Dietitian

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Summary

Principal activity: Planning appropriate nutritional diets and providing nutritional education to maintain healthWork commitment: Part- or full-time
Preprofessional: education High school diploma
Program length: years
Work prerequisites: Bachelor’s degree in dietetics or related field on nutrition
Career opportunities: Quite favorable
Income range: $30,000 to $65,000

Quick Facts: Dietitians and Nutritionists 2012

2012 Median Pay: $55,240 per year ($26.56 per hour)

Entry-Level Education: Bachelor’s degree
Work Experience in a Related Occupation: None
On-the-job Training: Internship/residency
Number of Jobs, 2012: 67,400
Job Outlook, 2012-22: 21% (Faster than average)
Employment Change, 2012-22: 14,200

What Dietitians and Nutritionists Do

Dietitians and nutritionists are experts in food and nutrition. They advise people on what to eat in order to lead a healthy lifestyle or achieve a specific health-related goal.

Duties

Dietitians and nutritionists typically do the following:

 

  • Assess patients’ and clients’ health needs and diet
  • Counsel patients on nutrition issues and healthy eating habits
  • Develop meal plans, taking both cost and clients’ preferences into account
  • Evaluate the effects of meal plans and change the plans as needed
  • Promote better nutrition by speaking to groups about diet, nutrition, and the relationship between good eating habits and preventing or managing specific diseases
  • Keep up with the latest nutritional science research
  • Write reports to document patient progress

Dietitians and nutritionists evaluate the health of their clients. Based on their findings, dietitians and nutritionists advise clients on which foods to eat—and those foods to avoid—to improve their health.

Some dietitians and nutritionists provide customized information for specific individuals. For example, a dietitian or nutritionist might teach a client with high blood pressure how to use less salt when preparing meals. Others work with groups of people who have similar needs. For example, a dietitian or nutritionist might plan a diet with limited fat and sugar to help patients lose weight. They may work with other healthcare professionals to coordinate patient care.

Dietitians and nutritionists who are self-employed may meet with patients, or they may work as consultants for a variety of organizations. They may need to spend time on marketing and other business-related tasks, such as scheduling appointments and preparing informational materials for clients.

Although many dietitians and nutritionists do similar tasks, there are several specialties within the occupations. The following are examples of types of dietitians and nutritionists:

Scope

Dietitians are professionals who provide advice on nutritional food selection and preparation. They both plan and supervise preparation and serving of foods suitable for specific dietary needs. Their activities promote proper eating habits to enhance health. After scientifically evaluating their clients’ diets, dietitians offer suggestions for modifications and improvements. They are knowledgeable about the most appropriate diets to maintain health and prevent disease at different phases of life and about what dietary modifications will improve certain health conditions.

Activities

There are seven distinct areas of dietetic practice:

Clinical dietitians work in health-care institutions such as hospitals and nursing homes. They evaluate patients’ nutritional needs, formulate and implement appropriate nutritional programs, and assess and report results. To coordinate medical and nutritional needs, dietitians confer with physicians and other healthcare providers. They provide patients and their families with detailed instructions on maintaining a proper diet upon discharge from the hospital. Within this general area there are several subspecialties: For example, some dietitians deal only with overweight or critically ill patients. In small hospitals or clinics, dietitians may be responsible for managing all food services.

Community dietitians, also known as nutritionists, advise both individuals and groups about proper nutritional practices that enhance health and prevent diseases. Those who work in clinics, nursing homes, HMOs, hospitals, and home care agencies evaluate facilities, develop nutritional care plans, and teach clients and their families about nutrition. They also advise health-care agencies on food shopping and preparation for the elderly and the chronically ill. Because of current public interest in nutrition, these professionals are now finding employment with food manufacturers and in advertising and marketing agencies, where they analyze foods and prepare literature on nutritional content and other health related issues.

Management dietitians supervise large-scale meal planning in long-term healthcare facilities, restaurants, companies, hotels, schools, colleges, and prisons. Typically, they have a wide range of duties and responsibilities, including hiring and training food-preparation workers, purchasing food and equipment, enforcing safety and sanitary conditions, and developing budgets.

Dietetic educators are primarily involved in teaching dietetic principles at colleges, health-care facilities, and community centers.

