Road to RDville: Who’s the expert? (Part 2)

Yesterday, in Part 1 of this post, I took issue with statements made by the executive director of the Certification Board for Nutrition Specialists that registered dietitians (RDs) and registered dietitian nutritionists (RDNs) aren’t certified in, and don’t practice, science-based clinical nutrition. Let’s do a little comparison, shall we?

First, we’ll look at the requirements for CNS certification:

  1. MS or doctoral degree in nutrition from an accredited U.S. college or university, or foreign equivalent, or a Doctoral degree in another field of clinical healthcare.
  2. At least 9 semester credits of nutrition, six credits of biochemistry, minimum three credits of physiology or anatomy/physiology and minimum 12 semester credits in clinical or life sciences.
  3. 1,000 hours supervised practice experience with minimum requirements in the areas of: nutrition assessment (200 hours); nutrition intervention, education, counseling or management (200 hours); nutrition monitoring or evaluation (200 hours).
  4. Successful completion of the CBNS Certifying Examination.
  5. Recertification every five years and documentation of 75 continuing nutrition education credits.

Now, let’s see what I’ve been up to, and what I still have to achieve, in my quest to become an RDN:

  1. Working on my MPH in Nutritional Sciences from an accredited U.S. university. My coursework is exactly the same as my fellow students who are pursuing their MS, except that I take even more coursework.
  2. I have well over nine credit hours of nutrition. I completed six credits of biochemistry, seven credits of anatomy/physiology and 21 credit hours of clinical or life sciences (biology, chemistry, organic chemistry, microbiology) as prerequisites in the two years before applying to grad school. (To compare apples to apples, I converted all my quarter credits to semester credits.)
  3. I have eight weeks left in the 1100+ hours of supervised practice experience I am required to complete. About 900 hours of that falls into the realm of the minimum requirements mentioned for the CNS credential.
  4. Once I graduate, I have to successfully complete the RD/RDN credentialing exam.
  5. After that, I have to maintain my credentials by completing 75 continuing nutrition education credits every five years, and those credits have to be in line with my practice area and specified goals.
  6. I have the option of seeking specialized certification in specific areas of nutrition and dietetics (and I fully plan to exercise that option).

Regarding the “science-based clinical nutrition” comment, I refer you to the above list of how I’ve been spending my time and tuition dollars for the last 3 years and 9 months, but I would also like to point out the rigor of my graduate coursework, much of which uses peer-reviewed scientific journal articles as our primary “text.”

For my year-long Nutrition and Metabolism class, alone, we had several assigned articles for each of the twice-weekly classes, which is taught by a non-RD faculty member who does research on atherosclerosis and related health problems. In fact, most of the faculty in my program are actively conducting and publishing scientific research on nutrition and/or disease.

As for my “dietetics” education, that consisted of several additional classes that covered nutrition education, nutrition counseling, nutrition in acute care (with lab), food safety, management, and maternal and infant nutrition. Some of those were more “science” some were more “art,” but even the classes that were about the art of providing nutrition information were based on behavioral research.

Currently, RDs/RDNs do not have to have a graduate degree in nutrition, but that will change. By 2024, only graduate programs will be accredited. While I think that’s a good thing, generally, I will say that I know many RDs in clinical practice who do not have a graduate degree, but are very science focused and stay abreast of the current literature. Also, the competition for dietetic internships¬†is fierce…you don’t get to become an RD/RDN by being a slacker.

Ironically, I’ve toyed with the idea of also earning CNS certification. There are quite a few RDs/RDNs who do go for that second credential. I’ll have met all the requirements, but it would mean filling out a lengthy application and studying for another big exam. And there are other specialized credentials/certifications that I have my eye on. Given that I already own most of the books on the CNS exam prep list, and I am such a sucker for advanced learning, I’ll probably do it. But first things first!