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.

What is a Dietitian?

Dietitians evaluate people's diets and provide advice about the foods to eat to improve health and maintain a healthy lifestyle. They design meal plans based on a client's needs and income, monitor client progress and adjust plans accordingly. Outside of working with individuals, these professionals often educate public groups on health matters and contribute to research. Someare self-employed, making them responsible for scheduling appointments, designing informational material and maintaining records. The following table provides information about educational requirements, key skills, and job growth for dieticians and nutritionists, a closely related occupation.

Degree RequiredBachelor's
Education Field of StudyClinical nutrition, dietetics
Key SkillsAnalytical, listening, problem-solving, and compassion
Licensure or CertificationLicensure required in most states; certification or state registration required in some states
Job Growth (2014-2024)16% for dietitians and nutritionists*
Median Salary (2015)$57,910 for dietitians and nutritionists*

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 the majority of 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 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 16 percent between 2014-2024, according to the BLS. Around additional jobs were projected to be created during this time. In 2015, the median salary for dietitians was $57,910.

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 2015 were Rhode Island, Alaska, Nebraska, Hawaii and West Virginia.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

Related careers include health education and nursing. Health educators research wellness data, develop strategies to help people manage their health conditions, and educate the public on their findings. Registered nurses (RNs) provide care to medical patients by administering treatment, monitoring patients, and consulting with doctors. RNs and health educators must have at least a bachelor's degree to work in the field.

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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