Becoming a Registered Dietician: Job Description & Salary Info

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What are the pros and cons of a career as a registered dietician? Get real job descriptions, career prospects and salary info to see if becoming a registered dietician is right for you.
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Pros and Cons of Becoming a Registered Dietician

Dieticians work to determine the nutritional content, benefits and harmful effects of food, and they may play an important role in influencing our dietary choices. If you're interested in becoming a registered dietician, please continue to read on in order to learn more about the positive and negative aspects of this field.

Pros of Becoming a Registered Dietician
Pay is above the U.S. median household income from 2006-2010 (median annual wage of around $57,000 as of May 2014)*
Expected faster-than-average job growth (21% from 2012-2022)*
Have a positive impact on the overall health of groups and individuals**
Specializations available*

Cons of Becoming a Registered Dietician
Requires a bachelor's degree*
Several hundred hours of supervised training is usually required after graduation*
Most states regulate dieticians and nutritionists*
May have to work with terminally ill patients**

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **Occupational Information Network.

Essential Career Information

Job Description and Duties

Dieticians design and organize nutritional or food service programs in order to promote health and prevent disease. Dieticians counsel groups and individuals on basic nutrition and what constitutes healthful dietary choices in order to help them improve their health and quality of life. Additionally, dieticians consult with healthcare professionals and physicians in order to determine the dietary restrictions and nutritional needs of patients and clients and may monitor food service operations in order to uphold standards of quality, safety, nutrition and sanitation. Many dieticians make recommendations that influence public policies involving nutritional standards and food labeling.

Specializations

While all dieticians engage in similar tasks, there are several specialties within this occupation. Management dieticians work in hospitals, cafeterias and businesses planning meal programs and overseeing the purchase of food. Some may oversee other dieticians or kitchen staff members. Clinical dieticians work within the healthcare field providing medical nutrition therapy. They're often employed in hospitals, care facilities and other institutions related to healthcare and may work with other healthcare professionals in designing nutritional plans for patients. Community dieticians work to educate the public on dietary and nutritional choices. Many work with specific groups of people with special needs, such as pregnant women or kidney patients. They may work in non-profit or government agencies, health maintenance organizations and public health clinics.

Job Growth and Salary Info

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), in 2014 the mean annual pay for dieticians was around $57,000 and the mean hourly wage was around $28.00 (www.bls.gov). Between 2012 and 2022, job growth was expected to rise by 21%; this is faster than average among all occupations. The rise in job growth is due to a new and growing emphasis on the role of nutrition in preventative healthcare. As of 2014 there were about 67,000 workers in this field.

Education and Training Requirements

In order to become a dietician, you'll need to earn a bachelor's degree in a relevant area such as dietetics, food service systems management or nutrition. These programs provide courses in the general areas of nutrition, biology, chemistry and physiology. After completing a degree, you'll continue to learn through work experience and on-the-job training opportunities.

Earning the Registered Dietician Credential

The majority of states require dieticians to be licensed. To obtain licensing, a bachelor's degree in food and nutrition or a related area is required as well as some supervised training and successful completion of an examination. One of the primary ways to become licensed is by earning the Registered Dietician (RD) credential; this credential is administered by the Commission on Dietetic Registration, the credentialing agency for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. In order to earn the RD credential, dieticians must complete supervised practice and educational programs that are accredited by the Accreditation Council for Education in Nutrition and Dietetics (ACEND). Registered Dieticians must maintain this credential by completing special continuing education courses.

Top Skills for a Dietician

In general terms, dieticians must possess the following skills:

  • A drive to keep up to date with the latest advances and research in nutrition
  • The ability to derive practical dietary advice from scientific data
  • Enthusiasm for helping people with their dietary needs
  • The ability to clearly explain complex topics to individuals who do not possess a technical vocabulary
  • Good organizational skills

Job Postings from Real Employers

Employers are seeking registered dieticians who have experience working in a number of areas, including assisted-living facilities and hospitals. Many employers prefer candidates who can interact well with patients, prepare customized nutritional plans, keep detailed records, monitor the patient's state and comply with all professional regulations and standards. In order to get a better sense of the kinds of jobs available, see the following job postings open during April 2012:

  • A healthcare center in Ohio was seeking a registered dietician. In addition to requiring the RD credential, this employer preferred candidates to have experience in long-term care in a hospital environment. Job duties included assessing the nutritional needs of residents, implementing approaches for solving nutritional problems, maintaining records and monitoring food-service employees.
  • A healthcare company in Montana was looking to hire a registered dietician. This employer required a bachelor's degree, an RD credential, expertise in clinical nutrition and good communication skills. Job duties included making comprehensive nutrition assessments for residents. Employees were also expected to participate with interdisciplinary teams in order to implement care strategies and monitor the hydration and nutrition status of residents.
  • A dining service in Illinois that specializes in serving hospitals, senior services and other businesses was seeking a registered dietician. In addition to the RD credential, the successful candidate would need at least two years of experience in a senior nursing facility, assisted-living center, rehabilitation center or an acute-care environment. Job duties included evaluating the nutritional needs of residents, establishing individualized care plans, monitoring the status of residents, working with the dining services department and maintaining documentation.
  • A children's medical center in Connecticut was seeking a registered dietician for part-time work. This employer required candidates to hold a bachelor's degree in nutrition and to have at least two years of work experience in pediatric care. Job duties included providing medical nutrition therapy to children and assessing the nutritional status of patients.

How to Stand Out in the Field

According to the BLS, it is not uncommon for dieticians to have advanced degrees. Thus, when job seeking, a graduate degree may be an advantage. In a graduate program, you can study more advanced topics in nutrition; for example, you can learn more about how nutrition interfaces with genetics, nutritional biochemistry, the biochemistry of vitamins and minerals and nutritional physiology. Additionally, you can also engage in research topics that interest you.

Alternative Career Paths

Dietetic Technician

If you're interested in nutrition and helping people make healthy choices, but don't want to commit to a lengthy formal education, then you may wish to consider becoming a dietetic technician. These technicians work under the supervision of registered dieticians. They observe the dietary patterns of patients, report dietary problems to physicians, plan menus and diets for families and individuals and assist dieticians with research. According to the BLS, the mean annual wage for a dietetic technician in May 2011 was about $29,000 and the mean hourly wage was around $14.00. The Occupational Information Network predicted job growth to remain about average between 2010 and 2020, rising somewhere between 10% and 19%.

Nursing Aides

If you'd rather assist in a variety of healthcare aspects, you may wish to pursue a career as a nursing aide. In some states, nursing aides administer medications and treatments under the direction of physicians. Most aides attend patient calls and determine patient needs. They assist patients with activities of daily living, document patient behavior and respond to patient complaints. They may also offer emotional support to patients. Consequently, it's important for individuals in this field to be patient, compassionate and respectful of others. According to the BLS, the median annual wage for a nursing aide in 2011 was around $24,000 and the mean hourly wage was about $12.00. Employment in this field was expected to grow faster than average among all occupations at about 20% between 2010 and 2020.

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