by Jack Norris, RD • Last updated Jan 2018
- Dietetics Education in the U.S.
- Dietetics Education and Vegan Ethics
- Vegetarian Nutrition Dietetic Practice Group
I’ve been contacted by so many vegan advocates who are considering becoming a dietitian that I decided to put together some general points to consider.
Becoming an RD will give you expertise and authority when discussing nutrition with people. If you know you’ll be working in government or institutional food policy, having an RD next to your name can be beneficial.
Let me explain why I became an RD, because my circumstances were unique. I’m the co-founder of Vegan Outreach and after four years running it, I realized that nutrition questions were slowing our progress in spreading veganism. After reading all the popular books on vegan nutrition, I didn’t find the answers we needed, so I decided to get some formal training in science and nutrition. After graduating, I moved into working for Vegan Outreach full-time—I was lucky in that a job related to dietetics was already waiting for me.
Dietetics Education in the U.S.
To become an RD you must get an undergraduate degree in nutrition and dietetics. Starting in 2024, you must also have a graduate degree, typically a master’s degree. You must also perform a dietetic internship of anywhere from 6–24 months, normally in a hospital setting. With rare exceptions, you must pay the institution to do this internship. Finally, you have to take the RD exam with the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. There are also combined RD and masters programs which are a bit different.
For more information, see the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics Student Member Center.
Dietetics Education and Vegan Ethics
The trend in dietetics is to encourage people to eat more plant foods. However, in food science you might be asked to work with animal products and there will be times when you’re asked to taste non-vegan foods. Most professors I encountered were open-minded about not forcing people to violate their ethics or religion when it came to tasting or working with animal products. You should probably find out before you enter a program what their policy is.
During my education, I wouldn’t taste animal products, but I did work with dairy in food science, blood agar in microbiology classes, and had to calculate dairy-based tube-feedings during my internship in the hospital. I had to encourage some patients with kidney failure to eat more protein and the only protein foods provided as options were animal products. I had to take vaccines to get into the dietetic internship.
Jobs in vegetarian advocacy tend to be geared towards working for organizations that use RDs. These days, there are a number of organizations who might use an RD—the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, the Vegetarian Resource Group, the Humane Society of the United States, among others. That said, the jobs are fairly limited.
There are also a number of medical programs that work with clients to eat plant-based diets—they change from time to time.
It seems that more plant-based RDs are able to make a living in private practice, however, it’s not something you can do right from the start if you need a full-time income. Similarly, some plant-based RDs are able to make a living writing books, articles, food blogging, and speaking. It’s not terribly lucrative in most cases, but it’s possible. Just have a plan B if you decide to go that route.
There are many jobs in the field of dietetics and nutrition and if you’re ambitious you might be limited only by your imagination. Some RDs get MBAs, and and it might be possible to land a job marketing vegetarian products with such a degree.
Vegetarian Nutrition Dietetic Practice Group
The Vegetarian Nutrition Dietetic Practice Group is a very useful resource.