Dietitians and nutritionists develop food and nutrition programs, but their responsibilities can differ based on their place of employment, which may include a hospital, a doctor's office or other health care facility. Their responsibilities range from preparing menus to supervising food preparation and providing counseling. They also help to prevent and treat illnesses and may advocate for healthier eating plans in specific settings.
Dietitians can either be employed by an organization or work independently for themselves. While self-employment often allows for a more flexible schedule, those who work for themselves may need to be available on evenings and weekends to better accommodate the needs of clients.
Responsibilities of Dietitians
Other job titles associated with the dietitian occupation include clinical dietitian, registered dietitian, outpatient dietitian and pediatric clinical dietitian. No matter what the specialization, a dietitian may need to:
- Evaluate a client's nutritional needs, current health plans and diet restrictions to create an individualized dietary care plan
- Provide counseling to groups and individuals about food nutrition and healthy eating habits
- Collaborate with doctors and healthcare personnel to determine diet restrictions and nutritional needs of patients
- Oversee food operation to ensure conformance to nutritional, sanitation, safety and quality standards
- Develop special meals
- Make recommendations about public policy including food fortification, nutrition labeling and nutrition standards for schools
Community dietitians instruct at-risk groups such as diabetics, pregnant women and senior citizens about the types of food to include in their diet and which foods to avoid.
Clinical dietitians plan menus and oversee the preparation of meals in hospitals, nursing homes and other institutions.
Management dietitians direct large-scale meal planning and preparation in company cafeterias, health care facilities, schools and prisons.
Research dietitians are involved with nutrition research for commercial food companies.
Dietitian Job Characteristics
Many dietitians work in clean, well-ventilated settings. However, some may work in hot, busy kitchens or similar areas overseeing the preparation of meals and food. Here's what to expect:
- Full-time dietitians and nutritionists usually work 40 hours a week
- Approximately one in five are self-employed
- Those that are self-employed may have more flexibility on the job
- Evening or weekend hours may be required
- Some may work on their feet while others may spend more time at a desk
Qualities that are preferred in a good dietitian include:
- Analytical skills
- Clear, concise speaking abilities
- Compassion and empathy
- Good organization skills
- Problem-solving capabilities
Dietitian Salary and Career Information
- Total Employed: 59,490 as of 2014
- Job Growth: 21% growth from 2012 to 2022
- Average Salary: $57,440 as of 2014
According to the BLS, dietitians who have advanced degrees or specialty certifications could find some of the best job opportunities. Those working in California, Maryland, Nevada, Connecticut and New Jersey had the highest mean annual wages, all above $64,000.
Education, Certification and Licensing
A bachelor's degree in dietetics, food service systems management, food and nutrition, or in a related area is typically needed to enter the field, but students also can pursue graduate degrees in the subject. Students in a degree program typically take courses such as:
- Institution management
Certification is available though the Commission on Dietetic Registration and the Certification Board for Nutrition Specialists. Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN) and Certified Nutrition Specialist (CNS) are among the credentialing options.
Licensing is required in most states, although the requirements can vary. In some states, CNS credentialing is part of the licensing process. To obtain this credential, applicants need to have at least 1,000 hours of experience and a graduate-level degree. However, applicants typically must have a minimum of a bachelor's degree, a certain amount of time on the job and be able to pass an exam to become licensed.
- Assisted living facilities
- Home health care services and government agencies
- Nursing care facilities
- Offices of doctors and other health practitioners
- Outpatient care centers
- Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics
- Certification Board for Nutrition Specialists
- The American Dietetic Association
- The Commission on Dietetic Registration
- Dietitians and Nutritionists, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Jan. 8, 2014. http://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/dietitians-and-nutritionists.htm
- Dietitians and Nutritionists, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Employment Statistics, May 2014. http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes291031.htm