Dietitians and nutritionists are experts in the use of food and nutrition to promote health and manage disease. They advise people on what to eat in order to lead a healthy lifestyle or achieve a specific health-related goal.

Duties

Dietitians and nutritionists typically do the following:

  • Assess patients’ and clients’ nutritional and health needs
  • Counsel patients on nutrition issues and healthy eating habits
  • Develop meal and nutrition plans, taking both clients’ preferences and budgets into account
  • Evaluate the effects of meal plans and change the plans as needed
  • Promote better health by speaking to groups about diet, nutrition, and the relationship between good eating habits and preventing or managing specific diseases
  • Create educational materials about healthy food choices
  • Keep up with or contribute to the latest food and nutritional science research
  • Document patients’ progress

Dietitians and nutritionists evaluate the health of their clients. Based on their findings, dietitians and nutritionists advise clients on which foods to eat—and which to avoid—to improve their health.

Many dietitians and nutritionists provide customized information for specific individuals. For example, a dietitian or nutritionist might teach a client with diabetes how to plan meals to balance the client’s blood sugar. Others work with groups of people who have similar needs. For example, a dietitian or nutritionist might plan a diet with healthy fat and limited sugar to help clients who are at risk for heart disease. They may work with other healthcare professionals to coordinate patient care.

Dietitians and nutritionists who are self-employed may meet with patients, or they may work as consultants for a variety of organizations. They may need to spend time on marketing and other business-related tasks, such as scheduling appointments, keeping records, and preparing educational programs or informational materials for clients.

Although many dietitians and nutritionists do similar tasks, there are several specialties within the occupations. The following are examples of types of dietitians and nutritionists:

Clinical dietitians and clinical nutritionists provide medical nutrition therapy. They work in hospitals, long-term care facilities, clinics, private practice, and other institutions. They create customized nutritional programs based on the health needs of patients or residents and counsel patients on how to improve their health through nutrition. Clinical dietitians and clinical nutritionists may further specialize, such as by working only with patients with specific conditions such as kidney disease, diabetes, or digestive disorders.

Community dietitians and community nutritionists develop programs and counsel the public on topics related to food, health, and nutrition. They often work with specific groups of people, such as adolescents or the elderly. They work in public health clinics, government and nonprofit agencies, health maintenance organizations (HMOs), and other settings.

Management dietitians plan food programs. They work in food service settings such as cafeterias, hospitals, prisons, and schools. They may be responsible for buying food and for carrying out other business-related tasks, such as budgeting. Management dietitians may oversee kitchen staff or other dietitians.

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Work Environment

Dietitians and nutritionists held about 70,900 jobs in 2018. The largest employers of dietitians and nutritionists were as follows:

Hospitals; state, local, and private 30%
Government 14
Nursing and residential care facilities                           10
Outpatient care centers 9
Self-employed workers 6

Work Schedules

Most dietitians and nutritionists work full time. They may work evenings and weekends to meet with clients who are unavailable at other times.

Education and Training

Dietitians and nutritionists typically need a bachelor’s degree, along with supervised training through an internship. Many states require dietitians and nutritionists to be licensed.

Education

Dietitians and nutritionists typically need a bachelor’s degree in dietetics, foods and nutrition, clinical nutrition, public health nutrition, or a related area. Dietitians also may study food service systems management. Programs include courses in nutrition, psychology, chemistry, and biology.

Many dietitians and nutritionists have advanced degrees.

Training

Dietitians and nutritionists typically receive several hundred hours of supervised training, usually in the form of an internship following graduation from college. Some schools offer coordinated programs in dietetics that allow students to complete supervised training as part of their undergraduate or graduate-level coursework.

Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations

Many states require dietitians and nutritionists to be licensed in order to practice. Other states require only state registration or certification to use certain titles, and a few states have no regulations for this occupation.

The requirements for state licensure and state certification vary by state, but most include having a bachelor’s degree in food and nutrition or a related area, completing supervised practice, and passing an exam.

Many dietitians choose to earn the Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN) credential. Although the RDN is not always required, the qualifications are often the same as those necessary for becoming a licensed dietitian in states that require a license. Many employers prefer or require the RDN, which is administered by the Commission on Dietetic Registration, the credentialing agency for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

The RDN requires dietitian nutritionists to complete a minimum of a bachelor’s degree and a Dietetic Internship (DI), which consists of at least 1,200 hours of supervised experience. Students may complete both criteria at once through a coordinated program, or they may finish their required coursework and degree before applying for an internship. These programs are accredited by the Accreditation Council for Education in Nutrition and Dietetics (ACEND), part of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. In order to maintain the RDN credential, dietitians and nutritionists who have earned it must complete 75 continuing professional education credits every 5 years.

