Hi friends! I’m taking a break from my road trip recaps to finally address your most commonly asked question: why did I decide to become a Registered Dietitian vs. a Nutritionist vs. a Health Coach?
To be frank: there is no simple answer to this question, which is one reason why it took me so long to write this post (thank you for your patience!) I’ve been chipping away at it for a few months now, but decided it was time to hit ‘publish.’
Just a reminder: I aim to be open and fair with the information that I share on this blog. If anyone reads something that is inaccurate, please feel free to send me an email or leave a comment below. As with any major decision regarding an individual’s career, mine was a personal choice influenced by various factors that I’ve highlighted below.
Part 1: Back to the basics
Before we begin, let’s review the basics. What is a Registered Dietitian (RD)?
You can find the detailed answer here, but in summary: RD’s are food and nutrition experts who have met approved criteria (by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics) to earn the RD credential. This criteria involves:
- Obtaining a bachelors or masters degree through an accredited program
- Completion of 1,200 of supervised practice hours (typically takes between 9-12 months to complete)
- Passing the national exam
- Completing continuing education credits
What is a Nutritionist?
A Registered Dietitian is a Nutritionist, but a nutritionist is not a dietitian. There is no professional regulation of the term ‘nutritionist,’ nor is it legally protected in the United States. Anyone who claims to be a nutrition expert may call themselves a nutritionist, even if they are self-taught.
What is a Health Coach?
According to the Institute for Integrative Nutrition, a Health Coach is a wellness authority and supportive mentor who motivates individuals to cultivate positive health choices. Health Coaches educate and support clients to achieve their health goals through lifestyle and behavior adjustments.
Part 2: My decision-making process
Becoming a nutrition expert
Here’s what I knew: I wanted to become a nutrition expert, I wanted to dedicate the rest of my life to learning about a subject that I love, and I wanted to become a reputable resource. The best way to realize all three of these goals was with education and experience. Because of the time, resources, and risks associated with a complete career change, I knew that graduating from an accredited program would guarantee my success in the long run.
As we all know, free nutrition information is everywhere. It’s coming from friends, neighbors, articles, blog posts, advertisements, and more. But how do we sort out the BS from truth? We seek guidance from experts. Registered Dietitians go through a heck of a lot of training and evidenced-based education to earn their credential. I want to gain unequivocal trust from my clients and patients, and the RD credential will help build that confidence.
Finding my dream job
Equally as important as studying a subject that I love, was graduating with the skills needed to be a competitive job candidate. In the preliminary stages of my decision to become an RD, I read through job descriptions to gauge the types of positions I would be interested in. Almost every job that peaked my interest required that I have the RD credential ← that made my decision really easy!
I was also drawn to the versatility of the RD credential. The field of dietetics is really diverse and definitely does not limit students to only working in hospital settings. Some examples of nutrition focus areas include: corporate wellness, sports nutrition, food policy, maternal and child health, private practice, community health, geriatric health, and many more. Without the RD credential, it would be difficult to work in many of these focus areas.
The path of least resistance
I talked previously about the challenges I faced trying to get experience in the field. I faced a double-edged sword: no one was willing to hire me as an intern because I had no experience, but graduate schools were less likely to accept me into their programs with no experience.
The same goes the for the job market – without education or experience, it would have been nearly impossible to get a nutrition-related job because of my limited knowledge of the field. The easiest way to break into the nutrition field was going back for my masters degree. I have always aspired to continue my education – it just took some time to figure out what I wanted to go back to study 😉
Part 3: Why nutrition?
Deciding it was worth the investment
It was financially scary to give up an well-paying job and take on a significant amount of school debt. However, I looked at it as an investment in my happiness for the rest of my life ← can you put on a price on that? I also researched the programs that I applied to inside and out to make sure I would have a good chance of graduating with a job. LinkedIn was my best resource for looking at UW alums to see what they are doing now (I found lots of encouraging results!)
It’s a growing field
There’s no doubt that the nutrition field will continue to grow, especially as the prevalence of diet-related diseases increases. Just a few weeks ago Young Invincibles, an organization that focuses on representing the interests of 18-34 year olds through cutting edge policy research and analysis, released a list of the 25 Most Promising Jobs for Millennials. I bet you can guess what #20 was…Dietitians/Nutritionists! Their study predicts a 21% career growth by 2022: great news for those of us studying to become an RD 😉
I love it
There will never be a day when I find nutrition boring. It’s impossible! Nutrition-related research is constantly changing and there are always new topics to learn and discuss. For better or worse, the majority of people who find out that I’m studying nutrition love to pick my brain about the latest nutrition fads (prior to listing off all the nutrition knowledge that they know 😉 ) Talking about nutrition is a great way to relate to a variety of people, and I could gush on about it for ages!
If you’re in the early stages of trying to figure out if you want to study nutrition, I recommend determining your dream job. Look online, set up informational interviews, talk to schools, and figure out the job you want. From there, determine what steps you need to take in order to become a competitive candidate. While I will always support and encourage you to follow your dreams, you need to make sure that you’re setting yourself up for success…and a job, too!
If you have any questions, please feel free to email me. Happy Friday everyone!
- I know that a lot of my readers have studied/are studying nutrition, so please weigh in!