A new master’s degree at Iowa State University will allow registered dietitians to earn their graduate degrees ahead of the national deadline of Jan. 1, 2024, while advancing their knowledge and competitiveness in the field.
“In the near future, all dietitians will be required to hold a master's degree to practice,” said Sara Belay, an Iowa State dietetic intern who is completing her clinical rotation at Mary Greeley Medical Center in Ames. “To stay competitive and knowledgeable in the field, I certainly feel that furthering my education is necessary.”
Advanced knowledge and experiential learning
Iowa State’s new master of professional practice in dietetics (MPP-D) is a non-thesis master’s degree for those who have successfully completed the Iowa State University Dietetic Internship Program. All courses will be online. The program will accept applications May 1 to 31. The first cohort of up to 30 students will begin in fall 2018.
The program was approved in December by the Iowa Board of Regents.
“There are certainly some challenges that I come across working with patients, and this is where I believe furthering my education would be beneficial,” Belay said. “With the master's of professional practice degree, I would hope to gain more in-depth nutrition knowledge, and best practices for some of the more challenging patients and situations.”
Grounded in nutrition science, classes will provide registered dietitians with advanced knowledge and experiential learning in medical nutrition therapy, metabolism and chronic disease, evidence-informed practice, grant writing, personalized nutrition, leadership strategies, the U.S. healthcare, and enhancing interprofessional communication skills.
“The new master’s program would allow me to continue growing as a dietitian by learning more advanced knowledge in the dietetics profession,” said Kylie Smith, a 2017 graduate of the Iowa State University Dietetic Internship. “It would provide me with more credibility, a solid foundation to branch out into other areas of interest within the dietetics field, and open further opportunities.”
The program is structured in a way that students completing the Iowa State University Dietetics Internship are already halfway to completing their master’s degree. They earn 15 credits from the dietetic internship, then take an additional 15 credits of online coursework. The additional courses can be completed in a year.
“This program is ideal for the working professional because it’s all online,” said Christina Campbell, the Sandra S. and Roy W. Uelner Professor in food science and human nutrition who is leading development of the program. “Students already paid to do their internship. With just 15 credits more, they can earn their master’s degree.”
Allison Lansman, a registered dietitian nutritionist and licensed dietitian who graduated from Iowa State’s dietetics program in spring 2016, is among those interested in the new master’s program.
“As a working professional, it is great to have options to expand and build your education in a way that is convenient for you, your location, and your schedule,” Lansman said. “I am very attracted to the fact that this program considerately also applies the credits I have earned as a graduate student and applies them to this degree. Also how quickly this master's can be completed in a potentially short time frame.”
Adele Bohn, an Iowa State dietetic intern working with Labette Health, a 99-bed rural hospital in Parsons, Kansas, said she will already have credits toward completion of her internship. She believes it makes sense to stick with the same school — and with a program that fits well into a work schedule.
“I believe it will give me opportunities to expand on the basic knowledge I've learned and build proficiency in the field,” Bohn said. “I also believe having the more advanced credentials will add credibility to my work and the profession as a whole. Dietitians will soon be required to have a master's degree to sit for the exam, and I would like to stay competitive.”
Stronger foundation regardless of employment location
Campbell said curriculum for the new master’s program is applicable to any working dietetics professional, regardless of employment location.
Lansman currently works with the Iowa FoodCorps program as a service member in the Des Moines Public Schools to educate youth about nutrition. The program focuses specifically on schools with high rates of students with free or reduced lunch. She believes the master’s degree will allow her to stay competitive with juniors in the field.
“I focus on connecting kids to healthy food in school, so they can lead healthier lives and reach their full potential through hands-on nutrition lessons, implementing/advocating for healthy schools meals, and building a school wide culture of health,” she said. “I also work to implement social equity and justice in our education and food systems.”
Smith, a registered dietitian for Sodexo in Nebraska, also sees an opportunity for advancement.
“Iowa State’s new master’s in dietetics program interests me because it would allow me to further advance in my profession overall and become more proficient in a specialty area,” she said. “During my internship program, I was impressed by the curriculum content of the program and the professionalism of the faculty.”
The new national requirement for all entry-level dietitians to obtain a graduate degree by 2024 comes from the Commission on Dietetic Registration. Iowa State’s new master’s program builds upon a very successful internship program.
The Iowa State University Dietetic Internship Program is the largest program in the nation, graduating about 160 interns a year. The 25-week, 1,250-hour program provides hands-on experience in health promotion with the option to work in Iowa, nationwide, or overseas.
“I feel that Iowa State University is one of the best universities for preparing to become a registered dietitian nutritionist, specifically the Dietetics Internship program I felt helped the most,” Lansman said. “During my internship, I was able to apply the information I learned in my undergraduate education to a real-world setting.”
Bohn said the internship is well-structured and relies heavily on evidence-based practice and scientific research. Iowa State’s new master’s program in dietetics will do the same.