If you have not read our article on becoming a nutritionist (link) you might want to start there first. The roles of a nutritionist and dietitian are similar and the line of work sometimes overlaps. Yet there are distinctions that separate the two occupations specifically in regard to regulation and education. It's also important to note that a dietitian can be considered a nutritionist although a nutritionist is not considered a dietitian. There are additional requirements that a dietitian must meet in order to qualify verses a nutritionist. The primary responsibility of a dietitian is to compile food and nutrition plans and promote healthy eating habits to prevent and treat illness. These types of jobs are widely available in many industries from private practice, clinical, educational and even corporate professions.
Please note that the requirements to become a registered dietitian will vary from state to state. Be sure to check with you local state agency to determine the necessary requirements. There are a few states that have no certification or licensing requirements to become a dietitian. Some states only require a certification and many states do require a license to practice as a dietitian. Even if your state does not have qualification necessary, your employer very well may. As a professional, taking the time to invest in your education and training will ultimately benefit your career and those you serve.
Since the majority of states do require a license to practice as a dietitian, the focus of this article will include the general education and training needed to become licensed. The first step to become a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN) should be a graduate degree in food and nutritional sciences. Courses in nutrition, biology, chemistry, psychology, and sociology will be beneficial to your career. Next, continued education to obtain a masters or a doctorate may be necessary for some positions within the industry. A focus on health and science related courses should be the primary subjects studied. In addition to the education portion, a licensed RDN will need to complete guided hands on training through an internship program. Typically there will be a minimum of 1200 hours to log before you can consider applying for your RDN certification.
A dietitian will need to also complete 75 hours of field related studies over 5 years to continue their certification. Skills such as interpersonal communication, analytics, mathematics and computer knowledge are extremely beneficial in this occupation. Your responsibilities as a dietitian could vary widely depending on your career path. Thus this is part of what makes the profession as a dietitian so appealing to many, the job opportunities within the field.
An RDN may own their own private practice and assist individual patients with developing healthy eating plans to better their health and help fight diseases. Corporations will hire dietitians to help promote living a healthy lifestyle on and off the job. Hospitals will often have clinical dietitians on hand to help support a patient's need. Geriatric dietitians can find opportunities within retirement communities and assisted living programs to help the elderly. There are pediatric dietitians to promote healthy eating habits and dietary needs in children and prenatal dietitians that specialize in providing the most beneficial nutrients for expecting mothers. If individual patient care is not the path for you, opportunities in administrative and even research positions are available. These are just a few of the possibilities as a professional dietitian.
Salaries as a dietitian will vary and depend on your career path, education and experience. On average it's estimated a dietitian can exceed $55k per year. It's also a growing profession. As people become more health conscious and more is learned from the benefits of proper nutrition and healthy eating habits there will be a need for professional dietitians to fill those roles. To get started, have a look at the resources below and good luck in your pursuit.