Dieticians use their expertise in food and nutrition to help direct people toward a health-related goal or promote an overall healthy lifestyle. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, they may plan meal programs, provide medical nutrition therapy for individuals or groups, or dispense specialized nutrition information based on individual health-related concerns. The typical tasks of a dietician include assessing patient needs, monitoring diet plan progress, explaining the relationship between nutrition and health, and staying up-to-date on the latest research in nutrition science (bls.gov/ooh, 2012).
Nearly a third of dieticians and nutritionists worked in general medical and surgical hospitals in 2012 according to the BLS (bls.gov/oes, 2013). These professionals may also find themselves working in nursing care facilities, outpatient care centers, physicians' offices, schools, nursing homes or other facilities where nutritive health plays an important role. (bls.gov/ooh, 2012).
How to Become a Dietician
Students preparing for dietician careers typically earn a bachelor's degree in the field and take on a significant amount of supervised training before beginning to practice independently. Here are some basic steps towards becoming a dietician:
- Take high school courses in subjects like anatomy, physiology, chemistry, biology and health, culminating in a diploma or equivalent credential.
- Attend college and earn a bachelor's degree in dietetics, nutrition or a related area.
- Participate in an internship or other supervised dietician training, if it was not included as a part of undergraduate college coursework.
- Check with the state agency that oversees dietician regulations to determine if licensure or certification is needed, and take the necessary steps to earn it.
- Apply at hospitals, schools, physicians' offices and other places with entry-level dietician jobs.
- Renew license or certification as needed to remain within state or agency regulations.
- Gain advanced expertise by optionally pursuing a master's or doctoral degree in the field.
While these steps constitute dietician career preparation based on information from the BLS and can be generally recommended, they do not, in any way, guarantee employment.
Post-Education Requirements: Certifications and/or State Licensing
Most states require dietitians to become licensed according to the BLS, and in order to qualify, candidates need to have earned a bachelor's in a related field, completed a specific amount of dietician training, and passed an exam (bls.gov/ooh, 2012). Licensed dieticians often have to take CPE (continuing professional education) courses to keep their license current.
National professional certification programs are also available for dieticians looking for more advanced credentials:
- Registered Dietitian (RD): The RD designation, overseen by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (A.N.D.) and distributed by the Commission on Dietetic Registration (CDR), certifies that an individual has met a set of academic and professional requirements set by the Academy. The BLS notes that becoming an RD satisfies state licensure requirements. After initial licensure, RDs must participate annually in the CDR-administered Professional Development Portfolio (PDP) recertification system in order to maintain certified status.
Several specialized dietician careers exist for professionals with particular skills. Here are a few of the specializations that dieticians may choose:
- Management Dietician: Plan nutritious meal programs in food service settings such as hospitals, nursing homes, schools and cafeterias.
- Clinical Dietician: Work in medical care facilities and provide nutrition therapy to individual patients and groups with specific dietary needs.
- Community Dietician: Work in public health environments to help educate communities and specific groups of people about food- and nutrition-related topics.
- Sports Dietician: Work with athletes and trainers to craft nutritional plans for optimal health and athletic performance. Sports dieticians can pursue the CCSD credential, also offered by the CDR.
Dietician Job Growth and Average Salary
The BLS reports that growing interest in the role of nutrition as a factor in overall health and wellness should drive a 20 percent national increase in nutritionist and dietician jobs from 2010 to 2020 (bls.gov/ooh, 2012). The BLS also notes that the median annual wage of dieticians and nutritionists was $55,240 in May 2012, with the lowest 10 percent earning up to $34,500 and the highest 10 percent earning more than $77,590 (bls.gov/oes, 2013). These figures represent the U.S. as a whole, and earnings may vary according to factors such as location, experience and education.
List of Related Careers
Professionals with dietician training may choose to pursue other career paths as well. Keep in mind -- additional education, certification and/or experience may be required. Here are a couple of alternate careers for dieticians:
- Health Educator: Instructs people about behaviors that support health and wellness and develops programs that promote healthy decision making. A bachelor's degree is required, while certification is optional (bls.gov/ooh, 2012).
- Healthcare Administrator: Oversees a healthcare facility or department, providing high-level direction to make sure medical services are provided efficiently and effectively. A bachelor's or master's in health administration is common, but candidates with sufficient managerial experience and a related degree may be qualified (bls.gov/ooh, 2012).
Links to Sources and Associations
The following websites offer more information on dietician training and careers: