ORANGE! BLUE! My affinity for the University of Florida goes back more than 10 years ago as a fan while growing up in South Florida. It started when my sister attended for her undergrad and carried on through the times of Tim Tebow and Joakim Noah, college football and back to back basketball championships and ultimately moving to Gainesville. Then as a high school senior, I was accepted into all major Florida public universities except for UF. It’s clear now that this was not a rejection, but a redirection.
From an engineer to an ESPN journalist to an NBA basketball player, I never knew exactly what I wanted to be. When college apps came, I chose to attend the University of South Florida in Tampa and major in Cell & Molecular Biology, because 1) I enjoyed the Biology classes and labs and 2) I had to choose at orientation between that or Integrative or Marine Biology since general Biology was not an option. In college, I found my niche in research and developed an interest in helping others in some area of health and wellness.
My path became more clear to me after I went plant-based and rediscovered the passion I had growing up for food and nutrition. My parents can tell you the kitchen is where I often hung out and I played with pots and pans (I don’t remember). Through Instagram, I was first introduced to current and future dietitians and the possibility of becoming one myself. The decision to do so came after graduation when I returned to Gainesville and started working in nutrition-related research. I reached out to an advisor and found that UF conveniently offered a Post-Baccalaureate Dietetics program. After nearly two years of back-and-forth emails, repeats of Organic Chemistry I & II and Microbiology to improve grades and a thorough application, I’ve been accepted into the program!
My reasons for becoming a Dietitian include:
- more regulated than Nutritionist and more career opportunities in the U.S.
- ability to counsel others in addition to performing research
- applying my background in Biology to provide new insights in Dietetics
- helping to promote diversity in Dietetics and be a role model to other men
- an interest in sports nutrition and working with athletes
- experience with plant-based eating and wanting to help others with it
- helping to leverage the role of Dietitians in research
How to Become a Dietitian
Based on the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, here are steps I am taking through the Didactic Program in Dietetics (DPD) route to become an RD with a previous bachelors degree that is not in nutrition or dietetics:
1. Apply to and complete courses through an ACEND-accredited program to receive a verification statement.
This can be done at the undergrad or grad level. As a previous Biology major, I luckily already completed all the required science courses and am just missing the nutrition and food science courses. I’ve chosen to complete them at the undergrad level, because it’s the best local and financial option for me and all the masters programs (at least near me in Florida though can vary by state and university) are coordinated with an internship (MS-DI), which I can’t enter without the verification statement. I will earn a 2nd bachelors degree in addition to the verification statement. Completing these courses can take someone anywhere from 2 to 4 semesters (like me) to possibly longer if you have a totally unrelated previous degree. I considered an online program, like Kansas State University, but preferred this on-campus option due to the convenience and in-person connections. To increase your chance at internships, it’s recommended to maintain a GPA of 3.0 or higher and a certain amount of nutrition-related work or volunteer experience.
2. Apply to and complete an ACEND-accredited supervised dietetic internship program.
This can be with or without a masters degree program portion, but starting in 2024, a graduate degree will be required to be eligible to take the dietetic registration exam. Anyhow, completing the masters degree can offer an advantage, which is the route I’m taking. Completing the required courses and the internship at separate institutions helps if you want to take some time off prior to the internship to gain additional experience or are seeking to move to another location for it. The internship involves 1200 hours of supervised practice and can take about 8 to 24 months. The process to get matched into an internships can be competitive due to the shortage of internships compared to the number of applicants with about a 50% match rate.
3. Take and pass the Commission on Dietetic Registration’s dietetic registration exam.
Data over the previous years suggest an average pass rate of 75% or higher for first-time test takers. The exam can be repeated multiple times if failed, though the passing rate has been consistently lower below average for repeat test takers.
4. Get licensed in your state of practice (if applicable) and maintain continuing education credits.
Where do Dietitians Work
Many Registered Dietitians work in traditional settings, including hospitals, clinics, care centers and community and public health programs, school foodservice or as college and university faculty. Other roles are now also available in sports programs, media and technology, food blogging, research, private practice and a variety of other areas.
For more resources and info on becoming a Dietitian, visit the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics website.
I would have never considered a public health profession years ago while I was more reserved, but this is the opportunity to continue to make strides outside comfort zones with something I am very passionate about. I am excited to begin this journey, looking forward to connecting with other dietetic students and dietitians and becoming a resource to help others.
…and it’s great to be a Florida Gator!