Dietitian Career

For anyone seeking a dietitian career, current trends indicate that job prospects will be quite good for the foreseeable future. As any well-informed person knows from news reports and personal observation, America is presently in the midst of an alarming obesity epidemic, and public health experts say that it shows no signs of slowing down. While much of this is due to lack of physical exercise, a large component of the problem is poor nutrition. Many Americans rarely eat healthy, nutritious meals, instead eating mainly fast food, potato chips, soda pop, and other junk foods. The long-term effects of such a radically unhealthy diet are frightening, which means the time is ripe to embark on these medical careers.

Most dietitians (also called nutritionists) work in large institutional settings where hundreds of people are fed each day, such as nursing homes, retirement communities, prisons, hospitals, schools, and colleges and universities. Although they will usually have the final say in the preparation of the food, dietitians don’t usually work in a hands-on capacity in the kitchen or dining hall. Instead, they plan the menus, making sure that clientele are eating healthy, balanced meals that taste good. Often they will order the food supplies, and it’s their job to maintain strict safety procedures in food handling and preparation at all times. Jobs in these settings may also require a lot of record keeping and other paperwork.

Other dietitians work with particular populations of people, such as diabetics or the extremely overweight. These positions are usually found in hospitals or larger medical clinics. Tasks include educating patients on principles and practices of good nutrition tailored to their condition, and helping them plan and stick to a healthy diet. There are an increasing number of dietitians who work in private practice, soliciting clients directly instead of through a hospital or clinic, usually (but not always) focusing on one particular patient population. Dietitians in private practice will also need to have a keen grasp of small-business practices, such as accounting, marketing, budgeting, etc. Self-employed dietitians are expected to make up a larger percentage of the field in coming years.
In order to qualify for a dietitian career, a person will need to earn a bachelor’s degree that has been approved by the American Dietetic Association’s Commission on Accreditation for Dietetics Education. Most of these degrees will be in dietetics or nutrition, while others will focus on food-service systems management or similar areas. The key is approval by the ADA, and there are approximately 300 of these approved courses at last count. It’s also possible to earn a master’s or doctoral degree in nutrition or dietetics, and doing so can be the pathway to better-paying jobs with more responsibility. After graduating, the prospective dietitian will need to pass the rigorous Registered Dietitian Exam in order to be certified to work in the field.
Job growth in the field is expected to be above average in coming years, as America’s obesity epidemic leads to greater public awareness of the health risks involved and increased public and private spending to address the problem. Salaries should also go up, and are already quite substantial. Most dietitians earn between $40,000 and $60,000 a year, while some make much more than that. In addition, due to the fact that many dietitians are employed by the government sector and large institutions, benefit packages are usually more generous than average. For anyone concerned with public health and making a real difference in people’s lives, a dietitian career is an excellent choice.