Nutrition is a key element of good health. Registered dietitian nutritionists are the experts on good nutrition and the food choices that can make us healthy, whether it’s a proper diet or eating to manage the symptoms of a disease or chronic condition. Registered dietitian nutritionists design nutrition programs to protect health, prevent allergic reactions and alleviate the symptoms of many types of disease.
Clinical dietitians provide medical nutrition therapy for patients in institutions such as hospitals and nursing care facilities. They assess patients’ nutritional needs, develop and implement nutrition programs and evaluate and report the results. They confer with doctors and other health care professionals in order to coordinate medical and dietary needs. Some clinical dietitians specialize in the management of overweight and critically ill patients, such as those with renal (kidney) disease and diabetes. In addition, clinical dietitians in nursing care facilities, small hospitals, or correctional facilities may manage the food service department.
Community dietitians develop nutrition programs designed to prevent disease and promote health, targeting particular groups of people. Dietitians in this practice area may work in settings such as public health clinics, fitness centers, corporate wellness programs or home health agencies.
Corporate dietitians work in food manufacturing, advertising and marketing. In these areas, dietitians analyze foods, prepare literature for distribution, or report on issues such as the nutritional content of recipes, dietary fiber or vitamin supplements.
Management dietitians oversee large-scale meal planning and preparation in health care 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 health care facilities or in their own private practice. They perform nutrition assessments for their clients and advise them about diet-related concerns, such as weight loss or cholesterol reduction. Some work for wellness programs, sports teams, supermarkets and other nutrition-related businesses. They consult with food service managers, providing expertise in sanitation, safety procedures, menu development, budgeting and planning.
Registered dietitian nutritionists work in a variety of settings, overseeing food planning and preparation. While some may spend time in a commercial or facility kitchen, most work in an office setting, managing nutrition programs, seeing clients and/or working on policy issues related to nutrition. Most work a typical 40-hour week.
Salary Range and Outlook
The average salary for a registered dietitian nutritionist, as of 2015, is $63,700, according to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Salaries may be higher or lower depending on a registered dietitian nutritionist’s experience, the job location and the position’s responsibilities.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that employment will grow 16% from 2014 to 2024, much faster than the average for all occupations. It notes that the role of food in good health is well known, leading to a larger role for dietitians in patient care and to advise people who want to improve their health.
There are two pathways to becoming a dietitian nutritionist:
- Enroll in a coordinated program in dietetics. These accredited programs provide classroom as well as supervised practical experience and lead to a bachelor’s or graduate degree. Once you graduate, you can take the registration examination for dietitians to become credentialed as a registered dietitian nutritionist.
- Enroll in a didactic program in dietetics that culminates in a bachelor’s or graduate degree. When you have completed the accredited program, you then apply for an internship/supervised practical experience, which lasts eight to 24 months. Once you graduate, you can take the registration examination for dietitians to become credentialed as a registered dietitian nutritionist.
Learn More About a Career as a Dietitian Nutritionist
- Watch a video about what registered dietitian nutritionists do.
- Get answers to your questions about a career in dietetics.
- Meet six registered dietitian nutritionists who are improving health in their communities.
- Learn from four registered dietitian nutritionists who are working to nourish the world.