Clinical Dietitian Jobs: Salary and Career Facts

Explore the career requirements for clinical dietitians. Get the facts about education requirements, certification, job duties and salary to determine if this is the right career for you. Schools offering Nutrition degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Is a Clinical Dietician?

Clinical dietitians help people in a hospital or clinical setting improve or maintain optimal health through nutrition. They investigate the health needs of patients and, based on the data gleaned, they develop nutritional programs for these patients. They then monitor patients' health and adherence to nutritional plans. These professionals can also advise patients' family members about diet changes and menu preparation. Some clinical dieticians may specialize and deal exclusively with those who suffer from kidney disease, diabetes or other ailments.

Take a look at the following chart for an overview of how to enter this profession.

Degree Required Bachelor's degree minimum; master's degree for advanced positions
Education Field of Study Nutrition, dietetics
Key Skills Work with doctors & patients to create nutrition plans in hospital/nursing home setting
Licensing Most states require licensing, statutory certification &/or registration; voluntary Registered Dietitian certification also available
Job Growth (2014-2024 ) 16% for all dietitians and nutritionists*
Median Salary (2017) $47,517**

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics; **

What Degree Do I Need to Become a Clinical Dietitian?

Typically, you need a bachelor's degree at minimum to become a clinical dietitian. Relevant majors at the bachelor's level may include nutrition, dietetics and food service systems management. For example, you can earn a Bachelor of Science in Clinical Dietetics and Nutrition. Although not required for many entry-level positions, a master's degree in clinical dietetics or a related field may be helpful in gaining an advanced clinical position. In some cases, you can earn your master's degree in nutrition or dietetics online.

The Commission on Accreditation for Dietetics Education (CADE), an accrediting agency of the American Dietetic Association (ADA), provides a list of accredited bachelor's and master's degree programs. Such degree programs typically include a lot of science courses, such as biology, microbiology, chemistry and biochemistry, as well as plenty of courses in nutrition and foods. You might also study institution management, and courses in mathematics, statistics, business and computer science may also be recommended.

Do I Need Certification?

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), most states require dietitians to be licensed. Due to the varying requirements for gaining licensure or certification, it's important to check with your state before taking any exam. In states that require certification or registration, you can still work as a dietitian without such credentials, but if your state requires licensure, you won't be able to work without a valid license.

Not to be confused with the statutory certification required by some states, voluntary certification is available through the ADA's Commission on Dietetic Registration (CDR). The CDR awards the Registered Dietitian credential, which requires you to complete specific coursework and a supervised internship. As of 2009, more than 50 accredited degree programs included a supervised practical experience that fulfills the internship requirement, but you can also pursue an accredited internship separate from your educational program. An internship generally lasts anywhere from six months to two years, depending upon whether the program is part-time or full-time.

To take the national certifying exam to become a Registered Dietitian, you also need to have a bachelor's degree. Continuing education is required every five years to maintain this voluntary certification.

What Might My Job Duties Be?

Unlike other dietitians who might work in schools or community settings or on a consulting basis, a clinical dietitian typically works in a healthcare setting, such as a hospital or nursing home. As a clinical dietitian, you work with patients and doctors to come up with the best diet plan for patients' nutritional needs based on their health and medical issues. For example, patients with diabetes or kidney issues need to eat special diets to help manage their illness. You might also work with overweight patients who need to lose weight in order to improve their health.

While many clinical dietitians work one-on-one with patients, some work in food service department management for a hospital, nursing home or even correctional facility. You might also help develop nutrition standards and educational materials to be utilized by workers in related positions, such as nutrition assistants or dietetic technicians.

How Much Could I Earn?

The BLS expects job opportunities for all nutritionists and dietitians, including clinical dietitians, to grow by about 16% between 2014 and 2024, which is much faster than average. According to the median salary for clinical dietitians was $47,517 as of January 2017.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

According to the BLS, you may qualify to become a registered nurse (RN) with an associate's degree, diploma or bachelor's degree in nursing. Every U.S. state requires RNs to be licensed. Working in concert with physicians and other medical professionals, RNs coordinate, provide and administer patient care. RNs may specialize in areas that include critical care, addiction, genetics and rehabilitation.

Additional careers that deal with the maintenance of public health include health educator and community health worker. A bachelor's degree is generally the minimum qualification to become a health educator, but some employers may require a master's or doctoral degree and/or a Certified Health Educator Specialist credential. Health educators work to inform the public about health-related issues. Community health workers often work with health educators and heathcare providers to meet the needs of the community. All that is generally required to become a community health worker is a high school diploma and some on-the-job training. Some states provide the opportunity for community health workers to earn a certification credential.

To continue researching, browse degree options below for course curriculum, prerequisites and financial aid information. Or, learn more about the subject by reading the related articles below:

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