What Is a Dietician?

Dietitians develop and oversee nutritional programs for many types of institutions, including schools, hospitals and nursing homes. These professionals usually need a degree and licensure, although certification is also possible. Read on to learn about the job duties of different types of dietitians, as well as the educational requirements and career prospects for these professionals. Schools offering Nutrition degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

Job Description

A dietitian is qualified to develop and manage nutritional programs for individuals or groups of people in various institutions. There are several types of dietitians, including clinical dietitians, community dietitians, management dietitians, consultant dietitians and research dietitians. Job duties vary by role but usually include the following:

  • Determining dietary needs for patients
  • Creating meal plans and making changes as needed
  • Providing nutritional counseling to individuals and groups
  • Keeping track of each patient's progress

Important Facts About This Occupation

Similar Occupations Registered nurses, health educators, community health workers, rehabilitation counselors
Key Skills Listening, speaking, problem-solving, analytical and organizational skills; empathy
Certification Professional certifications available in specialty areas
Work Environment Private practice, clinic; personal consultations may have specific requirements

Clinical Dietitian

A clinical dietitian establishes and monitors nutritional plans for hospital patients or nursing home residents, although these professionals may also work for inpatient or outpatient clinics. They work with doctors and nurses to develop individual nutrition programs.

Community Dietitian

Community dietitians educate the public about nutrition. They might work for community centers, corporate wellness programs, fitness centers or a health maintenance organization (HMO). This type of professional works to raise public awareness about the ways in which to avoid illness or disease through proper nutrition.

Management Dietitian

In large health care facilities, schools and even prisons, a management dietitian is generally needed to oversee food selection and preparation. These professionals might also monitor adherence to sanitary regulations and review the nutritional values of all meals served.

Consultant Dietitian

Some dietitians might work as consultants. They may have a private practice or be an independent contractor working at a health care institution. They establish nutrition programs based on individual needs. They might help clients manage weight loss or create nutrition programs for those with chronic diseases such as diabetes.

Research Dietitian

A research dietitian conducts studies on the nutritional needs of different groups of people. These professionals also study the biological and chemical reactions of the body to certain types of foods and diets. They might work for university or medical research centers or even food preparation plants.

Education, Licensure and Certification

A dietitian must obtain a bachelor's or master's degree in nutrition, dietetics or a similar area of study to work in the field. Students in these programs usually study chemistry, nutrition, biology and psychology. In addition, they usually do an internship that provides some supervised training.

Licensure is usually also required to work in the field, although specific requirements depend on the state in which you plan to work. In addition to possessing a degree and having completed some supervised practice in the field, you usually have to take an exam to become licensed.

A dietitian can also become a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN), which is a credential that typically requires a bachelor's degree and internship to qualify. Continuing education is required to maintain the certification.

Career Outlook and Salary Information

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the job outlook for dietitians and nutritionists is good, with faster-than-average job growth of 15% expected over the 2016-2026 decade (www.bls.gov). These professionals will be needed to help plan the diets for those with health conditions, as well as for those who are aging. To have better job prospects, you could get certified or earn a master's degree.

Overall, dietitians and nutritionists earned $61,210 on average in May 2018, reported the BLS. Most made between $38,460 and $84,610 a year. General medical and surgical hospitals, which offered a $62,640 average salary, had the highest dietitian and nutritionist employment level. Nursing care facilities had a slightly lower average wage of $60,230, while outpatient care centers paid these professionals $66,840 on average. The grantmaking and giving services industry paid dietitians and nutritionists the highest average salary of $73,910.

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