Those hoping to begin a career as a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist have an exciting opportunity to combine advanced coursework and experiential learning in a new graduate offering from the Department of Nutritional Sciences at the University of Arizona. The Dietetics Emphasis of the Professional Science Masters (PSM) in Applied Nutrition allows future dietitians to meet the requirements to sit for the national registration exam in a streamlined, twelve-month graduate program.
While the term "nutritionist" abounds in the wellness sector and in certain areas of the internet, "registered dietitian" (RD) and "registered dietitian nutritionist" (RDN) refer specifically to nutrition professionals who have earned a nationally recognized credential program of specific coursework in food, nutrition, and science; a minimum of 1000-1200 hours of supervised practice; and passing a national registration exam.
Soon, it will also include earning a graduate degree.
Beginning in 2024, the Commission on Dietetic Registration (CDR) will require a minimum of a master's degree for all students who want to sit for the national registration exam. That's where the new Dietetics Emphasis of the PSM in Applied Nutrition comes in.
"When [a master's degree requirement] was announced, we felt like we were prepared to jump in with a new, accredited program right away," says Kayle Skorupski, who directs the new graduate program. "We already had an online master's degree, we had an internship where we worked with students across the country, so we were already aligning ourselves to ask the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (ACEND) to accredit us."
ACEND approved the Dietetics Emphasis of the PSM in Applied Nutrition in the fall of 2020, and the first cohort of students will begin their studies in June 2021.
"This program is a little different than the Nutrition and Wellness Emphasis of the PSM," Skorupski explains. "It's a full-time program, designed to be completed in twelve months. Students start off in the summer with online courses, and then in the fall and spring semesters they'll continue to take online coursework but will also spend four days a week on-site completing their required supervised experiential learning. When they graduate from the program in May, they'll be eligible to sit for the registration exam to become a registered dietitian."
Unlike most other ACEND-accredited graduate programs, the Dietetics Emphasis of the PSM in Applied Nutrition offers options for distance learners. Prospective students can choose either to complete the program in Tucson, or they can find experiential learning sites in their own communities.
"We're on the forefront of distance learning," says Skorupski. "It does put a little more work on the applicant because they have to make those connections with prospective sites, but we have materials on our website to help guide them. Because the classes are online, we can offer the opportunity to be asynchronous at a distance, which very few other programs have."
Another advantage of the new program is that it accepts students with undergraduate degrees in a variety of fields.
"The wonderful thing about [this type of program] is that we're not limited to only accepting students with undergraduate degrees in dietetics," says Skorupski. "There are a lot of people out there who find dietetics as a second career - who have degrees in other things and then realize they want to come back and become dietitians. This is a great option for them."