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What is a dietitian?
A dietician is someone who is an expert in nutrition and uses that knowledge to counsel others to eat healthier based on their health status and medical conditions. Job employment of dietitians is expected to increase by 9% over the next decade, making it a promising chosen career. Dietitians serve many roles in their community from working in hospitals administering care to patients to serving nonprofits providing nutrition advice to the general population.
Registered Dietitians (RDs) are experts in the field of dietetics, meaning they have studied nutrition extensively and can offer trained nutritional and diet advice to their patients. They have met the minimum academic and professional requirements to get their RD credentials and start practicing.
Day in the life of a dietician: what do dieticians do?
Essentially, dietitians help others make better choices regarding their nutrition and food intake. Dietitians are not necessarily in the weight-loss business and don’t focus on selling certain weight-loss programs. However, there is a focus on food, nutrition and helping people lose weight. They will often work with patients who have health struggles like diabetes or high blood pressure, and create a meal plan that will help improve their health.
The role of a dietician can not be understated to many, who are often inundated with nutrition advice, fad diets, and confusing or conflicting studies. A dietician must be able to help people understand basic human nutritional needs and the choices they need to make to be healthy.
Where do dieticians work?
While the role of dietitians is to counsel their patients on food and nutrition, the day-to-day job description will be different depending on their area of specialty and where they work. Dietitians can work in many settings, including hospitals, long-term care facilities, community facilities, schools and corporate businesses. They may work in many fields, as well, like sports nutrition, the food and nutrition industry and research.
For instance, Clinical Dietitians are trained to give nutrition therapy to those in hospitals and other long-term care facilities. Community Dietitians work to educate those in their community on food and nutrition. This can include working in various government agencies, public clinics, and more. Those focused on sports dietetics will counsel athletes and active patients through their knowledge of sports medicine.
Can I become a dietician without a degree?
Becoming a registered dietician takes years of study, certifications and licenses. To be a certified RD, one typically has to to:
- Receive a minimum of an accredited bachelor’s degree.
- Complete a period of supervised practice, like a dietetic internship.
- Pass the Commission on Dietetic Registration (CDR) exam. This is a national certification.
- Get and maintain a state license.
Dietetics is a highly-regulated profession. Most who seek out the profession get a bachelor's in nutrition or a related field. As of now, those who are looking to become an RD are able to become certified with just a bachelor’s degree. However, in 2024, prospective dietitians will need a graduate degree to sit for the CDR exam.
After graduation, the next step is to complete an internship. RDs typically receive hundreds of hours of hands-on training while supervised under a licensed dietician. Once an aspiring dietician has graduated and completed their internship hours, the next step is to get properly certified and licensed. Passing the CDR exam is a requirement to become an RD. Finally, Most states require a specific license to practice there, separate from the CDR exam. It’s important for future RDs to prepare for the requirements of the state where they hope to practice.
How much do dietitians make?
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual salary for dietitians in the U.S. was $63,090 in 2020. Dietician salaries can differ based on numerous factors, including experience, geographic location, employer and speciality. View industry and state-level dietician salary information here.
What’s the difference between a nutritionist and a dietitian?
Many people believe that dietitians and nutritionists are interchangeable, but there are key differences between the two. While both professions deal with nutrition, one can only be designated a dietician if they pass the CDR exam and become registered.
Dietitians are professionals who promote their patient’s health through medical nutrition therapy. They are able to work with those who suffer from diseases and can prescribe a diet plan to help manage their illness. Dieticians are heavily regulated and must meet specific professional requirements. They work to identify illnesses and other diseases and must be qualified to work in the diagnostics field.
Nutritionists are unable to treat those who are suffering from illnesses. They must work with healthy individuals who are seeking out services to improve their dietary intake and overall lifestyle. Nutritionists are not regulated by any laws and anyone can refer to themselves as a nutritionist. There are nutritionists who have many qualifications, but there are some who are self-taught, making it difficult for those seeking out nutritionists to know who is qualified to help and who is not.
How to find dietician jobs
Once someone has passed all the requirements to become an RD, a great way to find jobs is by looking online. There are online databases, like HealthJob, where one can search for their specific dietetic field in the location of their choice. Many find that they want to work in underprivileged communities that have a need for nutritional advice. Or, maybe they want to work in a clinical setting helping those with chronic illnesses feel better. These types of considerations are important to keep in mind when looking for jobs. Remember, each state has its own licensing requirements to practice, so become familiar with the specific criteria.
Looking for dietitcian jobs? Search HealthJob's dietician job board.
Is becoming a dietician worth it?
There are many requirements to work in the dietetics field, but it’s a growing area of study that promises job security. Registered Dietitians play a significant role in improving people’s health and keeping the public healthy. From clinical settings to sports medicine, dieticians work to serve their communities and better people’s lives.
Looking for dietician or other entry-level health care programs? Search for programs here.