Dietitians and nutritionists advise people on what to eat in order to lead a healthy lifestyle or achieve a specific health-related goal.
What they do
Dietitians and nutritionists are experts in the use of food and nutrition to promote health and manage disease.
Dietitians and nutritionists typically do the following:
- Assess patients’ and clients’ nutritional and health needs
- Counsel patients on nutrition issues and healthy eating habits
- Develop meal and nutrition plans, taking both clients’ preferences and budgets into account
- Evaluate the effects of meal plans and change the plans as needed
- Promote better health by speaking to groups about diet, nutrition, and the relationship between good eating habits and preventing or managing specific diseases
- Create educational materials about healthy food choices
- Keep up with or contribute to the latest food and nutritional science research
- Document patients’ progress
Dietitians and nutritionists evaluate the health of their clients. Based on their findings, dietitians and nutritionists advise clients on which foods to eat—and which to avoid—to improve their health.
Many dietitians and nutritionists provide customized information for specific individuals. For example, a dietitian or nutritionist might teach a client with diabetes how to plan meals to balance the client’s blood sugar. Others work with groups of people who have similar needs. For example, a dietitian or nutritionist might plan a diet with healthy fat and limited sugar to help clients who are at risk for heart disease. They may work with other healthcare professionals to coordinate patient care.
Dietitians and nutritionists who are self-employed may meet with patients, or they may work as consultants for a variety of organizations. They may need to spend time on marketing and other business-related tasks, such as scheduling appointments, keeping records, and preparing educational programs or informational materials for clients.
Although many dietitians and nutritionists do similar tasks, there are several specialties within the occupations. The following are examples of types of dietitians and nutritionists:
Clinical dietitians and clinical nutritionists provide medical nutrition therapy. They work in hospitals, long-term care facilities, clinics, private practice, and other institutions. They create customized nutritional programs based on the health needs of patients or residents and counsel patients on how to improve their health through nutrition. Clinical dietitians and clinical nutritionists may further specialize, such as by working only with patients with specific conditions such as kidney disease, diabetes, or digestive disorders.
Community dietitians and community nutritionists develop programs and counsel the public on topics related to food, health, and nutrition. They often work with specific groups of people, such as adolescents or the elderly. They work in public health clinics, government and nonprofit agencies, health maintenance organizations (HMOs), and other settings.
Management dietitians plan food programs. They work in food service settings such as cafeterias, hospitals, prisons, and schools. They may be responsible for buying food and for carrying out other business-related tasks, such as budgeting. Management dietitians may oversee kitchen staff or other dietitians.
Most dietitians and nutritionists work full time. They may work evenings and weekends to meet with clients who are unavailable at other times.
How to become a Dietitian and/or Nutritionist
Dietitians and nutritionists typically need a bachelor’s degree, along with supervised training through an internship. Many states require dietitians and nutritionists to be licensed.
Dietitians and nutritionists typically need a bachelor’s degree in dietetics, foods and nutrition, clinical nutrition, public health nutrition, or a related area. Dietitians also may study food service systems management. Programs include courses in nutrition, psychology, chemistry, and biology.
Many dietitians and nutritionists have advanced degrees.
Dietitians and nutritionists typically receive several hundred hours of supervised training, usually in the form of an internship following graduation from college. Some schools offer coordinated programs in dietetics that allow students to complete supervised training as part of their undergraduate or graduate-level coursework.
Many states require dietitians and nutritionists to be licensed in order to practice. Other states require only state registration or certification to use certain titles, and a few states have no regulations for this occupation.
The requirements for state licensure and state certification vary by state, but most include having a bachelor’s degree in food and nutrition or a related area, completing supervised practice, and passing an exam.