Research dietitians typically hold advanced degrees (i.e., a master’s degree or Ph.D.) that enable them to undertake research studies at medical centers, government agencies, and educational facilities. Their work may involve developing and evaluating new nutritional approaches to treating diseases.

Consulting dietitians provide a variety of services for health-care facilities. Typically, they work in private practice or under contract for others. They perform nutrition screening and offer advice on weight loss, cholesterol reduction, and diabetes management.

Business dietitians technically are not health-care providers, but they do work in dietary planning and so are worth mentioning here. They work in private industry, advising companies on purchasing, food development, marketing, advertising, and sales.

Work Environment

Dietitians and nutritionists held about 67,400 jobs in 2012.
Dietitians and nutritionists work in hospitals, nursing homes, cafeterias, and schools. The industries that employed the most dietitians and nutritionists in 2012 were as follows:

Hospitals; state, local, and private31%Government13Nursing and residential care facilities9Offices of health practitioners7Outpatient care centers7

About 11 percent of dietitians and nutritionists were self-employed in 2012. Self-employed dietitians and nutritionists work as consultants who provide advice to individual clients, or they work for healthcare establishments on a contract basis.

Work Schedules

Most dietitians and nutritionists worked full time in 2012, although about 1 out of 5 worked part time. Self-employed dietitians have more flexibility in setting their schedules. They may work evenings and weekends so that they can meet with clients.

How to Become a Dietitian or Nutritionist

Most dietitians and nutritionists have a bachelor’s degree and receive supervised training through an internship or as a part of their coursework. Many states require dietitians and nutritionists to be licensed.
Education

Most dietitians and nutritionists have a bachelor’s degree in dietetics, foods and nutrition, food service systems management, clinical nutrition, or a related area. Programs include courses in nutrition, psychology, chemistry, and biology.
Many dietitians and nutritionists also have advanced degrees.
Training

Dietitians and nutritionists typically receive several hundred hours of supervised training, usually in the form of an internship following graduation from college. Some dietetics schools offer Coordinated Programs in Dietetics that allow students to complete supervised training as part of their undergraduate or graduate-level coursework.

Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations

Most states require dietitians and nutritionists to be licensed. Other states require only state registration or certification, and a few states have no regulations for this occupation.
The requirements for state licensure and state certification vary by state, but most include having a bachelor’s degree in food and nutrition or a related area, supervised practice, and passing an exam.
Many dietitians choose to earn the Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN) credential. Although the RDN is not always required, the qualifications are often the same as those necessary to become a licensed dietitian in states that require a license. Many employers prefer or require the RDN, which is administered by the Commission on Dietetic Registration, the credentialing agency for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
The RDN requires dietitian nutritionists to complete a minimum of a bachelor’s degree and a Dietetic Internship Program. Students may complete both criteria at once through a Coordinated Program, or they may finish coursework requirements before applying for an internship. These programs are accredited by the Accreditation Council for Education in Nutrition and Dietetics (ACEND). In order to maintain the RDN credential, Registered Dietitian Nutritionists must complete continuing professional education requirements.
Nutritionists may earn the Certified Nutrition Specialist (CNS) credential to show an advanced level of knowledge. The CNS credential is accepted in many states for licensure purposes. To qualify for the CNS exam, applicants must have a master’s or doctoral degree and 1,000 hours of experience. The credential is administered by the Certification Board for Nutrition Specialists.
Dietitians and nutritionists may seek additional certifications in an area of specialty such as sports or pediatric nutrition.
Important Qualities

Analytical skills. Dietitians and nutritionists must keep up to date with the latest nutrition research. They should be able to interpret scientific studies and translate nutrition science into practical eating advice.
Compassion. Dietitians and nutritionists must be caring and empathetic when helping clients address dietary issues and any related emotions.
Listening skills. Dietitians and nutritionists must listen carefully to understand clients’ goals and concerns. They may also work with other healthcare workers as part of team to improve the health of a patient and need to listen to team members when constructing eating plans.
Organizational skills. Because there are many aspects to the work of dietitians and nutritionists, they should have the ability to stay organized. Management dietitians, for example, must consider both the nutritional needs of their clients and the costs of meals. Self-employed dietitians and nutritionists may need to schedule their appointments and maintain patient files.
Problem-solving skills. They must evaluate the health status of patients and determine the most appropriate food choices for a client to improve overall health or manage a disease.
Speaking skills. Dietitians and nutritionists must explain complicated topics in a way that people with less technical knowledge can understand. They must be able to clearly explain eating plans to clients and to other healthcare professionals involved in a patient’s care.

