Dietitian and Nutritionist

Administrative Dietitian, Certified Dietary Manager, Chief Dietitian, Clinical Dietician   More Names
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Plan and conduct food service or nutritional programs to assist in the promotion of health and control of disease. Counsel individuals and groups on basic rules of good nutrition Assess nutritional needs, diet restrictions and current health plans to develop and implement dietary-care plans. Also may supervise the activities of a department providing quantity food services or conduct nutritional research.

Dietitians and nutritionists work primarily in hospitals, nursing care facilities, out-patient care centers, and offices of physicians and other practitioners. Some also are employed by state and local government agencies in health departments, correctional facilities, and other public health settings.

Others work in special food services, an industry made up of firms providing food services on contract to facilities such as colleges and universities, airlines, correctional facilities, and company cafeterias. Public and private educational services, community care facilities for the elderly (including assisted-living facilities), individual and family services, home healthcare services, and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs  and other federal agencies also employ dietitians and nutritionists.

Dietitians and nutritionists plan food and nutrition programs, supervise meal preparation, and oversee the serving of meals. They advise patients and their families on nutritional principles, dietary plans and diet modifications, and food selection and preparation. They prevent and treat illnesses by promoting healthy eating habits and recommending dietary modifications. For example, they might teach a patient with high blood pressure how to use less salt when preparing meals, or develop a diet reduced in fat and sugar for an overweight patient.

Dietitians and nutritionists also manage food service systems for institutions such as hospitals and schools, promote sound eating habits through education, and conduct research. Many choose to specialize by becoming a clinical dietitian, community dietitian, management dietitian, or consultant dietitian.

Clinical dietitians provide nutritional services to patients in hospitals, nursing care facilities, and other institutions. They assess patients' nutritional needs, develop and implement nutrition programs, and evaluate and report the results. They also confer with doctors and other healthcare professionals to coordinate medical and nutritional needs. Some further specialize in managing the weight of overweight patients or in the care of renal (kidney), diabetic, or critically ill patients. In addition, clinical dietitians in nursing care facilities, small hospitals, or correctional facilities may manage the food service department.

Community dietitians counsel individuals and groups on nutritional practices designed to prevent disease and promote health. They work in public health clinics, home health agencies, and health maintenance organizations. They evaluate individual needs, develop nutritional care plans, and instruct individuals and their families.

Those working in home health agencies provide instruction on grocery shopping and food preparation to the elderly, children, and individuals with special needs. Increased public interest in nutrition also has led to job opportunities in food manufacturing, advertising, and marketing. In these areas, community dietitians analyze foods, prepare literature for distribution, or report on issues such as dietary fiber, vitamin supplements, or the nutritional content of recipes.

Management dietitians oversee large-scale meal planning and preparation in healthcare facilities, company cafeterias, prisons, and schools. They hire, train, and direct other dietitians and food service workers; budget for and purchase food, equipment, and supplies; enforce sanitary and safety regulations; and prepare records and reports.

Consultant dietitians work under contract with healthcare facilities or in their own private practice. They perform nutrition screenings for their clients and offer advice on diet-related concerns such as weight loss and cholesterol reduction. Some work for wellness programs, sports teams, supermarkets, and other nutrition-related businesses. They may consult with food service managers, providing expertise in sanitation, safety procedures, menu development, budgeting, and planning.

Experienced dietitians may advance to management positions, such as assistant director, associate director, or director of a dietetic department, or may become self-employed. Some dietitians specialize in areas such as renal, diabetic, cardiovascular, or pediatric dietetics. Others leave the occupation to become sales representatives for equipment, pharmaceutical, or food manufacturers. A master's degree can help some workers to advance their careers, particularly in career paths related to research, advanced clinical positions, or public health

Credentials Needed: The majority of states require dietitians and nutritionists to be licensed. Of the 48 states and jurisdictions with laws governing dietetics, 35 require licensure, 12 require statutory certification, and 1 requires registration. Specific requirements vary by state. As a result of these requirements, those planning to become a dietitian or nutritionist should determine the up-to-date requirements for the state in which they plan to work when beginning their course of study.

In states that require licensure, only those who are licensed can work as dietitians and nutritionists. States that require statutory certification limit the use of occupational titles to those who meet certain qualifications. In these states, individuals without certification can still practice as a dietitian or nutritionist but without using certain titles. Registration is the least restrictive form of state regulation of dietitians and nutritionists. In states where registration is used, unregistered individuals still are permitted to practice as a dietitian or nutritionist.

The Commission on Dietetic Registration of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics  (formerly the American Dietetic Association) awards the Registered Dietitian credential to those who pass an exam after completing academic coursework and a supervised internship. This credential is a voluntary industry-based certification and it is different from the statutory certification required by some states.

Some Key Things to Remember: Dietitians and nutritionists plan and conduct food service or nutritional programs to assist in the promotion of health and control of disease. They counsel individuals and groups on basic rules of good nutrition, healthy eating habits, and nutrition monitoring to improve their quality of life. Many choose to specialize within this occupation by becoming a clinical dietitian, community dietitian, management dietitian, or consultant dietitian. At least a bachelor's degree is required to work in this occupation. Almost all states require dietitians and nutritionists to be either licensed, state certified, or registered.

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Job Growth and Wages
Percent Job Growth:  
16% - Faster than average
Typical Wages (National):  
Annual: $47,200 - $71,840    Hourly: $23 - $35
Physical/Medical/Health Requirements

No specifc requirement is identified at this time.

Legal Requirements
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Career Snapshot

Typical Education:

Bachelor's Degree (High School + 4 or more Years)
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Percent Job Growth:

16% - Faster than average
Find Jobs

Typical Wages:

Annual: $47,200 - $71,840

Hourly: $23 - $35