Dietitians are responsible for crafting the diets of patients and for educating individuals on the the benefits of maintaining proper dietary standards.Dietitians work in a variety of different positions depending on their particular specialization. Common specialities in this field include managerial, community, clinical and consultant dietitians. Dietitians often work closely with other professionals in order to design menus and diets that are the most beneficial to their clients.
The job outlook for dietitians is quite good and there is usually a steady demand for their services. The services of dietitians are required by many different organizations which include hospitals, prisons, schools, food service companies and research labs. The job growth for this field is expected to rise slightly above the national average over the course of the next ten years, making this a field with good job stability and some room for professional advancement.
While dietitians fill a variety of different roles depending on whether they work in an institutional, educational or clinical environment, there are a few basic job responsibilities that are common among all of them. They are responsible for working closely with their clients, as well as professionals from a variety of different fields.
Dietitians are responsible for consulting with health care workers about the particular needs of their patients, write grant request for research programs, analyze food content and composition for manufacturers, develop specialized diets, ensure that proper safety regulations are being addressed and inspecting meals before they are served. Dietitians may also do prepare budgets and supervise the purchase of food service equipment. Dietitians are often employed by various academic institutions to directly teach students or in a research capacity.
In addition to the above duties, many dietitians follow entrepreneurial pursuits on a freelance basis advising and educating various organizations and individuals on proper nutritional and dietary standards.
Training and Education Requirements
In twenty-seven states, dietitians must be certified in order to legally work as a “Registered Dietitian”. The individual requirements differ from state to state, but they usually require that the dietitian be at least eighteen years old, have a bachelor’s degree from an accredited university and the completion of a program authorized by the American Dietetics Association. Most states also require that the dietitian work at least nine hundred hours of internship before they can take clients on their own. This internship is usually under the guidance of an established dietitian or a team of dietitians. This internship ensures that proper standards and practices are employed by the intern before he or she practices on their own.
The Department of Nutrition and Food Service sets very rigid guidelines for dietitians. Dietitians looking to be be certified by this agency must maintain at least an average grade in several core electives which include Elements of Nutrition, Food Science and Technology, Algebra, Chemistry, Organic chemistry and Advanced Human Nutrition. In order to complete the certification, these courses have to be taken at a state accredited school.
Salary and Wages
Currently, there are close to sixty thousand dietitians working in the United States. Over sixty percent of these individuals make between $29,000 and $45,000 per year. This puts the average hourly wage between $16.00 and $17.00 per hour. The exact amount of compensation varies from state to state and is often influenced by a number of other variables such as education level, amount of experience, whether the dietitian is working in a rural or urban market and the saturation of the job market.*
*According to the BLS, http://www.bls.gov/oco/
Dietitians also usually receive benefits which include health and life insurance, paid vacation, sick leave and retirement plans that increase the value of working in this field.
While it is quite possible to work as a dietitian without certification in the twenty-seven states that require it, it is illegal to work in these states as a “Registered Dietitian” without proper certification. There are also nine states that have no requirements or guidelines for the certification of dietitians.
The remaining thirteen states require that all individuals working in their states as dietitians be certified. In these states, a formal test from the Commission on Dietetic Registration must be taken. The requirements of this certification adhere closely to the guidelines set fourth by the Department of Nutrition and Food Service. Successful completion of this certification ensures that the dietitian has the knowledge and skill to competently execute the tasks of their office.
The main professional association for dietitians is the American Dietetic Association. It was founded in 1917 and has since become the largest organization of nutritional professionals in the world. Their primary goal is to optimize health through the proper practice and implementation of nutritional guidelines. This organization is headquartered in Chicago and currently has a membership that exceeds seventy thousand members. The vast majority of these members are registered dietitians.