There are approximately 61,000 dietitians and nutritionists practicing in the United States. Job growth statistics suggest that over the next ten years, jobs for dietitians and nutritionists will grow at an average rate.
Most dietitians and nutritionists are employed by schools; hospitals; nursing care, extended living, and hospice facilities; and medical offices. To practice, dietitians and nutritionists must have earned a bachelor’s degree from an accredited school or university. In addition, all states require dietitians and nutritionists be licensed, certified, or registered. These requirements vary from state to state. Job applicants who demonstrate additional experience or training, a master’s degree, or certifications not required by the state will be prime candidates.
- Dietitians and nutritionists create food plans that focus on nutritional values. They are responsible for monitoring food preparation and service. Their training has taught them ways in which eating nutritionally will prevent some diseases and can lessen or eliminate others.
- A dietitian counsels patients, health club members, and others about how to modify eating habits. In addition to developing food plans, educating individuals, and supervising the preparation and serving of meals, some dietitians and nutritionists are involved in research. Clinical dietitians, community dietitians, management dietitians, and nutritional consultants are all specialties that dietitians and nutritionists can pursue.
- Clinical dietitians are involved with food planning and serving in medical facilities, including retirement homes and nursing homes. They review the individual dietary needs of patients and create a menu designed to avoid foods, oils, spices, salt, or other additives that may be harmful. They keep careful records including the menu and the patient’s results. They may conference with the medical team regarding a patient’s nutritional needs. Clinical dietitians can specialize further by focusing on a particular disorder or disease. For example, dietitians may work exclusively with obese patients, those who are diabetic, or those who have experienced renal failure.
- Community dietitians advise community members regarding the prevention of disease through good nutrition. They may offer programs open to anyone or may be hired to work with a club, business, or other organization. Many are employed by home health agencies, public health clinics, and governmental or other organizations with a focus on community health. They teach clients to shop, to keep a healthy kitchen through cleanliness, healthy cooking methods and tools, and ways to create nutrition-rich meals that picky eaters will enjoy. Some community health dietitians work for food manufacturers and advertising and marking firms by writing reports about fiber, vitamins, other supplements, recipes, and so forth.
- Management dietitians are involved with meal planning and preparation on a very large scale. They work in medical facilities, cafeterias, schools, and prisons. As managers, they are responsible for every aspect of the work. They hire and train new employees, direct food preparation, prepare food and equipment budgets, arrange purchases, make sure safety regulations and personal sanitation requirements are followed, record transactions, and write reports.
Dietitians and Nutritionists
- Nutritional consultants are contractors who offer their services to healthcare facilities or consult in private practice. Some are employed by businesses in which maintaining nutritional health is important, such as for grocery stores, athletic teams, and wellness centers. Some offer consultation services to food service managers. Their training and experience in menu planning, budgeting, sanitation, and safety issues surrounding food preparation makes them experts.
The work environment for dietitians and nutritionists is typically clean, well-lit, climate controlled, and sufficiently ventilated. Depending upon the job’s responsibilities, others may work in crowded, overheated kitchens. The work requires stamina; most dietitians remain on their feet for most of their shift. Most work 40 hours per week in a set schedule. Some work weekends. While most are full-time employees, about 20% choose to work part-time.
There are approximately 280 schools with accredited bachelor’s degree programs and 18 with master’s degree programs that have received the approval of the American Dietetic Association’s Commission on Accreditation for Dietetics Education. The Commission on Dietetic Registration of the American Dietetic Association bestows a Registered Dietitian credential to students who have completed coursework, passed the required examination, and worked in a supervised internship. This certification is not required in any state, but it demonstrates exceptional commitment to the field. Registered Dietitians are required to complete 75 credit hours in approved continuing education classes within five years.
Experienced dietitians may be promoted to work as an assistant director, associate director, or full director. Some choose to begin their own businesses. Others advance by becoming sales representatives for food preparation equipment, pharmaceutical, or food manufacturers. Those with master’s degrees can pursue research, advanced clinical positions, or public health employment.
The median annual pay for dietitians and nutritionists is approximately $51,000. Employees in the middle 50% earn roughly $42,000–$62,000. Those in the bottom 10% earn less than $32,000, while those in the top 10% are paid more than $74,000.