The 7 Best Specialty Certifications for Dietitians

What is the very best specialty certification for dietitians? Is there one certification, course or degree that can offer you that edge to boost your confidence, skills? With so many great options, the answer depends on your favorite area to practice in! 

The curriculum to become a registered dietitian covers a lot of ground; our college courses covered everything from food service management to nutrition counseling best practices and the dreaded organic chemistry. This broad spectrum gave you a taste of the many roles that you can work in as a dietitian.

But what if you’re ready to specialize?

Sometimes the drive to pursue a certification is rooted in lack of confidence. Mindset work, especially around money, positively impacts our self-trust, too. And sometimes, pursuing a new learning opportunity is simply a desire for variety or the opportunity to conquer a new challenge. New challenges prevent boredom: don’t be afraid to try lots of different things! 

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old way versus new way certifications for dietitians

In this article, you’ll have the opportunity to review the seven notable options. The best choice for you is that one that allows you to confidently serve the kinds of clients you enjoy working with the most.

Not only can the right certification offer you the most current, evidence-based approach to helping your niche clients, you can also have a certification that distinguishes you from your competition as you apply for new roles, discuss raises or market your own private practice. Plus, specialty certifications offer a network of like-minded professionals to collaborate with and ask questions.

Let’s kick off this round-up of specialty certifications for dietitians with the gold-medal winner of sports certifications: the Board Certified Specialist in Sports Dietetics.

smiling woman holding a certification

Board Certified Specialist in Sports Dietetics

If you love nothing more than to help athletes achieve their greatest performance by leveraging the power of optimized nutrition and hydration, the most robust credential available for registered dietitians is the Board Certified Specialist in Sports Dietetics.

Being a CSSD requires deep knowledge- but it truly is the certification that means the most in terms of employment in the sports nutrition field - ones from private organizations aren’t going to qualify you for jobs though they may contribute to your knowledge

Andrea Chernus, MS, RD, CSSD, CDCES

Who offers this credential:

Commission on Dietetic Registration (CDR) has offered this credential since 2005.

Minimum requirements:      

  • Be a registered dietitian
  • Have been practicing as an RD for two years
  • Documentation of 2,000 hours of specialty practice experience as an RD

Cost of credential:

The fee to take the exam is $450.

Benefits of the credential:  

The Board Certified Specialist in Sports Dietetics is the most well-known and respected sports nutrition credential for dietitians in the US. And with good reason; the standards to sit and pass the exam are tough!

But with this credential, you are well equipped to serve athletes, work in product development and even teach! This credential can open doors to a wide variety of opportunities.

For our full post on the CSSD credential, please check out this comprehensive blog post: Everything You Need to Know About Becoming a Certified Specialist in Sports Dietetics (CSSD).

And if you’re more interested in a smaller “taste” of sports nutrition, there are a few helpful other certifications to consider that require a smaller commitment to acquire. We also have a few certifications that we recommend skipping.

Find out the whole review, right here: The Best Sports Nutrition Certifications (And a Few to Skip).

Certified Intuitive Eating Counselor

Intuitive Eating is a movement that is becoming better known and the body of research supporting this approach to health and wellness is continuing to expand. Becoming a Certified Intuitive Eating Counselor is a challenging process.

The Certified Intuitive Eating Counselor certification is the original certification program offered by the founders of Intuitive Eating.

Who offers this credential:

Evelyn Tribole, MS, RDN, CEDRD-S, and Elyse Resch, MS, RDN, CEDRD-S, Fiaedp, FADA, FAND, co-founders of The Original Intuitive Eating Pros.

Minimum requirements:      

This certification is offered for Registered Dietitians and other allied healthcare professionals, including nurses, midwives, dentists, and acupuncturists. For a full list of eligible professions, please click here.

Cost of credential:

There are several components that must be completed in order to earn this credential and they’re priced individually.

  • $445 – a self-study course
  • $475 – Intuitive Eating PRO Webinar Training
  • $125-170 – supervision and coaching hours; 3 hours required total

Benefits of the credential:  

Once you’ve earned this credential, you’ll be able to join a directory of certified practitioners and enjoy working in a targeted niche. In addition, you’ll be able to use the official logo in marketing materials and have the support of the private Facebook community of other professionals who have completed the certification.

