Do Registered Dietitians Need Graduate Degrees?
The general rule of thumb in most professions is that the more education you have, the higher your earnings potential and the more qualified you are to dispense sound advice. But does that necessarily hold true for Registered Dieticians?
According to an Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND) Compensation and Benefits Survey nearly half of all RDs hold master’s degrees while four percent possess PhDs. Graduate degrees not only enable RDs to concentrate on a certain area, but they also open the playing field for managerial posts, often with higher pay. A 2011 AND Compensation and Benefits Survey revealed that RDs with a master’s degree earn almost $5,000 more per year than those with only a bachelor’s degree.
Christine Karpinski, PhD, RD, CSSD, LDN, and Mary Beth R. Gilboy, PhD, MPH, RD, LDN point out that dietitians at any level are often regarded as assistants rather than leaders in nutrition care, a view that can stifle career advancement. A 2012 AND Visioning Report, suggests that future entry-level RDs hold a graduate degree, master’s degree, or a practice doctorate (a degree that mandates clinical experience). The report projects that the demand for advanced-level RDs will rise in many areas, especially in the areas of aging, diabetes and obesity. The report also notes that such advanced practitioners would hold at least a master’s degree, have eight or more years of experience as an RD or a DTR, and ideally be board-certified as a specialist. They may even hold an advanced practice credential in their practice area.
Some oppose the AND, saying that it’s trying to monopolize medical nutrition therapy, and that many master’s degree and PhD nutritionists and Naturopathic Doctors (NDs) are just as qualified as degreed and credentialed RDs. Rosanne Rust, MS, RD, LDN believes that most RDs aren't concerned with master’s degree or PhD nutritionists or Certified Clinical Nutritionists (CCN). What alarms RDs are the undereducated self-proclaimed “nutritionists” who seek to practice nutrition without a license. RDs are also concerned about billing for medical nutrition therapy (MNT), something for which they're educated and trained. The concern, notes Rust, is that consumers may be misled by fad diets or other radical methods espoused by unqualified nutritionists to treat or “cure” disease. These methods/diets are often not based on science. In contrast, MS, PhD, CCN, ND professionals have the necessary education in nutrition to offer sound advice.
If you’re an RD with a bachelor’s degree, you might consider earning an advanced degree, which could enable you to acquire more certifications in your area of specialty, make you more promotable, and equip you to provide better patient care.