Specialty Certifications for Dietitians
Do you want to add a few more letters after your name? There are a variety of specialty credentials available for dietitians to pursue, depending on your area of practice.
If you are interested in specializing in your niche, growing yourself professionally, or even just making a little more money- keep reading about the opportunities for dietitians obtaining specialty certifications!
What Certifications do Dietitian Hold?
According to a 2017 study by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, 22% of dietitians have one or more specialty certifications (1). What are some of the most common specialty credentials held by dietitians? Let’s take a look.
15 Common Specialty Certifications for Dietitians:
· Advanced Practice Certification in Clinical Nutrition (RD-AP or RDN-AP)
· Certified Diabetes Educator® (CDE)
· Certified Food Manager (CFM)
· Certified Dietary Manager (CDM)
· Certified Nutrition Support Clinician® (CNSC)
Whew, that’s a lot of credentials. We could probably write an entire blog on each of these credentials! But for times sake, let’s take a peek at the Board Certified Specialist series (since they have similar requirements) and get on to the perks of specialty certification.
The Board Certified Specialist series
Seven board certified specialist credentials are offered through the Commission on Dietetic Registration (CDR): geriatric nutrition, pediatric nutrition, renal nutrition, oncology nutrition, sports dietetics, obesity and weight management, and most recently, pediatric critical care nutrition (2).
Eligibility for the CDR credentials are fairly similar among the 7 credentials. You need to be a dietitian for at least 2 years before you take an exam. You also need 2,000 hours of practice experience in the past 5 years for most (CSSD requires 1,500 hours). Education and professional experience may be used to substitute some of those hours (2).
You have 3 hours to take these exams at an approved testing site. Most have 150 multiple choice questions (CSSD has 160). 125-140 are scored questions while 15-25 are pretest questions that will not be scored. During the exam you will not know which are scored or not scored (2).
You can go to the credential specific website on CDRs website to learn more about the specific credential you may be interested in. For each specialty credential referenced above, each has their own criteria for qualification and how exams are conducted.
A Credential for Contribution
Another specialty credential that is doesn’t quite “fit in the box” with the others is the Fellow of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (FAND) and Fellow of the American Dietetic Association (FADA). The FADA is no longer issued with the change in organizational name, but can still be used.
The FAND is an award specifically for members of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics who have gone above and beyond in their service to the profession and public. FANDs have made significant and sustained contributions to the field (3).
To obtain this credential, you must be a member of the Academy for at least 5 years with an equal amount of work experience. Candidates must meet scoring criteria based on years employed, Academy related CPE attendance, having other specialty certifications, post-graduate education, volunteer work, research, speaking, etc. (3).
Benefits of Specialty Certification
What are the benefits of getting a specialty certification? That certainly depends on the individual credential and your personal goals- but there are some general benefits you may be interested in.
First and foremost, it is an opportunity for professional development. You will learn so much in the process of studying and becoming ready to obtain a certification. This will improve your level of skill in providing patient care or managing food systems.
It will strengthen your expertise, credibility, and even your resume. Your credential will set you apart from others in your field. Someone who has proven via certification that they really know their stuff. It also strengthens our field overall setting up dietitians as experts in these areas.
This can open the door for new job opportunities. You can use it for negotiations in obtaining that new position. In your current job you can use your new certification to leverage or a bonus or raise. If you work in private practice, you can use your credential to show your added value and consider raising your rates. A specialty certification can give you a competitive edge.
Another benefit is that many specialty certifications can be used to obtain continuing education units required for the dietitian credential. CDR’s board certified specialist credentials provide 75 CPEUs (2). Get one of those credentials and you are nearly set for CPEUs (you still will need your 1 hour of ethics)!
Dietitians with Specialty Certifications Make More Money
According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics’ 2017 Compensation & Benefits Survey of the Dietetics Profession, dietitians with specialty certification make more money. This study looked at 6,098 dietitians. Dietitians with specialty credentials make an average of $32.45 per hour compared to $29.71 per hour without.
