Is Getting a Master’s Degree “Worth It” for RDNs?

20 Sep 2017 10:25 AM | Nicole Withee (Administrator)

Thank you, Leanne for this awesome guest post! Leanne Ray Nutrition

Have you ever considered getting a Master’s degree but felt unsure if you would reap any additional benefits later? If so, you are certainly not alone. I can count on two hands how many dietitians I have personally had conversations with who share this thought process. If graduate school has even remotely crossed your mind but you just can’t decide on whether or not to take the plunge, read on to hear my thoughts as a recent grad on the pros and cons.  

The Upcoming CDR Requirement Change

First and foremost as most of you have probably heard by now, the Commission on Dietetic Registration (CDR) will be requiring that starting in the year 2024, entry-level registration eligibility education requirements for dietitians is changing from a baccalaureate degree to a minimum of a graduate degree. While this may elicit a slight panic in some of you practicing RDNs, keep in mind that if you are already credentialed when that time comes, you won’t be forced to go back to school and get your Master’s. This requirement only affects future dietitians who will just be starting a program at that time. CDR cites some valid reasons for making this change, including the following:

  • ·         Almost all other health care professionals have increased entry-level educational standards
  • ·         To elevate practice at all levels of the profession
  • ·         Health care professionals with advanced degrees tend to have higher self-esteem and attain a higher profile within the profession
  • ·         Employment of dietitians is expected to increase faster than average over the next several years
  • ·         RDN salaries are much lower than other non-physician health professionals and advanced degrees are associated with hourly wage gains
  • ·         Healthcare jobs will continue to grow and higher levels of education will be required to enter the field

Note: All of these were shortened or paraphrased for readability but the full list can be found here.

You might be wondering if competition is going to make it increasingly difficult to find a job once dietitians start entering the market with those extra two letters behind their name. I don’t believe this is a given since experience can sometimes trump education (or at least match it) depending on the position. If you are a registered dietitian with seven or more years of experience, it’s hard to believe that your lack of a Master’s will derail your chance at getting a job, especially if going head-to-head with an entry-level RDN. One exception? Jobs that absolutely require a Master’s or PhD. In general I have found that positions in nutrition communications, management, academia and teaching hospitals tend to require an advanced degree (among others). Just be sure to do some research on the areas that interest you most to make sure you know what qualifications are preferred or required.

Can RDNs Expect Higher Salaries?

So what about pay? And will the cost of schooling show a return on investment if we put ourselves through two more demanding years of classes (namely, statistics)? This one is a little bit harder to predict. Dietitians have historically been underpaid, but are also the only member of the interdisciplinary health care team in which a B.S. is sufficient for credentialing (over half of dietitians have an advanced degree anyway). According to the Academy’s Compensation and Benefits Study, in 2015 the difference between the median wage of RDNs with a bachelor’s as their highest degree, and that of RDNs with a master’s degree, is $2.63 per hour (or just over $5,000 annually). That may not seem significant to some, but is worth noting especially since this figure only continues to increase.  

The Intangible Benefits of Advanced Education

While graduate school likely won’t give you the dream raise you have been waiting for overnight, I can personally attest to the fact that you will most likely experience some of the following non-monetary benefits:

  • ·         Improved research interpretation skills, which as we all know is integral in our field
  • ·         Improved communication and critical thinking skills
  • ·         Exposure to more advanced topics (everything from micronutrients to nutrigenetics and advanced lipid metabolism – nutrition science rocks you guys).
  • ·         A deeper dive into counseling concepts. This was huge for me as it was during my graduate program where I was exposed to Intuitive Eating and Health at Every Size which completely transformed my nutrition and health philosophy
  • ·         More familiarity with the Evidence Analysis Library, including how questions are developed and what steps are taken to gather the research and formulate a conclusion.
  • ·         And lastly, grad school gave me the confidence to pursue entrepreneurial projects and form connections that I would not have previously made.

It’s obvious that I am a huge advocate for advanced degrees in our field. Education provides intangible benefits that just cannot be measured by a numerical figure or salary (as does any college degree). On the other hand, that doesn’t make it any easier to invest the time and money required and is not a decision that should be taken lightly. If you do move forward, investigate scholarships, inquire to see if your employer offers tuition reimbursement, and choose a program that is a great fit for your personality and interests.

Do you want to continue this discussion? I would love to hear from you and would be happy to share more about my personal experience with graduate school. Send me an email at leannerayrdn@gmail.com.

Leanne Ray, MS, RDN coordinates the employee wellness program for a local public health department. Her professional interests include promoting an intuitive eating approach in conjunction with cooking and meal planning education all in the name of self-care. Check out her personal blog or connect with her on Instagram where she shares her food-related adventures and inspirational anti-diet messages. 


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