Registered dietitians have many opportunities to specialize in nutrition, with a master’s degree providing even more options. Many dietitians open their own practices, offering more than one practice area, while others work for institutions. Knowing your options will help you decide if adding a master’s degree is necessary for what you want to do, or if the master’s you have offers you additional job possibilities.
Registered Dietitian Nutritionists
The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics now refers to its members as registered dietitian nutritionists. This designation requires a college degree in nutrition, followed by a nine-month internship. After the internship, candidates sit for certification testing to earn their title. Once certified, RDNs must take continuing education courses, which can lead to additional certification in specialty areas such as sports nutrition or pediatrics. RDNs join specific practice groups to keep current and expand their knowledge about specific areas of nutrition.
Adding a master’s degree allows you to add specialty expertise to a dietetics practice. For example, after earning a degree in nutrition and obtaining certification, an RDN with a master’s in exercise physiology will be a more attractive consultant to professional athletes, sports teams, high schools and colleges. A master’s degree doesn’t have to pigeonhole you as one type of dietitian, but can be a helpful marketing tool if you want to expand your options in a specific field.
One career path for registered dietitians is to work for institutions such as hospitals, clinics, colleges, universities, senior-care homes or rehabilitation facilities. These RDNs help plan an institution’s menus, consult with individual patients and clients and work with the organization’s kitchen staff on food purchasing, handling, storage and preparation. One of the key benefits of institutional jobs includes focusing more on dietetic work and less on running your own business. These jobs might provide more security and more regular hours.
Starting your own practice offers you more options to spread your wings and explore different areas that interest you. While you might specialize in one area using your master's degree, you can also offer services to individuals looking for help with medical issues, weight control, pre- and postnatal diets, sports nutrition and child-care advice. You can retain institutional and business clients, as well, offering restaurant or cafeteria menu planning, corporate wellness consulting, professional sports teams consulting or other services for a business that can’t afford a full-time, in-house dietitian. Opening a private practice gives you the flexibility to work when and where you want and can lead to a larger income as you add staff who work for you. A private practice also comes with all of the marketing, personnel, finance and small-business issues that face entrepreneurs. RDNs with business practices earned $85,000 to $88,000 in median pay in 2010, according to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
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