Dietitians are professionals who work in a wide variety of settings to improve health through the use of food and/or nutritional supplementation. They work with groups, or one-on-one, in large facilities, in small practices, or even remotely through the use of the internet.
Dietitians make a direct impact on the wellness of others in a way that is fun and rewarding. Here’s what you should know.
A Great Deal of Need
The field for dietitians is growing at a rate of 14%, faster than national average for all jobs. Many specific populations have the greatest need. Dietitians work:
- In schools, where an estimated one in three children are overweight or obese in America. School districts and states wishing to make a difference in the obesity crisis, employ dietitians to use their expertise to plan healthy meals and provide education to young people and educators.
- In hospitals and healthcare facilities, dietitians often work with specific needs and populations–patients with diabetes, hypertension, asthma/allergies, celiac disease or any other number of conditions where a dietary component is part of management of the disease. Dietitian job duties include initial orientation to and education about dietary guidelines at the diagnostic stage of a medical condition, then guidance and assistance along the way.
- In adult care facilities, dietitians also prepare meals for specific needs. The aging population can have specific nutritional needs, and dietitians help manage blood pressure, strengthen bone health and ensure quality of life through food choices.
- In athletic training facilities, dietitians help athletes perform their best and maintain target weight class through optimum food and nutrition choices.
Dietitians can choose to work with a wide variety of needs and conditions, or specialize in the care of specific populations. They can work in large facilities, teach educational classes, lead group support groups, or counsel clients on an individual basis in a private practice. Becoming a registered dietitian means choosing a profession where your career can evolve and change as your own interests do, without stagnation.
How to Become a Dietitian
It seems almost anyone these days wants to call themselves a “nutritionist.” There is so much conflicting health and food information on the internet that many clients will come in completely confused, or doing what they think are the “right” things. They are in fact doing more harm than good.
A registered dietitian (RD) position is different. It requires specific educational and certification requirements. When you become an RD you understand the science of food, the needs of many different conditions, and gain the experience needed to counsel clients and help them sort through their food-related confusions. RDs, then, can play a crucial part in the attainment of and maintenance of health.
Becoming a dietitian requires at least a bachelor’s degree. The most direct path toward becoming a registered dietitian (RD) is:
- Complete a bachelor’s degree in a program accredited by the Commission on Accreditation for Dietetics (CADE) or the Accreditation Council for Education in Nutrition and Dietetics (ACEND). Both of these independent accrediting bodies will ensure that the educational program covers necessary requirements for working as an RD.
- Complete the required internship/apprenticeship. Usually 6-12 months in length, an approved internship is required for certification. Internships will also help you refine the soft skills needed to work effectively with clients of diverse needs. Some future RDs complete more than one internship/apprenticeship to gain experience in multiple settings.
- Become certified as a registered dietitian by completing the certification exam.
If you have completed a bachelor’s degree in a related field (such as biology, health sciences, or nutrition), or if you wish to obtain a higher degree, it is also possible to go back to school to get a master’s degree in dietetics. Then, you may become certified and work as a registered dietitian.
Accredited programs come in many forms, at community colleges, state or private schools, classroom-only, online, or combined classroom/online formats, on a full-time or a part-time basis. If your goal is to become a registered dietitian, an accredited program can work with you to look at your prior education and experience and determine what will be needed to complete the educational steps to work in this interesting and rewarding field.
Salary and Job Outlook
Salaries for RDs vary greatly, depending on educational level, experience, job requirements and job location, among other factors. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics reports a national average salary of $28.33 per hour, or $58,920 per year.
Start in a New Direction
If you are considering changing careers and working as a dietitian, or if you are a dietitian looking to find your ideal employment fit, contact us. We can help you start in a new direction!