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What is a Dietician?

Registered Dieticians (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. 

What Dieticians Do

Essentially, dieticians help others make better choices regarding their nutrition and food intake. Dieticians 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 Dieticians Work

While the role of dieticians 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. Dieticians 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 Dieticians are trained to give nutrition therapy to those in hospitals and other long-term care facilities. Community Dieticians 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. 

How Do You Become a Registered Dietician?

Becoming a registered dietician takes years of study, certifications and licenses. To be a certified RD, one will have 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 BA in nutrition or a related field. As of now, those who are looking to become an RD can become certified with just a Bachelor’s Degree. However, in 2024, regulations will change and a graduate degree will be required in order to take the CDR exam. 

After graduation, the next step is to complete an internship. To become an RD, you must receive hands-on training. It’s required to complete 1,200 hours of internship experience 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 Dieticians Make?

While it varies, on average, dieticians make an annual salary of $61,270. The exact number is dependent on location and area of specialty. Entry-level dieticians tend to make around $48,000 a year, while those with more experience can expect an average total compensation of around $65,000 a year. Due to higher costs of living, dieticians in San Francisco, Seattle, and New York make a higher annual salary than those living in lower cost of living areas. 

There are specific dietetic fields that pay more than others. For example, dietitians who work in corporate settings creating wellness and counseling sessions tend to be the highest-paid. Similarly, dieticians whose specialty revolves around eating disorders and work in an in-patient or out-patient clinical setting also make a higher salary when compared to other dietetic fields. 

What’s the Difference Between a Nutritionist and a Dietician?

Many people believe that dieticians 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. 

Dieticians 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. 

Bottom Line

There are many requirements to work in the dietetics field, but it’s a growing area of study that promises job security. Registered Dieticians 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. 

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