Nutritionist and Dietitian Certification and Licensing

Nutritionist studying for her certification

Licensing and certification are two separate concepts when it comes to food science professionals, and both are extremely important foundational concepts to grasp. Certification, which can also be called registration or credentialing, is the process by which a national credentialing body certifies your education, experience and examination status. Licensing, on the other hand, is done at the state level, by a state’s Board of Nutrition and Dietetics, and legally allows a credentialed, certified food service professional to practice within that state. 

Keep this mantra in the front of your mind: all dietitians are nutritionists, but not all nutritionists are dietitians. Here, we will examine the certification and licensure process for Registered Dietitians, Registered Dietitian Nutritionists, and Nutritionists. 

Registered Dietician Certification and Licensure

All Registered Dietitians must become certified through the Commission on Dietetic Registration (CDR) of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. 

Certification of Registered Dietitians

Registered Dietitians, who may also be referred to as Registered Dietitian Nutritionists, are credentialed by the CDR. While this is truly a registration process, it is often called certification (think of it as national certification, if that makes it easier to recall). Indeed, it is a national certification, as once you have earned the RD or RDN credential, you are authorized to use that credential in any state (once you become licensed to practice there, that is, if that state requires licensure). 

In order to qualify to sit for the CDR’s RD examination, you must meet eligibility requirements. The options are as follows:

Option 1 – Completion of a Didactic Program in Dietetics and a Dietetic Internship

  • Under this option, you must first complete a Didactic Program in Dietetics (DPD) that has received accreditation from the Accreditation Council for Education in Nutrition and Dietetics (ACEND). This program may be at the bachelor’s or master’ s degree level. (As of January 1, 2024, however, all accredited programs will be at the master’s level or higher). A listing of programs may be found here.
  • Then, after completing the DPD, you must complete an ACEND-accredited Dietetic Internship (DI). It must include at least 1200 hours of supervised practice. A listing of programs is here.

Option 2 – Completion of a Coordinated Program in Dietetics 

  • Under this option, you must complete an ACEND-accredited bachelor’s degree or higher Coordinated Program in Dietetics (CP). This program will combine coursework with at least 1200 hours of supervised practice. A listing of programs is here.

Option 3 – Completion of a Future Education Model Graduate Program 

  • This option requires you to complete an ACEND-accredited graduate-level, competency-based dietitian nutritionist program of study that integrates coursework and a minimum of 1000 hours of experiential learning. A listing of accredited programs is here.
  • It is referred to as “future education model” because as of January 1, 2024, all programs will require a graduate degree or higher for RD/RDN eligibility.

Option 4 – Completion of a DPD Individualized Supervised Practice Pathway (ISPP)

  • This option is for those who complete an ACEND-accredited DPD program but did not match with a DI program. 
  • Thus, you will complete an ACEND-accredited DPD ISPP program under this option. A listing of such programs here.

Option 5 – Completion of a Doctorate Individualized Supervised Practice Pathway

  • Completion of this option requires you to first have a doctoral degree by an institution recognized by the US Department of Education.
  • Then, you must complete an ACEND-accredited doctorate ISPP program. A listing of accredited programs is here.

Once you have fulfilled the education and experience requirements above, you are eligible to sit for the Registration Examination for Dietitians. This exam is administered by Pearson VUE. The examination will test your knowledge of four major areas of nutrition and dietetics:

  • Principles of Dietetics
  • Nutrition Care for Individuals and Groups
  • Management of Food and Nutrition Programs and Services
  • Foodservice Systems

When you pass the CDR exam, you will earn the credential RD (or RDN, if you prefer to use that). You will now be eligible for your state’s licensing process.

Maintaining your RD/RDN credential requires that you pay a yearly registration fee. You must also complete 75 credits of continuing education every five years, with one credit in ethics.

