all have a spot.


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