Alumni Panel Helps Reveal Pathways to Becoming a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN)

The inaugural cohort of Merrimack's Master of Social Work graduates returned to campus for a special alumnae panel.
Picture of RDN panelists
From left to right, the panel featured Gabrielle McGrath, Emelia Zukowski and Meghan Hawley.

The School of Nursing and Health Sciences at Merrimack College recently hosted a virtual panel with three graduate programs alumni who have gone on to become Registered Dietitian Nutritionists (RDNs). The event focused on the different pathways to qualifying for the Commission on Dietetic Registration’s (CDR) examination for dietitians, and provided insights into the various options available to aspiring nutrition professionals. The panel featured graduates Meghan Hawley, Gabrielle McGrath, and Emelia Zukowski, and was facilitated by Allison Higgins, program director of the M.S. in Health Promotion and Management; Deborah Olarte, program director of the M.S. in Nutrition and Human Performance, and Elizabeth Natale, program coordinator of the M.S. in Nutrition and Human Performance.

To kickoff the event, the program directors first provided an overview of the options Merrimack offers for meeting the CDR exam’s master degree requirement.

As a one-step program that eliminates the need for a separate Dietetic Internship, Merrimack’s M.S. in Nutrition and Human Performance offers a streamlined pathway to qualifying for the CDR exam., The two-year program consists of four semesters and one summer term. Integrated across the curriculum is 1,000 hours of supervised experiential learning in professional work settings, offered as five 200-hour rotations: one each in clinical, community, research, sports/human performance, and food service settings. Additional alternative experiential learning experiences are embedded into specific courses. 

Alternatively, for those pursuing a standalone Dietetic Internship to fulfill practice hours, Merrimack offers master’s degrees in Exercise and Sport Science or Health Promotion and Management. Either program allows students to satisfy CDR’s master’s degree requirement in just nine months. Available either online or on-campus, they offer flexibility for students to pursue their dietetic internship before, during, or after completing their master’s degree.

The event then moved on to the panel discussion in which Merrimack’s graduates offered insightful perspectives on navigating the field of dietetics, drawn from their own expertise and experiences. 

Emelia Zukowski was a part of the first cohort to graduate from Merrimack’s M.S. in Nutrition and Human Performance in May 2024. She is is now a Registered Dietitian at Woonsocket Head Start Child Development Association, Inc.

Emelia credited her internship experiences throughout the program, for helping her “to get a lot of experience and I’m able to apply a lot of it now to my career.” She explained that her clinical hours were completed at Lawrence General Hospital, Mary Immaculate Rehab, and Ellen Byron; her community hours at Bunker Hill Community College DISH Program; her research hours at Merrimack College Center for Health Inclusion, Research and Practice (CHIRP); her sports/human performance hours Merrimack College Athletics; and finally her food service hours at Waltham Public Schools. 

Meghan Hawley graduated alongside Emelia in May 2024. She is now a Clinical Dietitian at Lawrence General Hospital, where she had served for her clinical hours. Meghan offered advice to students or recent graduates who are exploring a career as a registered dietitian, urging them to, “get yourself out there and see what your options are, because the field of nutrition is huge. There are so many different ways that you can go in the field, so just take in every experience that you can.”

In contrast to Emelia and Meghan, Gabrielle McGrath chose to pursue a standalone dietetic internship to attain the necessary 1,000 practice hours, completing her dietetic internship with Wellness Workdays. To fulfill CRD’s master’s degree requirement, she graduated from Merrimack in 2019 with her degree in M.S. in Health Wellness and Management (which has since evolved into the current M.S. in Health Promotion and Management program).  She recounted, “It was such a wonderful experience to be able to do the master’s program, and then at the same time, do the dietetic internship.” After graduation Gabrielle started her RDN career as a Dietitian Nutritionist for Lexi’s Clean Kitchen. She has since gone on to become  the Founder and CEO of Wellpower Method, which is a virtual, one-on-one nutrition coaching program that educates, inspires and holds people accountable to ensure they reach their goals. She credits Merrimack’s program for providing her with entrepreneurial insights, remarking, “I learned so much in the program that allowed me to have the confidence to be able to start my own business.” She concluded, “Going to Merrimack was the best decision I ever made.”

Want to hear more? Check out the recording of the event:



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