Advanced Certification for Registered Dietitians

Once you have received your RD/RDN credential and have gained some professional experience, you may wish to specialize in a particular field in nutrition and dietetics. The CDR offers these advanced nutrition certifications for those who have the requisite experience and education:

  • Board Certified Specialist in Sports Dietetics (CSSD)
  • Board Certified Specialist in Pediatric Nutrition (CSP)
  • Board Certified Specialist in Oncology Nutrition (CSO)
  • Board Certified Specialist in Renal Nutrition (CSR)
  • Board Certified Specialist in Obesity and Weight Management (CSOWM)
  • Board Certified Specialist in Gerontological Nutrition (CSG)
  • Board Certified in Pediatric Critical Care (CSPCC)
  • Advanced Practice Certification in Clinical Nutrition (RDN-AP)


State Licensure of Registered Dietitians

Most states require RDs and RDNs to become licensed or state-certified in order to legally practice there. This state licensure or state certification is typically done by a state’s Board of Nutrition and Dietetics. 

Every state has a different process and procedure for state licensure. Click on your state below to read about its state licensure requirements (if any) for RDs/RDNs.

(include links to state pages here)

Nutritionist Certification and Licensure 

Nutritionists, on the other hand, are not necessarily dietitians (although they might be). Some nutritionists have taken the CDR exam for RDs/RDNs and can refer to themselves as a Registered Dietitian. Others, however, may have credentials through another certifying body, or have no credentials at all. 

Certification of Nutritionists

Nutritionists may become certified through a variety of agencies. The two most commonly seen ones are the Clinical Nutrition Certification Board (CNCB) and the Board for Certification of Nutrition Specialists (BCNS). This certification is done at a national level, and once obtained, allows that professional to practice as a Certified Clinical Nutritionist (CCN) or Clinical Nutrition Specialist (CNS) in any state that recognizes that credential. 

Certified Clinical Nutritionist (CCN)

The process to become a CCN through the CNCB is as follows:

  • Obtain one of the following degrees:
    • Bachelor of science from an accredited university, with core science and core nutrition coursework included
    • An advanced professional degree in a licensed health care field, including core science coursework (i.e., for those with a BS in nursing, RD, MD, Do, Pharm D, etc)
    • A master or doctoral degree in human nutrition, with core science and core nutrition coursework included
  • Complete the online Post Graduate Studies in Clinical Nutrition (PGSCN) program
  • Submit a notarized exam application once you have completed the online course
  • Take the 3-hour CCN examination (in person or online). It covers these major areas:
    • Optimal human nutrition
    • Cognition and sensory overload
    • Detoxification, herbology and homeopathic therapy
    • Laboratory assessment

Clinical Nutrition Specialist (CNS)

You may become a CNS through the BCNS by following the educational and examination pathway below that fits your situation:

  • If you have a master’s or doctoral degree in nutrition or a related field, or doctoral degree in clinical healthcare, you must:
    •  Complete 35 credit hours of coursework in core competencies of nutrition as indicated by the CNS Examination Content Outline. This includes graduate and undergraduate courses in nutrition science, biochemistry, anatomy/physiology, clinical or life sciences, and behavioral science
    • Complete a supervised practice experience of at least 1000 hours
    • Pass a certification examination, covering:
      • Fundamental Principles of Nutrition
      • Nutrients and Human Health
      • Nutrition Assessment
      • Clinical Intervention and Monitoring
      • Public health
      • Practice management
  • If you are already a RD/RDN, you must:
    • Have a master’s degree or higher in nutrition or a related field
    • Complete 35 credit hours of coursework in nutrition as described above
    • Document completion of a dietetic internship, one personalized nutrition case within the past five years, and 75 continuing education credits in personalized nutrition within the past five years
    • Pass the certification examination
  • If you are an MD or DO, you must:
    • Hold current licensure to practice medicine in the US
    • Complete 35 hours of coursework in nutrition as indicated above
    • Complete 1000 hours of supervised practice in clinical nutrition
    • Pass the certification examination


State Licensure of Nutritionists

Not all states require nutritionists to become licensed or state-certified in order to legally be allowed to practice there. Again, this is usually handled by a state’s Board of Nutrition and Dietetics. Click on your state below to read about its state licensure requirements (if any) for Nutritionists.