Has this certification caught your eye? Find out more in our in-depth blog post covering How Dietitians Can Become a Certified Intuitive Eating Counselor.

One more resource you might want to visit is our blog post on the work of an Intuitive Eating dietitian: What Does an Intuitive Eating Dietitian Actually Do? (and Is It Right for You?).

Culinary Nutrition Certification

It is all well and good to recommend that your clients to eat in a way that better supports their health and wellness goals. But what if they don’t know how to boil water? And what if you don’t feel equipped to help them? Bring on a culinary nutrition certification: this will empower you to translate nutrition recommendations into meals and snacks that your clients will love. The Culinary Nutrition Studio was co-founded by dietitians Chef Abbie Gellman, MS RD CDN and Julie Harrington, RD. They offer a buffet of options for dietitians to virtually grow their culinary skills and teach their clients the same. Their premier program is the Culinary Nutrition Certification. “An in-depth professional certification program in basic culinary skills and culinary nutrition that provides practical, everyday cooking skills as well as a deeper dive into a variety of culinary nutrition topics, such as diabetes, heart disease, aging, and more.” In addition, they offer vegetarian, baking, and other smaller courses. Benefits of this program: In addition to having concrete cooking skills and confidence that will benefit your clients, you’ll earn 36 CEUs. Cost of program: The basic program costs $715. The other programs are priced individually and range from $59 to $289. Resources from Our Experts: Looking for some cooking resources to share with your clients. We’ve got you covered here at RD2RD. There’s even done-for-you group workshops. Some of our favorites are listed below.

Functional Nutrition Certification

If functional nutrition is piquing your interest, there are many possible routes to further your education, understanding, and experience. Depending on if you’d like to take a baby step forward with a few 1-hour webinars or pursue an additional degree, the range of options is wide with many good choices to consider.

In the case of functional nutrition, there isn’t one “best” certification option available. The best option, or combination of options, varies based on your own interest, budget, and career goals.

In our comprehensive post about these options, we rounded up a wide range of options and detailed their cost, what information is covered, if they provide CEUs and more. If functional nutrition is of interest, you’re not going to want to miss this post.

Resources from Our Experts

The practice resources available on RD2RD are as varied as the certification option. So many to choose from!

School Nutrition Specialist

The School Nutrition Specialist (SNS) certification was established in 1997. Achievement of this credential is intended to demonstrate excellence in managing or directing school nutrition programs.

The SNS exam covers four key areas of expertise that are crucial for the optimal management of school nutrition programs.

  • Nutrition: for example, planning menus that match local and federal guidelines, promoting healthy eating, and engaging students and parents with the nutrition program.
  • Operations: for example, taking proper care of equipment, collaborating with nutrition staff to improve workflows, and maintaining food safety measures.
  • Administration: for example, ensuring that all applications for free and reduced meals are correct and verified, complying with local and federal guidelines for the sale of competitive food items, and implementing the local wellness policy for the school nutrition program.
  • Communications and Marketing: for example, meshing the school nutrition marketing plan with district marketing initiatives, collecting and addressing customer feedback, and coordinating messaging with the school district public relations spokesperson to prepare information for press releases, stakeholders, and the media.

Who offers this credential:

School Nutrition Specialist (SNS) Credentialing Program is governed by the Certificate and Credentialing Governing Council, which is part of the School Nutrition Association.

Minimum requirements:      

An associate’s degree or the completion of 60 hours of college credit, 30 of them being in related topics such as nutrition or operations and one full year of recent work experience related to school nutrition. Or a bachelor’s degree plus one year of work experience.

Being a registered dietitian or diet tech is not required for this certification.

Cost of credential:

The cost of taking the exam is $225 for SNA Members and $325 for non-members.

The SNS credential is valid for three years and is renewable for additional three-year periods.          

Benefits of the credential:  

The SNS credential demonstrates knowledge and commitment to excellence in foodservice. It can increase your credibility with school district administrators as well as the general public.

One additional benefit of this credential is continuing education hours. The SNS exam has been approved for 75 CEUs for CDR cycles ending through 2024 and 40 CEUs thereafter. Always reference PDP guide for year your cycle ends.

