Dietitian: Career Profile, Employment Outlook, and Education Requirements

Explore the career requirements for dietitians. Get the facts about education requirements, certification, job duties and employment outlook 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?

A dietitian plans food and nutrition programs to promote healthy-eating habits that can support overall well-being. Dietitians first need to assess their patient's health and dietary needs. They then counsel their patients and create a meal plan that considers a patient's preferences and finances. They may need to evaluate and change their plans as needed, and therefore, must keep detailed records and report on a patient's progress. Dietitians may also promote health by speaking to various groups on a variety of health topics, based on the most up-to-date research and information. Take a look at the following chart for an overview of how to enter this field.

Degree Required Bachelor's degree
Education Field of Study Dietetics
Key Responsibilities Advise clients about nutrition and design healthy eating programs, document client progress, promote better nutrition through public education
Licensure/Certification Most states require licensing, registration and/or certification; optional specialty certifications available
Job Growth (2014-2024) 16% (for dietitians and nutritionists)*
Average Salary (2015) $58,410 (for dietitians and nutritionists)*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

What Education and Certification Do I Need to Be a Dietitian?

If you want to become a registered dietitian (RD), the American Dietetic Association (ADA) states you must earn at least a bachelor's degree through an approved dietetic program, have 1,200 hours of supervised practice and pass the national exam offered by the Commission on Dietetic Registration. Some states require that you get a license from the state in which you plan to practice.

You can find two types of bachelor's degree programs at many 4-year colleges and universities where you take classes in food safety, nutritional assessment, nutritional management and IV nutrition therapy. According to the ADA, coordinated dietetic programs include the supervised practice hours you need to be able to sit for the national certification exam to become an RD. Didactic (teaching only) programs do not include these supervised practice hours, so you are required to perform practice hours through an accredited dietetic internship before taking the exam. Coordinated and didactic programs each take about four years, between coursework and supervised practice.

Will a Master's Degree Be Useful?

If you have a bachelor's degree in another field and want to become an RD, you can also earn a master's degree through a didactic or coordinated dietetic program. You might study maternal and infant nutrition, chronic disease and nutrition, nutritional counseling and public health nutrition. If you're already an RD, you can also earn a master's degree in a concentrated area of dietetics like clinical nutrition or sports dietetics. With training and experience, you can also become board certified in specialty areas like gerontological nutrition, sports nutrition and renal nutrition.

What Could My Job Duties Include?

As a dietitian, you could supervise the preparation and serving of meals at schools and hospitals, or you might recommend specific dietary modifications for individual patients. You would also be responsible for promoting and educating clients or patients about wellness through proper eating. You might specialize in an area of dietetics, such as clinical, community, or management dietetics. You may work for hospital or outpatient clinics, insurance companies, long-term care facilities or food services.

What Is the Job Outlook?

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), dietitians can expect an employment increase of 16% from 2014-2024. With an advanced degree or specialty in an area like diabetic or gerontological nutrition, you might have more opportunities. The BLS also reports that in May 2015, the average salary for dietitians was about $58,410 per year.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

If you're searching for a related career, you may want to consider becoming a registered nurse (RN). RNs primarily provide patient care, but can also educate the public on health issues and provide support to patients and their families. RNs need a bachelor's degree and a license. Health educators also need a bachelor's degree. These professionals promote wellness by educating the public on different health concerns. They may also help develop ways to keep a community and its individuals healthy.

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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