Concordia adds a new dietetics graduate program

Work with heart research, urban food systems, in public health, in elderly nutrition programs; the options are endless with the new graduate program in Nutrition and Dietetics.

A combined Dietetic Internship and Master of Science in Nutrition with an emphasis in Dietetics Leadership program will begin in fall of 2017 at Concordia College.

This master’s program will be added in order to accommodate for the national change coming in 2024 that will require students to have a master’s degree in order to take the exam to become a registered dietitian, said Dr. Betty Larson, director of Concordia’s Didactic Program in Dietetics.

Students at Concordia College and other colleges and universities will have the opportunity to apply for Concordia’s master’s program in 2017. The program will not begin until then due to the work needed to construct a quality program and the new science complex will be completed by then, said Dr. Meredith Wagner, dietetic internship director.

“I think a graduate degree will be beneficial for the profession in the healthcare setting where we have the opportunity to work alongside doctors, physical therapists, specialists, etcetera,” said Victoria Lien, senior double majoring in exercise science and food, nutrition and dietetics. “It will hopefully give registered dietitians more credibility with the other professions that already require further education.”

Students whose goal is to become a registered dietitian need to graduate from an accredited DPD and be verified by the Accreditation Council for Education in Nutrition and Dietetics. Next, they must complete an accredited dietetic internship. After this, they take the national registration examination, which is administered by the Commission on Dietetic Registration, according to Larson.

Starting in 2024, students will need a master’s degree in order to take this national exam, so to accommodate for this, Concordia College has added a master’s program to the existing dietetic internship program. During the program, students will take 38 to 40 credits worth of classes at Concordia as well as interning at hospitals, public health clinics and food service settings in the Fargo-Moorhead area, Wagner said. Students will rotate through each of these three areas.

“Part of the requirements for a dietetic internship to be accredited is that the internship must provide experiences in each domain,” Wagner said. “Therefore, individuals enrolled in a dietetic internship will complete experiences in all three domains. Hospitals encompass the clinical domain, public health clinics the community domain, and food service settings the food service management domain.”

Students will be taking advanced dietetics courses through the nutrition and dietetics department as well as courses in leadership theory and application through the Offutt School of Business and both organizational communications and research methods through the communication studies and theatre arts department. Wagner said the purpose of taking courses outside of the dietetics major is to become more well-rounded and to enhance the students’ leadership skills.

Each year, Concordia is accredited by ACEND to enroll up to eight students per year in this 21-month program.

After students have received a verification statement indicating they have graduated from an accredited DPD, they are eligible to apply for an accredited dietetic internship. This process happens online through D&D Digital Internship Matching. Larson said that students apply for the programs they are interested in and D&D Digital matches them up with a program, if they are accepted.

In order to decide which internships they wish to apply for, students use the “big binder,” a large binder that includes a list of all internships that are available as well as information about each one, Lien said. Lien is currently in the process of applying for a dietetic internship.

The online application asks for a resume, a personal statement for each internship the student applies for, a list of classes accompanied by grades received, descriptions of volunteer experience over the past five years and three references, Lien said.

“Once you submit your application, you nervously wait until ‘match day’ to find out if you got an internship or not,” Lien said.

If students are not accepted into a dietetic internship, they still have many options for their potential careers. For example, Larson said they could work for the Meat and Livestock Board, in long-term care, for school foodservice programs or take the exam to be a Dietetic Technician, Registered and provide basic nutrition guidance.

In 2014, 100 percent of Concordia undergraduate dietetic students who applied were accepted for a dietetic internship, which is above national average. There are a limited number of dietetic internships nationwide so it is competitive. In 2014, the national acceptance rate for dietetic internships was 48 percent of students, according to Larson.

Concordia is the only Lutheran liberal arts college in the nation with an accredited undergraduate program and internship program for nutrition and dietetics, Larson said. Once the graduate program starts, Concordia will be one of the only liberal arts colleges with a combined master’s and internship program in dietetics, according to Larson.

The requirement for a graduate degree is because of the increased content area one must have to be a registered dietitian. Knowledge is expanding so much in this field, Larson said.

“The opportunities are just unlimited,” Larson said. “It’s limited only by your imagination.”

The graduate degree requirement will only affect students who have not taken the exam and become registered dietitians by 2024. The graduate degree is required in order to take the test, so if one has already passed, a graduate degree will not be necessary, Larson said.

Larson said students have a wide variety of paths that they could pursue as registered dietitians. Some of them include working for food service management, working at public relations firms with their products, at retail grocery stores telling people how to get nutritious food, with women, infants and children, on the National Meat and Livestock board, in elderly nutrition programs, public health, urban food systems and more.

“My future goal is to become a registered dietitian and help people live a healthier and more active life,” Lien said.

Larson has also seen students go on to work in cancer research, heart disease research, on the dairy council, for vitamin companies, in public relations and more. One Concordia graduate worked alongside the researcher that developed the SuperTracker on, according to Larson.

“The sky’s the limit as far as what they can go into,” Wagner said. “Nutrition impacts everyone because everybody eats.”

Wagner recommends pursuing a graduate degree in nutrition for anyone interested in nutrition, in helping people to stay healthy or in management and leadership; Larson recommends this field to anyone interested in health promotion, wellness, disease prevention, food preparation or working with people.

“It’s a really good program for somebody who’s interested in a health-related career that’s focused on prevention,” Larson said.

Larson hopes the new graduate program helps students become eligible for the exam and helps them continue to be leaders in nutrition and dietetics.

“I think it’s a really great opportunity for the college, for the department of nutrition and dietetics, for current students and for future students,” Wagner said.

President William Craft said that Concordia will be offering more graduate programs, according to Wagner.

“I think it’s a huge step going through our strategic plan,” Wagner said.

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