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Dietitian and Nutritionist Job Description, Career as a Dietitian and Nutritionist, Salary, Employment

Definition and Nature of the Work, Education and Training Requirements, Getting the Job

Education and Training: College plus training

Salary: Median—$43,630 per year

Employment Outlook: Very good

Definition and Nature of the Work

Dietitians and nutritionists are health professionals who study and apply the principles of nutrition and food management. There are several kinds of dietitians and nutritionists. The largest group is made up of administrative dietitians. Administrative dietitians manage food services in hospitals, schools, nursing homes, restaurants, industrial plants, military bases, and other institutions. They plan and direct the purchase and preparation of food, as well as supervise other food service workers. Administrative dietitians ensure that the meals served are nutritious, appetizing, and within the institution's budget.

Clinical dietitians plan meals for hospital patients and others who have special dietary needs. They assess patients' nutritional needs, confer with doctors, and may use computers to analyze nutritional intake. Sometimes they teach people who need special diets how to plan and prepare foods at home.

Research dietitians work on projects related to food and nutrition. Projects range from studying the effects of different diets on certain groups of people and the management of food service systems to investigating the dietary needs of older people or space travelers. Research dietitians work in universities, medical centers, food preparation plants, and other institutions. Teaching dietitians (or dietetic educators) teach medical, nursing, dental, or dietetic students about the role of foods in health care.

Nutritionists study the use of food in the human body. They are not usually involved in feeding people. They deal instead with the broad principles of nutrition. They may teach others about scientific discoveries in the field of nutrition. These discoveries can then be applied to the planning of diets and menus. For example, a nutritionist might develop a course to teach poor families how to eat well on a small budget. Nutritionists are employed in the food industry, schools, hospitals, agriculture, and public health agencies.

A dietician reviews food plans with other health professionals in a hospital. She is also responsible for directing the purchasing and preparation of the food. (© Martha Tabor/Working Images Photographs. Reproduced by permission.)

Dietitians and nutritionists often combine several of the above functions, especially in small institutions. A few dietitians and nutritionists work as consultants.

Education and Training Requirements

To be a dietitian or a nutritionist, an individual needs at least a bachelor's degree. Students can major in food and nutrition, food service management, or a related field. The American Dietetic Association (ADA) offers training programs that include practical supervised experience. These programs last from six months to two years. Candidates can take these programs during or after college. An individual can become a certified registered dietitian (RD) by completing one of these training programs and passing a test given by the ADA. Individuals must continue their education to keep their registration up to date.

To advance in the field of nutrition, dieticians and nutritionists also need a master's degree, which takes about one year of advanced study. Many high-level dietitians' jobs in teaching, research, or administration require a master's degree. Some dietitians and nutritionists go on to get a doctoral degree.

Getting the Job

College placement offices can help students find jobs as dietitians or nutritionists. Professional journals and the ADA can also provide job information. Interested individuals can also check job banks on the Internet and newspaper classifieds, or they can apply directly to the institution or agency for which they want to work.

Advancement Possibilities and Employment Outlook

Dietitians with skill and experience can become directors of food service in a hospital, school, or other institution. With further training they can become nutritionists. Both dietitians and nutritionists can move into teaching or research jobs in colleges if they have the required education. They can also advance to administration and consulting work.

The employment outlook is very good through the year 2014. There is growing public concern about the quality of the American diet and an increase in the awareness of the potential disease-prevention qualities of certain foods. As a result, dietitians and nutritionists are being called on to teach good eating habits and to plan nutritional meals in institutions. However, growth will be constrained as insurance companies place limitations on reimbursement for dietetic services and as employers substitute other workers for dietitians and nutritionists.

Working Conditions

Dietitians and nutritionists usually work in pleasant surroundings. However, some kitchens may be steamy, and dietitians may be on their feet for extended periods. They work in offices, hospital kitchens, or college classrooms. They come into contact with other professional people as well as with kitchen personnel, clerical staff, students, patients, and a wide variety of other people. They should have management ability, an aptitude for science, good health, imagination, and the ability to get along well with others.

Dietitians usually work forty hours per week. Some dietitians must work on weekends and holidays. Working hours are more flexible for nutritionists.

Where to Go for More Information

American Dietetic Association
120 S Riverside Plaza, Ste. 2000
Chicago, IL 60606-6995
(800) 877-1600

American Society for Nutrition
9650 Rockville Pike, Ste. 4500
Bethesda, MD 20814-3990
(301) 634-7050

Consultant Dietitians in Health Care Facilities
2219 Cardinal Dr.
Waterloo, IA 50701
(319) 235-0991

Earnings and Benefits

Salaries vary widely depending on the field of expertise, education, experience, and place of employment. The median salary for dietitians and nutritionists is $43,630, according to the U.S Bureau of Labor Statistics. For registered dietitians in different fields, the median salaries are: clinical—$48,000; food and nutrition management—$60,000; community nutrition—$44,800; consultation and business—$53,800; and education and research—$60,200. Experienced dietitians can earn more. Benefits generally include paid holidays and vacations, health insurance, and pension plans.

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