Nutritionists may earn the Certified Nutrition Specialist (CNS) credential to show an advanced level of knowledge. The CNS credential or exam is accepted in several states for licensure purposes. To qualify for the credential, applicants must have a master’s or doctoral degree, complete 1,000 hours of supervised experience, and pass an exam. The credential is administered by the Board for Certification of Nutrition Specialists. To maintain the CNS credential, nutritionists must complete 75 continuing education credits every 5 years.

Dietitians and nutritionists may seek additional certifications in an area of specialty. The Commission on Dietetic Registration offers several specialty certifications in topics such as oncology nutrition, pediatric nutrition, renal nutrition, and sports dietetics, among others.

Personality and Interests

Dietitians and nutritionists typically have an interest in the Thinking, Helping, and Persuading interest areas, according to the Holland Code framework. The Thinking interest area indicates a focus on researching, investigating, and increasing the understanding of natural laws. The Helping interest area indicates a focus on assisting, serving, counseling, or teaching other people. The Persuading interest area indicates a focus on influencing, motivating, and selling to other people.

If you are not sure whether you have a Thinking, Helping, or Persuading interest which might fit with a career as a dietitian or nutritionist, you can take a career test to measure your interests.

Dietitians and nutritionists should also possess the following specific qualities:

Analytical skills. Dietitians and nutritionists must keep up to date with the latest nutrition research. They should be able to interpret scientific studies and translate nutrition science into practical eating advice.

Compassion. Dietitians and nutritionists must be caring and empathetic when helping clients address dietary issues and any related emotions.

Listening skills. Dietitians and nutritionists must listen carefully to understand clients’ goals and concerns. They may also work with other healthcare workers as part of team to improve the health of a patient and need to listen to team members when constructing eating plans.

Organizational skills. Because there are many aspects to the work of dietitians and nutritionists, they should have the ability to stay organized. Management dietitians, for example, must consider both the nutritional needs of their clients and the costs of meals. Self-employed dietitians and nutritionists may need to schedule their appointments and maintain patient files.

Problem-solving skills. They must evaluate the health status of patients and determine the most appropriate food choices for a client to improve overall health or manage a disease.

Speaking skills. Dietitians and nutritionists must explain complicated topics in a way that people with less technical knowledge can understand. They must be able to clearly explain eating plans to clients and to other healthcare professionals involved in a patient’s care.

Pay

The median annual wage for dietitians and nutritionists was $61,270 in May 2019. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $38,890, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $87,360.

In May 2019, the median annual wages for dietitians and nutritionists in the top industries in which they worked were as follows:

Outpatient care centers $68,000
Hospitals; state, local, and private 62,110
Government 60,670
Nursing and residential care facilities                       59,320

Most dietitians and nutritionists work full time. They may work evenings and weekends to meet with clients who are unavailable at other times.

Job Outlook

Employment of dietitians and nutritionists is projected to grow 11 percent from 2018 to 2028, much faster than the average for all occupations. In recent years, interest in the role of food and nutrition in promoting health and wellness has increased, particularly as a part of preventative healthcare in medical settings.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, more than one-third of U.S. adults are obese. Many diseases, such as diabetes and heart disease, are associated with obesity. The importance of diet in preventing and treating illnesses is now well known. More dietitians and nutritionists will be needed to provide care for people with these conditions.

Moreover, as the baby-boom generation grows older and looks for ways to stay healthy, there will be more demand for dietetic and nutrition services. In addition, there will be demand for dietitians and nutritionists in grocery stores to help consumers make healthy food choices.

Job Prospects

Dietitians and nutritionists who have earned advanced degrees or certification in a specialty area may enjoy better job prospects.

For More Information

For more information about dietitians and nutritionists, visit

Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics

For a list of academic programs, visit

Accreditation Council for Education in Nutrition and Dietetics

For information on the Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN) exam and other specialty credentials, visit

Commission on Dietetic Registration

For information on the Certified Nutrition Specialist (CNS) exam and credential, visit

Board for Certification of Nutrition Specialists

 

FAQ

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The career information above is taken from the Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook. This excellent resource for occupational data is published by the U.S. Department of Labor every two years. Truity periodically updates our site with information from the BLS database.

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