Dietitians oversee the preparation and serving of meals, as well as plan food and nutrition programs. They promote healthy eating habits through dietary education, manage food systems for hospitals and schools, and conduct research concerning diet and nutrition. Their duties and responsibilities vary according to their specialty. Clinical dietitians work in institutions such as hospitals and nursing facilities, providing nutritional consultation to those institutions. They assess nutritional needs of patients, develop nutritional programs, and evaluate and organize the results. Some specialize in patients who are overweight or diabetic. Community dietitians work to prevent disease and promote good health with individuals or groups of people. They often work in places like public health clinics, home health agencies, and health maintenance organizations.
Management dietitians work in healthcare facilities, company cafeterias, prisons, and schools where meal planning occurs on a large scale. They hire, train, and manage food service workers, as well as other dietitians, prepare budgets, enforce health regulations, and write reports. Consultant dietitians run their own private practice and contract with healthcare facilities. They perform a number of services for their clients, including nutrition screenings and diet-related advice on issues such as weight loss. Some consultant dietitians work for wellness programs, sports teams, supermarkets, and other nutrition-related business.
Dietitians should have good diagnostic ability and a passion for helping others. They should have good interpersonal communication skills and an appreciation for diverse cultures, as they interact with many different types of people from many different backgrounds. Those who run their own business need to have solid business skills and an entrepreneurial spirit.
In 2002, dietitians earned a median annual salary of $41,170. Earnings ranged from the lowest 10%, who earned less than $25,520, to the highest 10%, who earned more than $58,700.
Training and Education
Dietitian jobs require at least a bachelor’s degree in dietetics, foods and nutrition, food service systems management, or a related field. These majors include courses in foods, nutrition, institution management, chemistry, biology, microbiology, and psychology. Other helpful courses include business, mathematics, statistics, computer science, psychology, sociology, and economics. High school students aspiring to become a dietitian should focus on courses in biology, chemistry, mathematics, health, and communications. About 230 colleges and universities offer bachelor’s and master’s degree programs approved by the American Dietetic Association’s (ADA) Commission on Accreditation for Dietetics Education (CADE).
30 States require dietitians to be licensed, 15 require them to be certified, and 1 simply requires them to be registered. The ADA’s Commission on Dietetic Registration awards the Registered Dietitian credential to those who pass their examination, as well as demonstrate experience and education. Dietitians may advance to assistant director, associate director, or director of a dietetic department or may become self-employed.
In 2002, dietitians held about 49,000 jobs. More than 50% worked in hospitals, nursing care facilities, outpatient care centers, or offices of physicians and other health care practitioners. About 1 in 5 worked for State and local government agencies.
Between 2002 and 2012, employment of dietitians is expected to increase about as fast as the average. This will be due to the growing and aging population’s dietary needs. Public interest in nutrition and health education will also increase demand for dietitians.
For more information on becoming a dietitian, please see our directory of schools offering Nutritionist Education.