Dietitians and nutritionists work mainly in hospitals and public service offices to provide information to patients regarding proper diet and nutrition. Many who continue their education to a Master’s level have much better employment opportunities now and in the future.
Dietitian Schools By State
For most dietitians, the educational requirements begin as early as high school. Students wishing to pursue a career in diet and nutrition should begin taking classes in high school such as communications, math, health, biology and chemistry to begin preparing. To be a dietitian, one must complete a bachelor’s degree in dietetics, food service management, or food and nutrition. Courses included in these studies are foods, institution management, nutrition, biochemistry, chemistry, microbiology, physiology, and biology. Other recommended studies include sociology, business, computer science, statistics, mathematics, psychology, and economics.
There are approximately 220 bachelors and masters degrees available that have been approved by the American Dietetic Association. Since requirements for licensing and registration differ between states, it is important to research the requirements for the state in which you wish to work before taking any exams. Some states require a license, others require a certification and others simply require a registration be on file. Most require supervised practice be performed which can be obtained in two different ways. One option requires the completion of a CADE accredited program, the other is through an internship. Depending on the availability of internships in your area, the CADE program may be your best option.
Most dietitians work in an office like environment and work a normal 40 hour work week. Some work on weekends and some work part time. Many dietitians also work in warm kitchens and are on their feet for most of the day. Others work in well ventilated comfortable work spaces. Dietitians who specialize in dietary planning for hospitals and other medical institutions are required to work in the kitchen area which can be very congested as well. Others provide services such as diet reviews and recommendations.
Dietitians work in a variety of settings. Doctor’s offices, nursing homes, institutions, prisons or jails, as well as government run service providers such as a health department, providing information and direction for the nutritional needs of clients. These services can also be provided by self employed dietitians working on a consult basis to assist with adequately meeting the needs of clients through suggestions of menu changes and adjustments to ensure that the proper dietary support is provided.
Job Growth and Salary Expectations
As people today are more and more concerned with the impact diet has on overall health, the job growth for dietitians is expected to be faster than other careers. In addition, the population that is requiring care in nursing homes as they age is expanding as well, requiring more dietitians to assist in meeting those dietary conditions as well. In addition, there is an expected decline in employment opportunities with certain types of institutions as those institutions begin to contract with outside sources for food services. Institutions such as public schools and certain governmental agencies use outside sources to provide food service to their students and clients, and therefore the outside services are required to provide the adequate nutrition without the help of an in house dietitian.*
Most dietitians make between $35,000 and $53,000 per year. The salaries tend to vary significantly between areas of care as well as the dietitian’s years in practice. More experienced dietitians tend to receive a higher salary than those with little or no experience. There also appears to be a great variation between types of practice. Consulting dietitians tend to make around $53,000 while those in local care areas tend to make approximately $44,000. Other related areas where a dietitian may choose to work include food service managers and health education.*
*According to the BLS, http://www.bls.gov/oco/
Advancement within the field requires many years of experience as a dietitian. However, once the appropriate level of experience is obtained, a registered dietitian may advance into positions such as assistant director or may become self employed. Others may leave the field of direct dietetic care to move into related sales fields for equipment, food manufacturers or suppliers, and pharmaceutical fields. Some dietitians like to work in specialized fields such as renal, cardiovascular, pediatric and diabetic areas. These specializations require some additional training, but can be included in the Bachelor’s program through college. Specialization is usually not chosen until after one has been practicing for several years however, so it will require some additional course being taken to be able to specialize in these areas.
It is the job of a dietitian to ensure that their clients are consuming the appropriate foods containing the proper nutrition for their specific health needs. However, seeing a dietitian is not a guarantee of improvement. The recommendations of a dietitian must be followed for them to be effective.