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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:

  • Biochemistry
  • Biology
  • Chemistry
  • Institution management
  • Microbiology
  • Nutrition
  • Physiology

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.

Major Employers

  • Assisted living facilities
  • Home health care services and government agencies
  • Hospitals
  • Nursing care facilities
  • Offices of doctors and other health practitioners
  • Outpatient care centers

Resources

  • Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics
  • Certification Board for Nutrition Specialists
  • The American Dietetic Association
  • The Commission on Dietetic Registration

Sources:

  1. Dietitians and Nutritionists, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Jan. 8, 2014. http://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/dietitians-and-nutritionists.htm
  2. Dietitians and Nutritionists, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Employment Statistics, May 2014. http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes291031.htm

Dietitians and Nutritionists Skills

Below are the skills needed to be dietitians and nutritionists according to their importance on the scale of 1 to 5 (1 being lowest and 5 being highest) and competency level on a scale of 1 to 7 (1 being lowest and 7 being highest).

   
Skill NameImportanceCompetence
Reading Comprehension4.124.88
Critical Thinking44
Monitoring44.12
Active Listening44
Speaking44.12

Dietitians and Nutritionists Abilities

Below are the abilities needed to be dietitians and nutritionists according to their importance on the scale of 1 to 5 (1 being lowest and 5 being highest) and competency level on a scale of 1 to 7 (1 being lowest and 7 being highest).

   
Ability NameImportanceCompetence
Oral Comprehension44.62
Deductive Reasoning44
Oral Expression44.75
Written Expression44.38
Written Comprehension44.25

Dietitians and Nutritionists Knowledge

Below are the knowledge areas needed to be dietitians and nutritionists according to their importance on the scale of 1 to 5 (1 being lowest and 5 being highest) and competency level on a scale of 1 to 7 (1 being lowest and 7 being highest).

   
Knowledge AreaImportanceCompetence
Customer and Personal Service4.35.3
Education and Training4.245.48
English Language4.184.36
Biology4.134.13
Medicine and Dentistry43.95

Dietitians and Nutritionists Work activities

Below are the work activities involved in being dietitians and nutritionists according to their importance on the scale of 1 to 5 (1 being lowest and 5 being highest) and competency level on a scale of 1 to 7 (1 being lowest and 5 being highest).

   
Work ActivityImportanceCompetence
Getting Information4.74.96
Establishing and Maintaining Interpersonal Relationships4.485.22
Communicating with Supervisors, Peers, or Subordinates4.484.65
Performing for or Working Directly with the Public4.365
Updating and Using Relevant Knowledge4.364.86

Dietitians and Nutritionists Work styles

Below are the work styles involved in being dietitians and nutritionists according to their importance on the scale of 1 to 5 (1 being lowest and 5 being highest).

   
Work StyleImportance
Dependability4.74
Concern for Others4.74
Integrity4.74
Attention to Detail4.61
Cooperation4.48

Metro Areas Sorted by Total Employment for
Dietitians and Nutritionists

Listed below are the 10 largest metro areas based on the total number of people employed in Dietitians and Nutritionists jobs , as of 2017

   
Metro AreaTotal EmploymentAnnual Mean Salary
Los Angeles-Long Beach-Anaheim2,780 $71,320
Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington1,320 $52,710
Houston-The Woodlands-Sugar Land1,310 $58,070
San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward1,230 $77,230
Phoenix-Mesa-Scottsdale970 $53,910
Atlanta-Sandy Springs-Roswell950 $54,780
Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue930 $65,160
Miami-Fort Lauderdale-West Palm Beach860 $63,730
Detroit-Warren-Dearborn730 $51,300
San Diego-Carlsbad720 $69,430

Compare Total Employment & Salaries for Dietitians And Nutritionists

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Total employment and salary for professions similar to dietitians and nutritionists

Source : 2017 Occupational Employment Statistics and 2016-26 Employment Projections, Bureau of Labor Statistics, BLS.gov; O*NET® 22.1 Database, O*NET OnLine, National Center for O*NET Development, Employment & Training Administration, U.S. Department of Labor, onetonline.org

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We have some additional detailed pages at the state level for Dietitians and Nutritionists.

Numbers in parentheses are counts of relevant campus-based schools in the state; online schools may also be available.