What School Subjects or Courses Will Help Me Prepare for a Dietitian Career?

by Dr. Mary Dowd Google

A dietetics major can prepare you to counsel individuals across the lifespan on nutritional needs, wellness and disease prevention. The dietetic curriculum draws from multiple disciplines, such as biology, chemistry, nutrition science, psychology, communication and business. Dietitians must be licensed in most states, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. To become a registered dietitian, you’ll need to earn a degree from an accredited dietetics program, complete an internship approved by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, and pass the national RD examination.

Prerequisite Classes

Because the dietetics curriculum is science-based, the College Board recommends taking chemistry and biology classes in high school. Also suggested is family and consumer science, which introduces students to the field of food science and nutrition. Some schools have very specific requirements for acceptance into the dietetic program. For example, Iowa State will admit recent high school graduates into the dietetic major if they finished in the upper half of their class and fulfilled course prerequisites – four years of English/language, two years of algebra, one year of geometry, three years of science and two years of social studies.

Science-Related Subjects

A broad science foundation ensures that students can handle advanced food science courses. In keeping with the accreditation standards of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, dietetic students enroll in science courses like biochemistry, organic chemistry, physiology, microbiology and genetics. Subjects like biochemistry also help students understand how vitamins and pharmaceuticals work. Knowledge of science can be applied in situations such as explaining to a patient why a low-sodium diet is advisable in addition to high blood pressure medication.

Core Nutrition Classes

Nutrition science classes entail in-depth study of the complex physiological relationship between nutrition and bodily functions. Students research nutritional theories, trends and evidence-based practices. Students acquire hands-on skills in nutrition assessment, intervention strategies, counseling techniques and professional ethics. To prepare students for dietary careers in business, education and health care, students also study food service management, commercial food preparation and business administration. For example, Auburn University’s dietitian training program offers nutrition classes like food systems operations, experimental food science, and nutrition and food services.

Supervised Internship

After fulfilling requirements for a degree in dietetics, students may apply for a 1,200-hour dietetic internship at a site approved by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. A national computerized system of matching students to internship programs processes the applications. Competition is keen. The University of Minnesota suggests that even a 3.8 GPA may not suffice for admission if a student doesn’t have volunteer experience and strong faculty recommendation letters. Students offered an internship gain valuable, supervised experience counseling clients on food and nutrition.

About the Author

Mary Dowd holds a doctorate in educational leadership and a master's degree in counseling and student personnel from Minnesota State University, Mankato. In her 20 years of higher education experience, she has taught classes, served as interim dean of students, and worked in many areas of student affairs, including student discipline, career advising, orientation and violence prevention.

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