Breaking Down the Master’s Degree Mandate for Dietitians

Dietitian master's degree mandate

Helping You Understand the Upcoming Education Change for Registered Dietitians

By Sara Glanz, MS, RD, LD, CNSC

Perhaps you have heard about the changes the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics’ Commission on Dietetic Registration (CDR) is making regarding the need for a graduate level degree. Dietitians on Demand has done the research for you and has created this easy guide to help you navigate the changes.

What is Actually Changing?

Beginning on January 1, 2024, the CDR is raising the minimum required education level for prospective Registered Dietitians from a Bachelor’s degree to a graduate degree. In layman’s terms, this means that new dietitians will be required to hold a Master’s or Doctoral degree to be considered eligible to sit for the registration exam.

If you are already a practicing dietitian or will be registration eligible before the above date, don’t worry — these changes will not directly affect you.  Dietetic Technicians, Registered (DTRs) are also not affected by this change.  And of note, no other aspect of the eligibility requirements is changing.

Why is CDR Changing the Education Requirement?

A few reasons. According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, the rationale for the degree requirement change is basically three-fold.

  1. To keep pace with other healthcare practitioners. Other disciplines in healthcare are moving toward requiring advanced degrees. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics feels that dietitians should have similar education preparation.
  2. So that dietitians will be held in a higher regard. The Academy expects that dietitians with advanced degrees will be empowered to lead the nutrition care process, rather than simply participating.  This higher level of leadership will hopefully lead to more career advancement opportunities.
  3. To pave the way for higher compensation. The Academy notes that dietitians in 2010 were paid 40-45% less than other non-physician clinicians. In 2011, dietitians with a Master’s degree were paid an average of $5,000 more per year than those with only a Bachelor’s degree.

Other Details You Should Know

If you are considering a career as a dietitian and will be affected by this change in the education requirement, one interesting thing to note is that your graduate degree can be in any major or field of study. For example, if dietetics is your second career and you already hold an MBA, you do not need another advanced degree to meet the requirement. Or perhaps you would like to obtain a graduate degree in a complimentary field — counseling, marketing, psychology, public health, etc. Go for it. For now, any graduate degree in any field of study will satisfy the upcoming change.

In the future, the Academy is hoping to create “seamless” programs that will combine the dietetics required courses, satisfy the graduate level degree requirement, and provide supervised practice experience. These programs will likely not be available prior to the January 1, 2024 date when the minimum required education level will change to a graduate degree. However, it is something to look for in the future as dietetics programs evolve to meet these new educational requirements. If you would like to read the Academy’s full discussion of the upcoming education change, click here.

Sara Glanz, MS, RD, LD, CNSC, Malnutrition Awareness

Sara Glanz, MS, RD, LD, CNSC is a travel dietitian for Dietitians on Demand.  She is passionate about empowering dietitians to be more involved with the interdisciplinary healthcare team. Her favorite adventures while on assignment include:  The 17-Mile Drive in Monterey, CA; Lake Placid, NY; Montreal, Canada; and of course, the Jelly Belly® Jelly Bean and Ben & Jerry’s® ice cream factories located in Fairfield, CA and Burlington, VT, respectively.

Reference: Commission on Dietetic Registration. Graduate degree registration eligibility requirement; frequently asked questions. 2013.  https://www.cdrnet.org/vault/2459/web/files/GraduateDegreeFAQJan2017.pdf  Accessed October 22, 2017.

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