ROLL TIDE! That’s right, I’m a ‘Bama girl. I am currently earning my Bachelors of Science (B.S) in Human Environmental Sciences with a Major in Food and Nutrition through the University of Alabama’s Bama By Distance program. This means I take my classes online but what it really means is that I don’t have to put on pants to go to class! I did a lot of research to find not only this program, but a program that was right for me and what I want to do – the fact that it doesn’t require me to leave my bed is a perk.
In this post you'll find: my career goals, the program I'm in and why, prerequisites for the program, and the difference between a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and a Nutritionist. Towards the end of the post are the steps to earning the RDN credentials and how I got started. Enjoy!
My goal is to be a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN) and soon after, a Certified Diabetes Educator (CDE)*. One thing I’m not too bad at is being a Type 1 Diabetic and balancing being one with being a normal twenty-something. I want to use this very special superpower of mine to help others dealing with similar situations whether it be diabetes or other chronic illnesses.
*This title is changing at the start of 2020 from Certified Diabetes Educator (CDE) to Certified Diabetes Care and Education Specialist (CDCES)!
I decided on this program because I’ve been there and done that. I went to St. Mary’s College of California in Moraga for my first degree straight out of high school and graduated in 2017 with a Bachelor of Arts in Global and Regional Studies with a focus on Europe and a minor in Italian! It’s a mouthful, I know. Having already done the whole college thing, gone to the parties, felt the pain and stress of finals week, I wasn’t super keen on going back to a campus for this degree. So an online program was perfect.
When I realized I wanted to apply to UA, I was currently taking the standard prerequisites for programs in dietetics (they’re not all the same, but they have a lot in common). One of my nutrition professors during these prerequisite days had actually received her RDN certification by attending the same program at UA, so having a trustworthy resource like her was a huge player in the decision-making.
After starting my program slowly with two classes, I've learned that what I really like about the program is the way we interact with our professors and fellow classmates. For an online program, there's a lot of communication between real people in the program. I have video chats with my professors, and Facebook groups with my graduating class. I also like how I can listen to lectures where ever, and I can also pause them when ever. You definitely can't do that to a professor in person.
The price of the program isn’t based on a semester tuition like a lot of universities but rather a pay-by-credit, which means that I pay per the class I choose to take each semester. As of Fall 2019, the tuition is $375/per credit hour. There are also payment plans for the tuition, making paying for the degree easier on the wallet. I recommend starting with one or two classes for the first semester to get a feel for the university and how classes are set-up. Depending on how many classes are taken each semester, the degree can take anywhere between 2-4 years! This also depends on how many prerequisites are completed by the time of admission, I spent over a year doing the prerequisites before applying.
I would strongly suggest double checking these prerequisites before registering for classes but I want to give you an idea of the classes they want under your belt by the time of admission:
· Introduction to Chemistry
· Introduction to Organic Chemistry
· Anatomy and Physiology I
· Anatomy and Physiology II
These classes also have to transfer equivalently to the University of Alabama to be counted towards the degree. I found that Barton Community College has a lot of transfer classes if you’re looking to do some or most of the prerequisites online as well.
An important part of getting started is understanding the difference between a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and a Nutritionist. These two titles are used interchangeably all the time but there’s a huge distinction between their scope, length of education and training. All RDNs must go through a program approved by ACEND (Accreditation Council for Education in Nutrition and Dietetics) followed by supervised practice…and then a national exam. The accredited programs are extensive and cover classes that include things from food and nutrition sciences to introductory food research courses while to earn certification as a nutritionist (sometimes called Certified Nutritionist Counselor) there are certification programs one can go through with a GED or high school diploma.
To put it simply, the title of nutritionist isn’t regulated so they have more freedom with their information and don’t risk losing their titles since anyone can call themselves one, but RDNs go through extensive education and training and must maintain their board’s certification as well as follow a code of ethics.
I wanted to create a clearly laid out plan for those with the same dream of becoming a Registered Dietitian, something I wish I had while researching and finding my path towards those letters.
Steps to RDN Credentials:
1. Complete specific courses approved by ACEND through their accredited programs. There are more undergraduate than there are graduate and only three online programs - one of them being the University of Alabama’s distance program.
2. Internship (1,200 hours of supervised practice at healthcare facility- there are two types of programs: Didactic Dietetics Program and Coordinated Dietetics Program.
-DDP - the internship is done the coursework is completed
-CPD - the internship is intertwined in these programs
3. The last step- Pass the national exam! These courses and internship are to prepare you for this exam that once passed will hand you those special letters and you’ll be a Registered Dietitian.
How I Got Started:
1. RESEARCH RESEARCH RESEARCH
I first started by going to https://www.eatrightpro.org/acend/accredited-programs/about-accredited-programs and narrowing down the options by knowing where I wanted to, physically. I wasn’t in the place to move cities so I looked for an online or distance program that would allow me to work remotely.
2. REACH OUT
-When I found programs I was interested in, I sent an e-mail to the admissions office or sometimes a director in charge of the program to ask about requirements and to explain what direction I was coming from.
-Having a previous bachelors, I found that some programs put second-bachelors students on the back burner when it came to class registration. This means that I would be one of the last people to register for classes and would most likely not receive a great schedule.
-I also find that pre-requisites for schools can be hard to nail down (they’re constantly changing!). So by asking a representative from the college or university, you get a more accurate list of what courses you’ll need to complete prior to application
Find out those due dates and get those applications in! But make sure most of your pre-requisite courses are done! With University of Alabama, I was able to have a couple incomplete pre-requisites at the time of application but always double check!
I hope this helps get you on the right path! Health and wellness is a blossoming field in the medical industry so we need more Registered Dietitian Nutritionists out there!