How to Become a Dietitian in 5 Steps
Explore the career requirements for dieticians. Get the facts about education, certification and licensure requirements, potential job growth, and salary to determine if this is the right career for you. Schools offering Nutrition degrees can also be found in these popular choices.
Career Information At a Glance
Dietitians evaluate people's health and provide advice about the foods to eat to improve health and maintain a healthy lifestyle. The following table provides information about educational requirements, key skills, and job growth for dieticians and nutritionists, a closely related occupation.
|Education Field of Study||Clinical nutrition, dietetics|
|Key Skills||Analytical, listening, problem-solving, and compassion|
|Licensure or Certification||Licensure required in most states; certification or state registration required in some states|
|Job Growth (2012-2022)||21%*|
Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
What Does a Dietitian Do?
As a dietitian, you'll work with clients to develop healthy diets which will improve their health and prevent illness. You'll develop nutritional programs to meet the needs of individual clients, sometimes to control weight and sometimes to remain healthy (in cases of low-sugar diets for diabetics, for example). Dietitians modify their clients' diets by preparing meal plans that balance nutrition, while lowering cholesterol, salt, sugar, fat and even magnesium intake.
Step 1: Learn What the Profession Entails
As a clinical dietitian, you'll work with physicians and nursing homes to evaluate patients' dietary needs. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), you'll develop nutritional plans and report the results of new diets to doctors (www.bls.gov).
Step 2: Get the Necessary Education
While master's degree programs are available, a bachelor's degree is the major requirement to becoming a dietitian. In fact, according to the BLS, there were 279 bachelor's degree programs for aspiring dietitians versus the 18 accredited graduate programs in the U.S. in 2008. A bachelor's degree is also the level required to become a registered dietitian (RD). These bachelor's degree programs are heavy in nutrition, microbiology, chemistry, anatomy and food science courses. You'll also learn medical terminology, food service management operations, psychology basics and intervention methods, as well as exploring eating disorders, fitness and community health.
Step 3: Pursue Certification
The BLS reports that as of 2009, 45 states required dietitians to have some form of credentialing. You should check with your state to find out licensing requirements. The Commission on Dietetic Registration of the American Dietetic Association offers a certification exam for dietitians (www.cdrnet.org). If you complete the process, you'll be earn the registered dietitian designation. Other exams can lead to certification in oncology, pediatric, sports or renal nutrition.
Step 4: Monitor Job Growth Trends
The employment opportunities for dietitians were expected to grow by about 21 percent between 2012-2022, according to the BLS. An additional 14,200 jobs were projected to be created during this time. In 2013, the median salary for dietitians was $55,920.
Step 5: Find Work
The BLS states that dietitians are frequently hired by hospitals, clinics and nursing homes. In fact, hospitals are expected to remain the highest employing entity for dietitians. The five areas with the highest concentration of dietitians in 2009 were D.C., Delaware, North Dakota, Pennsylvania and New York.
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