The work of a dietitian goes far beyond simply handing out nutritional advice; they also prepare food, conduct research, give presentations, coach their clients and treat any diet-related problems, while taking any health issues into consideration.
Dietitians are often overlooked, but they are a crucial part in the healthcare system, ensuring patients receive the nutrients they need and are on a faster road to recovery. But becoming a registered dietitian isn’t as simple as having an interest in a career in food and health; you need the right education, experience and business knowledge to pursue this exciting career path.
To find out how to become a dietitian yourself, read on!
1. Research the Profession
As with any career path, it’s essential that you choose the one that is right for you.
Below is an overview of what the job of a dietitian entails, including the number of hours you can expect to work and the kind of salary you can potentially make.
Like doctors, dietitians are professionals that coach patients back to wellness and teach them how to have a healthier way of living, through a personalised diet or regime. Duties can vary depending on your workplace setting, but a typical day in the life of a dietitian includes:
- gathering and assessing information based on the health and nutritional status of a patient, group or community
- counselling patients on nutrition issues and healthy eating habits
- developing meal plans for patients, groups or organisations in line with budget and the individual patient’s personal preferences
- interpreting and communicating scientific information to an individual or group of people – this can also be in a university setting
- managing food service systems to provide safe and nutritious food by designing appropriate menus and implementing nutrition policies
- evaluating the effects of the meal plan and changing it according to the client’s needs
- conducting food-related research and keeping up with the latest scientific practices
- writing reports and documenting notes of the entire process.
Essential Skills and Qualities
To excel in the health industry, you need to have specific characteristics and skills. Here are the main traits required to get ahead:
- analytical skills – dietitians should have the ability to interpret scientific studies and translate this information into practical advice for their patients
- compassion – dealing with overweight, underweight or unhealthy individuals can be a highly emotional situation, which is why dietitians need to treat every patient with understanding, care and empathy
- communication skills – being able to communicate clearly and concisely is key when working with different personalities and patients, as you will need to translate scientific terms into simple language to ensure clients understand what you’re saying; you should also be a good listener and able to understand the needs of the patient
- organisational skills – as there are many aspects of the job you’ll need to deal with on a day-to-day basis, being able to stay organised will reduce a lot of stress and pressure from completing simple tasks
- time management skills – as well as being organised, keeping to a strict schedule is also key; you should be able to work under pressure and arrange your day accordingly to ensure you complete all your duties
- problem-solving skills – whether it’s personalising a diet plan for a patient or determining the best food for a clinic, you should be able to think on your feet and come up with solutions to various issues
Working Hours and Conditions
Depending on the type of employment and organisation, dietitians are expected to work between 37.5 and 40 hours a week. However, the hours can change due to the nature of the job – for example, if you work in a private clinic or run your own practice, you’ll typically work Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm. If, on the other hand, you work for a public hospital, you will likely work shifts rather than set hours.
As a dietitian, you can expect to earn a lot once you’ve got the right amount of experience under your belt and have established a name for yourself.
Generally speaking, however, you can expect a starting salary of £34,840 in the UK, which can increase to as much as £40,040 with experience. In the US, meanwhile, the average annual salary for dietitians is $59,410.
The importance of healthy eating habits is not just for improving physical appearance but also for controlling diseases like diabetes and kidney-related illnesses. And as we become more conscious about our overall wellbeing, the demand for RDs is, perhaps unsurprisingly, on the rise.
With a projected growth of 16% from 2016 to 2026 in the US, this profession is growing at a rate much higher than the average job role, meaning that more licensed dietitians will be needed in the future.
2. Get the Qualifications
To become a dietitian, you should first undertake a bachelor’s degree in dietetics, food and nutrition, clinical nutrition or food service systems management. In the UK, you must then practise as a dietitian and successfully complete the Health & Care Professions Council (HCPC)-approved programme, before becoming a registered member. In the US, meanwhile, you will need to be certified by the Commission on Dietetic Registration (CDR).
In both countries, you will then need to undertake an accredited internship programme, either during your studies or after graduation in order to gain supervised experience in the field. And if you thought that was it, you’re unfortunately mistaken!
In order to keep your registered certificate while practising as a dietitian, you’ll need to complete continuing professional education requirements as instructed by your registration board.
3. Land Your First Job
After gaining your credentials and obtaining your licence, you’ll take your first steps to getting your first job. This begins by identifying the industry you want to work in, such as hospitals (healthcare), food service management, government, education, research or the private sector.
The best way to find a suitable position is to spruce up your CV, connect with industry experts on LinkedIn and search for available positions on popular job boards. Alternatively, you can consider opening your own private practice, though it is recommended that you first gain some work experience before taking on the role of a business owner.
4. Develop Your Career
There’s a variety of ways to develop your career as a dietitian, depending on your interests, of course. If you’re working for a hospital, you can rise in ranks and positions as you gain more experience and you may, ultimately, progress to management level with the responsibility of a team and the department’s budget.
You may also decide that you want to specialise in a specific area, such as diabetes, cancer, gastroenterology or kidney diseases, or you might prefer to work with a particular age group, like children, for example.
You could also branch out to marketing and set up health talks, work for a food business or carry out scientific studies. The options are endless with your in-depth knowledge of food and how it affects the human mind and bodies!
Becoming a dietitian requires dedication, passion and commitment, but if you really want to make a positive impact on hundreds of lives, it’s definitely a career worth considering!
Is it your dream to become a dietitian? Join the conversation below and let us know what inspired you to follow this career path!