How to Become a Nutritionist - Career Guide

Dietitians and nutritionists use food and nutrition to prevent and treat illnesses. They encourage healthy eating and recommend changes in patients’ diets to promote better health.

By U.S. News University Directory
Posted 2010

Dietitians and Nutritionists Jobs
Dietitians and Nutritionists Jobs

Through planning food and nutritional diets, overseeing food preparation, and serving of food, dietitians and nutritionists promote healthy eating. For example, they may teach obese patients how to cook using less fat and sugar, or explain how blood pressure can be lowered with dietary changes.

Many dietitians serve institutions such as hospitals and schools by supervising food service at these places. They also encourage healthy eating routines through education, and some may conduct research. Dietetics is a comprehensive field and workers often specialize in such roles as clinical dietitian, community dietitian, management dietitian, or consultant.

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Dietitians and Nutritionists Job Summary

  • Hospitals, physicians’ offices, nursing care establishments, and outpatient centers employ most dietitians and nutritionists.
  • The minimum educational requirement for dietitians and nutritionists is generally a bachelor’s degree.
  • Licensure, certification, or registration requirements vary by state.
  • The best job opportunities are available to dietitians and nutritionists with a master’s degree, specialized training, or additional certifications.

Work Environment for Dietitians and Nutritionists

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), full-time dietitians and nutritionists usually work a 40-hour week. Approximately 19% worked part time as of 2008.

Clinical, community, and consultant dietitians have the option of working in a wide variety of environments. Clinical dietitians care for the dietary needs of patients in institutions such as hospitals and nursing care facilities. They implement nutrition programs after evaluating patients’ nutritional needs.

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Community dietitians teach how to prevent disease and stay healthy. They often work in public health clinics and health maintenance groups. They also work with individuals, formulating plans and teaching how to implement these to individuals and their families. Community dietitians who work in food manufacturing or for private businesses analyze foods and determine the nutritional value of recipes.

Consultant dietitians may have their own practice or work in healthcare facilities. Some work for wellness programs, supermarkets, and other food-related businesses. They also provide expertise in sanitation and planning.

Education and Training for Dietitians and Nutritionists

Dietitians and nutritionists need a minimum of a bachelor’s degree in food service systems management, dietetics, foods and nutrition, or a related field. They can also earn graduate degrees. Future dietitians and nutritionists generally take courses in chemistry, biology, microbiology, physiology, foods, nutrition, and institution management. Other courses in dietetics training programs include statistics, business, psychology, economics, sociology, math, and chemistry.

In 2008, the American Dietetic Association’s Commission on Accreditation for Dietetics Education approved 279 bachelor’s degree programs and 18 master’s degree programs.

Requirements for licensure vary by state; 33 states require licensure, 12 mandate statutory certification, and one requires registration. In addition, the Commission on Dietetic Registration of the American Dietetic Association administers an exam when academic coursework and a supervised internship are completed. A Registered Dietitian certification is given to students who pass the exam and complete a supervised internship. Every five years, a registered dietitian must complete 75 credit hours of continuing education courses.

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There are two ways of completing the required supervised internship. The candidate may either complete a four- to five-year program facilitated by the Commission on Dietetic Registration, or 900 hours of supervised practice in an accredited internship lasting six to 12 months.

Advancement depends on whether the dietitian or nutritionist remains in the dietetics field and advances to a management job, or leaves the field to work for a pharmaceutical or food manufacturing company. Other dietitians may advance through self-employment and specialize in areas such as pediatric dietetics. If the dietitian is involved in research, public health, or other clinical positions, a master’s degree often helps in advancement.

Dietitians and Nutritionists Jobs Outlook, and Earnings

According to the BLS, dietitians and nutritionists held 53,220 jobs in 2009. Hospitals, outpatient centers, physicians’ offices, and nursing care facilities employed more than half of the workers in this field. Others held jobs in correctional institutions, health departments, and other areas of state and local governments

The BLS estimates a 9% increase in the number of dietitians and nutritionists positions between 2008 and 2018, which represents the average growth for all occupations. The best job opportunities should be available to those with a master’s degree, certifications beyond the state minimum, or training in a specialty.

Several factors will stimulate the growth rate for this occupation, including a rising awareness of disease prevention through proper diet. The aging population will also spur growth in dietitian and nutritionist jobs in hospitals and in other institutions. Changes in medical coverage will augment the need for dietitians. Renal and diabetic patients covered by Medicare are now eligible for medical nutrition therapy, thereby creating more jobs for dietitians and nutritionists.

The median annual wage for dietitians and nutritionists was $52,150 in May 2009, according to BLS studies. The middle 50% earned between $42,400 and $63,460. While the lowest 10% earned about $33,230, the highest 10% had an annual salary of around $74,690.

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