Dietitians and nutritionists help individuals modify their diets. They may create a low-salt diet for a patient with high blood pressure, or plan balanced and nutritious diets for patients who have undergone surgery. Dietitians and nutritionists are employed in schools and hospitals and other institutions where they manage food service systems. They also promote good eating habits through education and conduct research.
Dietitians and nutritionists often work in specialized fields. Clinical dietitians work in hospitals, nursing care facilities and other institutions where they assess patients’ nutritional needs, create and begin nutrition programs and evaluate and report the results. Sometimes they confer with doctors and other healthcare staff to coordinate nutritional and medical needs. Additionally, clinical dietitians and nutritionists in small hospitals, correctional facilities or nursing care facilities may manage the food service departments. Other dietitians work in the community, manage large institutional food programs or act as consultants.
- Most dietitians and nutritionists work in hospitals, outpatient care centers, nursing care facilities and offices of physicians or other health practitioners.
- At least a bachelor’s degree is required for dietitians and nutritionists; licensure, certification or registration requirements are different in various states.
- The best job opportunities should go to those with specialized training, an advanced degree or additional certifications.
Work Environment for Dietitians and Nutritionists
Dietitians and nutritionists work in a variety of institutions, including hospitals, company cafeterias, schools, prisons, nursing care facilities. These are usually clean and well-ventilated areas, but some dietitians and nutritionists work in hot, crowded kitchens with a small office nearby. Others work in food manufacturing plants, marketing companies or for advertising businesses. Those who have their own consulting businesses usually work in clean, well-lit offices.
Many dietitians and nutritionists spend most of their workday on their feet as they supervise food preparation. A 40-hour workweek is typical, although occasional weekends may be required.
Education, Training and Licensing
Dietitians or nutritionists need a minimum of a bachelor’s degree in foods and nutrition, dietetics, food service systems management or a related area. Graduate degrees are also available for dietitians. Undergraduate classes that students take in dietetics training programs are nutrition, foods, institution management, biochemistry, chemistry, microbiology, biology and physiology. Mathematics, statistics, business, computer science, economics, psychology and sociology are also normally part of the training.
The American Dietetic Association’s Commission on Accreditation for Dietetics Education approved 279 bachelor’s degree programs and 18 master’s degree programs as of 2008.
Licensure requirements for dietitians and nutritionists vary by state. Thirty-three states require licensure, 12 require statutory certification and one requires registration. The Commission on Dietetic Registration of the American Dietetic Association awards the Registered Dietitian credential to candidates who pass an exam after coursework and a supervised internship are completed. Dietitians must complete at least 75 credit hours of continuing education classes every five years.
There are two ways of completing a supervised internship that is required for certification. Dietitians may complete a program accredited by the Commission on Dietetic Registration or complete 900 hours of supervised practice experience in an accredited internship.
Employment Figures, Projections, Outlook and Earnings
Dietitians and nutritionists held about 53,220 jobs in May 2009, according to research published by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Most dietitians and nutritionists worked for hospitals. Others were employed by nursing care facilities, local government, outpatient care centers and special food services.
The BLS expects employment in this field to grow by 9% between 2008 and 2018, or about as fast as the average for all occupations. An increasing concern for disease prevention through better diet will spur job growth in this field. Also, the growing and aging population will need more nutritional treatment and counseling in hospitals, schools, community health programs.
BLS reports indicate that the median annual salary for dietitians and nutritionists was $52,150 as of May 2009. The middle 50% earned between $42,400 and $63,460, while the bottom 10% earned $33,230 or less each year. The top 10% earned $74,690 or more annually.