Dietitian Requirements in Virginia

Virginia does not license or certify dietitians. However, the Virginia legislature and the Board of Health Professions do set minimum qualifications. A practitioner must meet these minimum standards in order to call himself or herself a dietitian or nutritionist. There are multiple eligibility avenues.

Select a Virginia Dietitian and Nutritionist Topic:

Dietitian and Nutritionist Pathway Overview

A professional can qualify as a dietitian or nutritionist on the basis of a baccalaureate degree in an approved field and completion of an approved supervised practice experience. The following disciplines are listed in state code: dietetics, nutritional sciences, food and nutrition, community nutrition, public health nutrition, and human nutrition. The supervised practice must be approved by the Commission on Dietetic Registration. Prospective dietitians should be aware that the CDR has set very specific educational requirements.

Also accepted is registration by the Commission on Dietetic Registration. The pathway is similar to the education/ practice pathway described above. Under current standards, though, it is slightly more difficult to achieve. This is because registration entails one additional requirement: a national examination.

A graduate level practitioner can qualify on the basis of Clinical Nutrition Specialist (CNS) certification; the CNS credential is issued by the Board for Certification of Nutrition Specialists.

Also accepted is Diplomat status through the American Clinical Board of Nutrition. The educational requirements are even higher, however. This is a certification for healthcare professionals who have education at the doctoral level (http://www.acbn.org/).

A professional who has a current license or certificate issued by another state is also permitted to represent himself or herself as a dietitian or nutritionist.

Virginia law lists one additional eligibility pathway for professionals who are employed by governmental entities. They may qualify on the basis of equivalent coursework, provided that they also have two years of supervised experience. The hiring agency can accept a degree in dietetics or food and nutrition; it can also accept equivalent food and nutrition coursework hours.

Enhancing Marketability as a Nutritionist or Dietitian

Registration by the Commission on Dietetic Registration can markedly increase one’s job prospects, in Virginia and also in other states. A job search reveals that many Virginia employers list the RD among the requirements. Even when it is not mandated, registration can be an asset. One recent posting cited text from Virginia code under “minimum requirements” but listed the RD among several possibilities that would be considered “preferred”.

Many states make the Registered Dietitian credential the primary or sole pathway to licensure or certification, though they may have some exemptions that allow for nutrition practice by unlicensed professionals.

The CNS does not enjoy quite the level of recognition that the RD does, but of all non-RD credentials it comes closest. It is referenced in a number of state laws. The CNS is, of course, an option only for professionals at the graduate level.

The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and the Center for Nutrition Advocacy are credentialing resources. The two organizations represent different visions of the future of the nutritionist profession. The Center for Nutrition Advocacy is under the banner of the Board for Certification of Nutrition Specialists.

Achieving CDR Certification in Virginia

A person who seeks CDR certification will begin by enrolling in an ACEND-accredited program. There are two types of accredited academic program: coordinated and didactic.

All programs located within Virginia are didactic. That means that they don’t include the pre-professional experience that will be required for national registration; the graduate will need to complete it later. Each of the five Virginia programs results in a Bachelor of Science degree.

A student can expand his or her search beyond Virginia to find additional options, including coordinated programs and programs that will result in a Master of Science degree. There are even some distance learning options.

Coordinated programs include 1,200 hours of pre-professional experience. Students typically spend their junior and senior years (or the equivalent) completing the program.

Students who enroll in didactic programs typically compete for internships as they are nearing graduation. There are two ways to secure an internship. One is to be pre-selected. A prospective intern may be pre-selected for any of several reasons. The person may have completed an undergraduate program at the institution or may have been admitted as a graduate student. He or she may be an employee of the institution. Students who are not pre-selected participate in a computer matching process. Students who do not match to internships sometimes complete a different type of pre-professional experience: an Individualized Supervised Practice Pathway, or ISPP. This is more structured than simply supervised experience.

Examination comes after supervised practice has been completed. Eligibility must be verified. At this point, the candidate can schedule through Pearson VUE. Candidate handbooks are available from the Commission on Dietetic Registration (https://www.cdrnet.org/).

Registered Dietitians must participate in professional development in order to maintain their credentials.

Achieving CNS Certification

A CNS must have a graduate degree in a nutrition or healthcare discipline (http://nutritionspecialists.org/). The requirement is fairly broadly interpreted. The candidate must meet minimum coursework requirements. He or she will need to complete an approved supervised practice experience. Like the CDR, the Certification Board has a specific set of requirements for experience. However, requirements are not the same.

Certification is by examination. The Certification Board, unlike the CDR, will allow students to test before completing their supervised practice requirement. The examination is, however, currently administered just twice a year.

Additional Information

Virginia’s dietitians are under the authority of the Board of Health Professions, though the Board’s regulatory functions do not include issuance of licenses (https://www.dhp.virginia.gov/bhp/default.htm). The Board can be reached by telephone at (804) 367-4403 or by email at ‘bhp at dhp.virginia.gov’.

Dietitian and nutrition requirements are governed by law and regulation (https://www.dhp.virginia.gov/bhp/bhp_regs.htm). The law, originally filed in 1995, underwent revision in 2016.