Registered Clinical Dietician Careers: Salary & Job Description

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A registered clinical dietitian's mean annual salary is around $57,440. Is it worth the training and licensure requirements? See real job descriptions and get the truth about career prospects to find out if becoming a clinical dietitian is right for you.
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Pros and Cons of a Registered Clinical Dietitian Career

Registered dietitians are trained to help individuals achieve better nutritional status through meal plan guidance, education and support. Clinical dietitians, in particular, work in hospitals and other medical settings. Think you have what it takes to be a registered clinical dietitian? Read these pros and cons to find out.

Pros of a Registered Clinical Dietitian Career
High expected job growth (16% increase from 2014-2024)*
Above-average annual earnings ($57,440 as of 2014)*
Option to work for an employer or be self-employed*
Satisfaction in helping people live healthier lifestyles*

Cons of a Registered Clinical Dietitian Career
Requires extensive training (minimum bachelor's degree and 900-hour supervised work experience)**
Must complete continuing education units to keep registered status **
Requires working with patients with serious medical problems, which could be emotionally taxing*
May require weekend work schedule***

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **Commission on Dietetic Registration, ***Mayo Clinic

Career Info

Job Description

Registered clinical dietitians assess patients' nutritional status within the context of their medical problems. They also develop meal plans and educate patients about beneficial dietary habits. Dietitians working in clinical nutrition are found in hospitals, long-term nursing centers and other healthcare facilities. Some may also be self-employed and do consulting work for clinical facilities.

Self-employed dietitians have more flexibility in their schedule, but they are also burdened with the task of finding their own clients. Employment in a hospital or other medical facility may provide more stability on a daily basis, but you may have to work according to your employer's schedule.

Career Outlook and Salary

With an obesity epidemic and high prevalence of lifestyle-affecting chronic diseases, the need for qualified registered dietitians is rising. The BLS reports that the 16% expected job growth from 2014-2024 is being driven by the importance of nutritional therapy in preventing and managing these health problems. The substantial elderly population in the United States is also playing a role in the rising demand. According to the BLS, dietitians earned a mean wage of about $57,440 as of May 2014.

What Are the Requirements?

Training and Credentialing

Ever notice the letters RD after a dietitian's name? That credential stands for registered dietitian (RD) and is obtained from the Commission on Dietetic Registration (CDR). To be eligible for registration, you must complete a bachelor's-level dietetics program and a 900-hour supervised internship - both of which must be accredited/approved by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics' accreditation council.

Passing an examination is the final step in gaining RD status. You must also complete 75 units of approved continuing education every five years to stay registered. Most states require dietitians to be licensed as well, but achieving registered status will cover the licensure requirements.

In addition to bachelor's degrees, many schools offer master's programs in nutrition and dietetics. Internships may be built into the curriculum of these graduate programs. A master's degree is not required for registration, and employers are mainly interested in hiring those with the RD credential. Still, 60% of dietitians who responded to an O*Net Online poll held graduate degrees (

Personal Attributes

As a registered clinical dietitian, you'll not only be working with patients but also families and other healthcare professionals. Obviously, strong communication and people skills are vital. Ability to work well on your own and in a team environment is also important. Solid leadership skills are needed to effectively implement nutritional programs, guide the work of dietetic technicians and lead group sessions with clients.

What Real Employers Look For

Because this profession is regulated, the primary requirements employers look for are the training, registration and licensure of candidates. Experience working specifically in clinical settings is also important. The following March 2012 job postings reflect the type of qualifications employers expect in a dietitian:

  • A Houston hospital is searching for a full-time registered clinical dietitian with at least one year of experience in the field. Candidates must possess a bachelor's or master's degree and have completed an internship approved by the American Dietetic Association (ADA). The clinical dietitian will perform nutritional assessments, develop nutritional treatment plans, educate patients and monitor patients' progress.
  • An Arizona senior-living facility advertised for a full-time clinical dietitian who is registered and holds Arizona licensure. In addition to providing medical nutritional therapy to the residents, the dietitian will be working with the facility's director to ensure regulatory compliance and resident satisfaction.
  • A children's hospital in Memphis is seeking a part-time registered and licensed clinical dietitian. Qualified candidates should have completed an ADA-approved internship and possess a bachelor's degree. The dietitian must have at least two years of clinical experience, preferably working with children.

How to Stand Out

Get Specialized

Clinical dietitians can specialize in working with certain populations, which might give you an edge if you're aiming to work in a specific setting. The CDR offers board certification as a specialist in sports, pediatric, gerontological, renal and oncology nutrition. All certifications require candidates to have been RDs for at least two years and have 1,500-2,000 hours of experience working in the specialty within five years of applying.

Develop Related Skills

Good computer skills are important to develop and keep current for this career. Dietitians use nutritional and medical software programs in their job as well as common office applications and software. These are used to conduct research, develop meal plans and maintain the required documentation of services performed. You may prepare for the technical aspects of the job by taking computer-related courses in college.

Alternative Careers to Consider

Health Educator

Do you like the idea of helping others improve their health but are having second thoughts about dedicating your entire career to nutrition? If so, take consider becoming a health educator. Health educators develop and implement programs that teach others about a multitude of health and wellness issues. A bachelor's degree is the minimum requirement for this occupation, but some positions may require a master's. Some employers may also expect you to possess certification from the National Commission for Health Education Credentialing, Inc.

You can find employment in clinical settings in addition to public health agencies, community organizations, colleges and corporate settings. According to the BLS, health educators earned on average about $52,000 annually. The estimated 2010-2020 employment growth for this profession is 37%, surpassing that of dietitians.

Dietetic Technician, Registered

If you want to work in dietetics but aren't ready for the training commitment, working as a dietetic technician may be a good fit. The CDR offers registration for techs as well, which requires completing an approved program, work experience and passing an examination. You can get into this line of work with an associate's degree and completion of a 450-hour supervised internship. As a dietetic technician, you'll work in the same settings as RDs and under their supervision. Keep in mind that the tradeoff for the faster training time and reduced responsibility is a lower salary - dietetic techs earned about $29,000 as of 2011.

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