The healthcare field offers many different careers that are growing rapidly along with the industry itself, which is one of the major employers across the country.
One of those growing careers is working as a dietitian, sometimes called a nutritionist. They main goal of the job is to promote healthy eating habits for patients.
It’s a challenging, rewarding career.
Nutritionists can specialize in many different areas within the field. Clinical dietitians and nutritionists are experts in nutrition therapy. Those who focus on community service develop programs to teach larger demographics within the population about good nutrition.
Those who work as management dietitians focus specifically on developing healthy food programs. Typically they work in food service programs within large facilities such as school, hospitals and prisons.
Job Duties and Pay
Dietitians and nutritionists handle a number of duties related to promoting healthy eating habits among patients. Some of those duties include:
- Educating patients about the connection between healthy eating and overall health
- Developing dietary plans for patients who can better manage certain medical conditions by eating certain types of food
- Doing the detailed work on a patient’s blood chemistry, mobility, stress level and other factors to develop a nutritional plan
- Addressing large groups, such as parents, about the importance of nutrition for healthy living
- Staying up-to-date on the latest nutritional research
- Tracking patient health and progress on specific nutritional plans
People in this career are also well compensated. The median annual pay of dietitians and nutritionists was $58,920 in May 2016, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). The top 10 percent made more than $82,000.
The federal agency also projects 16 percent growth in the profession between 2014 and 2024, far faster than the average for all jobs (about 7 percent). Job availability can vary widely based on region and many other factors. Candidates should always conduct their own research.
So what are the steps to entering these professions? Fortunately, the path is fairly straightforward.
Step One: Bachelor’s Degree
Those who become dietitians or nutritionists typically earn a bachelor’s degree. The degree field can range from dietetics and clinical nutrition to public health nutrition. The coursework focuses on areas such as nutrition, psychology, chemistry and biology, and food’s relationship to all these areas.
For those who wish to get the top jobs in the profession, a master’s degree is often required.
Step Two: Training
Many hours of training are needed for this profession. Because of their important role on a topic central to everyone’s health, dietitians and nutritionists spend several hundred hours in training. Sometimes, it is through an internship that follows graduation from college. Some schools offer the chance to get most or all of this training while within a degree program, typically a graduate program.
Step Three: Licenses, Registration
Most states require dietitians and nutritionists to obtain a license. Many choose to earn designation as a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN). Doing so requires passing an exam. But the exam cannot be taken until applicants earn a bachelor’s degree and also qualify for a Dietetic Internship, which requires completing 1,200 hours of experience under supervision.
In addition to the above, those who enter these professions need a significant level of analytical, organizational and listening skills. And, as with most healthcare professions, a great deal of innate compassion is certainly helpful.