Many dietitians choose to earn the Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN) credential. Although the RDN is not always required, the qualifications are often the same as those necessary for becoming a licensed dietitian in states that require a license. Many employers prefer or require the RDN, which is administered by the Commission on Dietetic Registration, the credentialing agency for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
The RDN requires dietitian nutritionists to complete a minimum of a bachelor’s degree and a Dietetic Internship (DI), which consists of at least 1,200 hours of supervised experience. Students may complete both criteria at once through a coordinated program, or they may finish their required coursework and degree before applying for an internship. These programs are accredited by the Accreditation Council for Education in Nutrition and Dietetics (ACEND), part of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. In order to maintain the RDN credential, dietitians and nutritionists who have earned it must complete 75 continuing professional education credits every 5 years.
Nutritionists may earn the Certified Nutrition Specialist (CNS) credential to show an advanced level of knowledge. The CNS credential or exam is accepted in several states for licensure purposes. To qualify for the credential, applicants must have a master’s or doctoral degree, complete 1,000 hours of supervised experience, and pass an exam. The credential is administered by the Board for Certification of Nutrition Specialists. To maintain the CNS credential, nutritionists must complete 75 continuing education credits every 5 years.
Dietitians and nutritionists may seek additional certifications in an area of specialty. The Commission on Dietetic Registration offers several specialty certifications in topics such as oncology nutrition, pediatric nutrition, renal nutrition, and sports dietetics, among others.
The median annual wage for dietitians and nutritionists was $61,270 in May 2019. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $38,890, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $87,360.
Employment of dietitians and nutritionists is projected to grow 8 percent from 2019 to 2029, much faster than the average for all occupations. In recent years, interest in the role of food and nutrition in promoting health and wellness has increased, particularly as a part of preventative healthcare in medical settings.
Similar Job Titles
Clinical Dietician, Clinical Dietitian, Correctional Food Service Supervisor, Dietary Manager, Dietitian, Nutritionist, Outpatient Dietitian, Pediatric Clinical Dietician, Registered Dietician, Registered Dietitian
Medical and Health Services Manager, Medical Scientist (except Epidemiologist), Health Specialties Teacher-Postsecondary, Nursing Instructor and Teacher-Postsecondary, Home Economics Teachers-Postsecondary
The trade associations listed below represent organizations made up of people (members) who work and promote advancement in the field. Members are very interested in telling others about their work and about careers in those areas. As well, trade associations provide opportunities for organizational networking and learning more about the field’s trends and directions.
- Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics
- American Association of Diabetes Educators
- American College of Nutrition
- American College of Sports Medicine
- American Diabetes Association
- American Society for Nutrition
- American Society for Parenteral and Enteral Nutrition
- Association of Nutrition and Foodservice Professionals
- Board for Certification of Nutrition Specialists
- Dietetics in Health Care Communities
Magazines and Publications
- Today’s Dietitian Magazine
- Food and Nutrition - ‘From the Magazine’
- Network Health Digest
- Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics
Have you ever wanted to improve your diet, but been overwhelmed with all the advice, opinions, and options available? Enter dietitians and nutritionists— experts in the use of food and nutrition to promote health and manage disease. Dietitians and nutritionists meet with clients to assess their current nutritional habits and health needs. They advise clients on all aspects of eating for a healthy lifestyle or to reach a goal… covering topics such as portion control, food allergies, weight loss, or weight gain. They discuss food preparation and meal plans that detail calories, nutrients, and timing of meals. Dietitians and nutritionists frequently work in hospitals, nursing homes, and clinics helping patients with specific medical needs, such as managing blood sugar in diabetes, or supplementing extra calories for very ill patients. Hospital-based dietitians and nutritionists may work in intensive care units with doctors to manage critically ill patients and insert feeding tubes. Some dietitians may work in schools where they consult with food services and educate students on healthy eating. A bachelor’s degree in dietetics, foods and nutrition, or a related area is required for most dietitian jobs, along with a license. Many dietitians and nutritionists have advanced degrees or other specialized credentials. When patients ask “what’s for dinner?” dietitians and nutritionists give them more than just food for thought.
Content retrieved from: US Bureau of Labor Statistics-OOH www.bls.gov/ooh,
CareerOneStop www.careeronestop.org, O*Net Online www.onetonline.org