The difference in hourly wage between dietitians with and without specialty certifications varied by percentile ranking of hourly wage. Among dietitians who made the lowest hourly wage, those with specialty credentials made even more than those who made the highest hourly wage.
Low: The average hourly rate for dietitians in the 10th percentile was $24.94/hour for those with specialty credentials and $21.63 per hour for those without specialty credentials. That’s $3.31 or 15% more per hour.
Medium: The average hourly rate for dietitians in the 50th percentile was $32.45/hour for those with specialty credentials and $29.71 per hour for those without specialty credentials. That’s $2.74 or 9% more per hour.
High: The average hourly rate for dietitians in the 90th percentile was $45.67/hour for those with specialty credentials and $44.87 per hour for those without specialty credentials. That’s $0.80 or 2% more per hour.
All dietitians with specialty credentials in this study made more money than those without. But what credentials were associated with the highest level of pay- those at the highest rates among the 90th percentile of hourly pay? Here are the top 4 ranked in order, starting with the highest:
Fellow of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (FAND)/ Fellow of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (FADA)
o $67.88 per hour
o $23.01 per hour more than dietitians without specialty certification
Certified Specialist in Sports Dietetics (CSSD)
o $52.88 per hour
o $8.01 per hour more than dietitians without specialty certification
Board Certified Specialist in Gerontological Nutrition (CSG)
o $47.41 per hour
o $2.54 per hour more than dietitians without specialty certification
Certified Diabetes Educator (CDE)
o $47.14 per hour.
o $2.27 per hour more than dietitians without specialty certification
Which Certification is Right for You?
It depends! The question is- what are your goals? Are you already working in an area that a certain credential makes sense as a good fit? Or maybe you’ve been working in a general practice for a long time and want to change directions. Or Maybe you a new dietitian trying to find your way.
If you find one of these credentials interesting, I’d recommend finding another dietitian with the same credential. Reach out to them via email, phone, or social media and ask if you can chat about their credential. Ask them how it has helped, what doors it has opened, and any other question you may have.
The most important thing to consider is whether or not the credential aligns with your career goal and passion. Figuring out the finances, how to get your hours, how to take the exam… all of that can come later. Lead with your heart when it comes to your professional development.
Reducing Test Anxiety
If you are considering getting a specialty certification, then an exam is likely in your future. And some of you have not taken a test in a very long time. Do not let the fear of test anxiety get in the way of achieving your goals.
Be sure to learn about what is on the exam for your preferred credential. Make a plan for studying and obtaining resources. Studying early and studying well is a good key to reducing test anxiety (4). You’ll be confident you know your stuff!
Other ways to reduce test anxiety are to learn relaxation techniques (4). You can do these before and during the exam. It’s a way to keep you grounded when your mind wants to lead you into anxiety.
Also be sure to take care of yourself. This includes good nutrition (even an RD can use a good reminder!), exercise, and getting enough sleep.
And finally, if you have a legitimate learning disability, don’t ignore it (4). Accommodations can be made based on your disability. If you require special a room without distractions or even more time, advocate for yourself. Documentation from a medical provider may be required.
Wrapping it Up
We hope you learned something new and feel inspired for the future. There are so many opportunities for dietitians looking to pursue specialty certification. Be sure to share this article with any dietitians you think may be interested in learning about specialty certifications for dietitians!
1. 2017 Compensation & Benefits Survey of the Dietetics Profession. Chicago, IL: Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics; 2018.
2. Board Certified Specialist Home. Commission on Dietetic Registration website. https://www.cdrnet.org/certifications/board-certified-specialist. Accessed August 2, 2019.
3. Fellow of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. https://www.eatrightpro.org/membership/member-benefits/awards-and-recognition/fellow-of-the-academy-of-nutrition-and-dietetics. Accessed August 2, 2019.
Sawchuk C. Is it possible to overcome test anxiety? Mayo Clinic website. http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/generalized-anxiety-disorder/expert-answers/test-anxiety/faq-20058195. Updated August 3, 2017. Accessed August