Certified Diabetes Care and Education Specialist (CDCES)

You may be more familiar with the previous term for this certification: Certified Diabetes Educator (CDE), but the current name for these certified professionals is Certified Diabetes Care and Education Specialist (CDCES).

If you’re passionate about diabetes management and prevention, this is the best certification for dietitians like you!

Getting the CDCES was the best decision of my career.

Lorena Drago, MS, RDN, CDCES

Who offers this credential:

The Certification Board for Diabetes Care and Education (CBDCE).

Minimum requirements:      

  • Healthcare professionals, including registered dietitians, registered nurses, or physician assistants
  • Two years of work experience
  • 1,000 documented hours of diabetes education

Cost of credential:

The exam fee is $350.

The CDCES exam has been approved for 75 CEUs. Always reference PDP guide for year your cycle ends.

Benefits of the credential:  

With this credential, not only do you have an edge as you market yourself to employers and clients, but you are also able to create a listing on the CDCES directory as well as use the logo on your business cards and other marketing materials.

Resources from Out Experts:

If working with people with diabetes is your purpose, you’ll want to visit our curated collection of client handouts, forms, and slide decks to support your practice.

International Board-Certified Lactation Consultant

Do you love nothing more than helping to strengthen the bond between a baby and their mother? The International Board-Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC) certification is the perfect certification for you!

The IBCLC exam covers maternal and infant nutrition as well as the normal development of babies. Pharmacology, cultural practices, and transitions to motherhood are covered as well. And the breastfeeding knowledge that is expected of certificate holders is extensive, including breastfeeding techniques, use of supportive equipment, counseling skills, and ethical and legal issues.

Who offers this credential:

International Board of Lactation Consultant Examiners

Minimum requirements:      

  • Healthcare professionals, including registered dietitians, registered nurses, or physician assistants
  • Two years of work experience
  • 1,000 documented hours of diabetes education

Cost of credential:

The cost to take the IBCLC exam in the US is $660.

Benefits of the credential:  

The IBCLC certification is an internationally recognized certification with more than 33,000 certified members around the world (SOURCE). Not only is this credential internationally recognized and respected, but it also demonstrates excellence in the field and garners access to a community of like-minded professionals.

The IBCLC exam has been approved for 75 CEUs for CDR cycles ending through 2024 and 50 CEUs thereafter. Always reference PDP guide for year your cycle ends.

Resources from Our Experts

There is no reason to start from scratch when answering the questions of your breastfeeding clients. Here is a peek at the helpful resources you’ll find here on RD2RD.

Certified Nutrition Support Clinician

If you’re a dietitian who loves crunching numbers, evaluating lab data, and optimizing the nutrition for our most vulnerable hospital patients, the Certified Nutrition Support Clinician is right up your alley!

The Certified Nutrition Support Clinician is the most widely accepted, visible nutrition support certification with recognition both nationally and internationally.

Who offers this credential:

The National Board of Nutrition Support Certification (NBNSC), which is an independent credentialing board established in 1984 by the American Society for Parenteral and Enteral Nutrition (ASPEN).

Minimum requirements:

  • Healthcare professionals, including a registered dietitian, nurse, or physician
  • It is recommended that applicants have at least two years of experience in specialized nutrition support, but it is not required.

Cost of credential:

The cost to sit for the exam is $330-$440, depending on if you’re a member of ASPEN or not.

The CNSC exam has been approved for 75 CEUs. Always reference PDP guide for year your cycle ends.

Benefits of the credential:  

By obtaining this credential, you’ll feel confident that your nutrition recommendations are best serving your client. In preparation for passing this exam, you’ll gain an immense depth of knowledge of nutrition assessment, clinical monitoring, and therapeutic care plans.

This credential is valid for five years, at which time the exam must be taken again. Completion of the certification provides 75 CPEUs.

Key Takeaways: Best certifications for dietitians

With so many great options, it can be hard to pick the single best certification for dietitians. The truth is, there are many choices, but the best possible choice depends on your career goals and who you want to work with the most.

As you continue to expand your skills and knowledge, be sure to save time as well. Shop on RD2RD to find curated resources by fellow dietitians that allow you to practice with more confidence and while taking less time.

And as you create your own specialized materials, be sure to start your own shop, too! Let your hard work keep working for you.

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