Pay

The median annual wage for dietitians and nutritionists was $55,240 in May 2012. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $34,500, and the top 10 percent earned more than $77,590.
According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, the median annual wage for Registered Dietitian Nutritionists (RDNs) was $60,000 in 2013.
Most dietitians and nutritionists worked full time in 2012, although about 1 out of 5 worked part time. Self-employed dietitians have more flexibility in setting their schedules. They may work evenings and weekends so that they can meet with clients.

Job Outlook

Employment of dietitians and nutritionists is projected to grow 21 percent from 2012 to 2022, faster than the average for all occupations. In recent years, interest in the role of food in promoting health and wellness has increased, particularly as a part of preventative healthcare in medical settings.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, more than one-third of U.S. adults are obese. Many diseases, such as diabetes and kidney disease, are associated with obesity. The importance of diet in preventing and treating illnesses is now well known. More dietitians and nutritionists will be needed to provide care for people with these conditions.
As the baby-boom generation grows older and looks for ways to stay healthy, there will be more demand for dietetic services. An aging population also will increase the need for dietitians and nutritionists in nursing homes and in home healthcare.
Job Prospects

Overall, job opportunities for dietitians and nutritionists are expected to be favorable. Dietitians and nutritionists who have earned advanced degrees or certification in a specialty area may enjoy better job prospects.

 

Occupational TitleSOC CodeEmployment, 2012Projected Employment, 2022Change, 2012-22Employment by IndustryPercentNumericSOURCE: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Employment Projections programDietitians and nutritionists29-103167,40081,6002114,200Employment.xls

Similar Occupations

This table shows a list of occupations with job duties that are similar to those of dietitians and nutritionists.

Work Settings

Dietitians can find employment in a broad range of places, especially in medical facilities such as hospitals, clinics, and nursing homes. In addition, federal, state, and local government agencies offer positions in health departments and other health-related sites. Other dietitians find work with social service agencies, residential care facilities, educational institutions, industrial food services, restaurants, catering services, and hotels. Some work for physicians with practices devoted to weight management.

Advancement

Advancement is possible in all dietetic areas and comes with experience and successful performance. Promotion typically involves assuming supervisory responsibilities. Earning a graduate degree facilitates advancement in this field.

Prerequisites

In the course of earning their high school diplomas, students who want to enter this field should take courses in biology, chemistry, mathematics, home economics, and business management. Desirable personal attributes include strong interpersonal and communication skills. Those who want to be dietitians should have the ability to speak before a group, since occasional lectures in special settings and one-on-one teaching may be a big part of the job. Obviously, those entering the field should be interested in food preparation and its impact on the well-being of others.

Education/Training

The basic requirement for entering this field is a bachelor’s degree from an accredited institution, with a major in dietetics, nutrition food science, food preparation, or food services management. Undergraduate course work should include general biology, inorganic and organic chemistry, biochemistry, anatomy, physiology, microbiology, diet therapy, advanced nutrition, food services systems, food services management, quality food production, accounting, data processing, business management, and statistics.

Certification/Registration/Licensure

Dietitians in most states must satisfy specific academic and experience requirements to meet the standards set by the Commission on Dietetic Registration. Most positions are open exclusively to registered dietitians (RDs). An RD degree reflects that a candidate has met a specified high standard of education and training.

Career Potential

The job outlook for dietitians for the foreseeable future is quite favorable. There is a continuous demand for more dietitians to meet the needs of an aging and more health-conscious population in the United States. The impact of health-care reforms on the field is unclear at present. Nevertheless, as the public becomes increasingly aware of the need for good dietary habits, the services of professionals in this field should be increasingly stimulated at various community levels.

For More Information

The professional organization in this field is the American Dietetic Association, 216 West Jackson Blvd., Chicago, IL 60606

Contacts for More Information

For a list of academic programs and other information about dietitians, visit
Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics
For information on the Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN) exam and other specialty credentials, visit
Commission on Dietetic Registration
For information on the Certified Nutrition Specialist exam and credential, visit
Certification Board for Nutrition Specialists

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