Most jobs are in hospitals, nursing care facilities, and offices
of physicians or other health practitioners.
Dietitians and nutritionists need at least a bachelorís degree
in dietetics, foods and nutrition, food service systems management,
or a related area.
Faster than average employment growth is expected; however,
growth may be constrained if employers substitute other workers
for dietitians and if limitations are placed on insurance reimbursement
for dietetic services.
Those who have specialized training in renal or diabetic diets
or have a masterís degree should experience good employment
Nature of the Work
Dietitians and nutritionists plan food and nutrition programs
and supervise the preparation and serving of meals. They help
to prevent and treat illnesses by promoting healthy eating habits
and recommending dietary modifications, such as the use of less
salt for those with high blood pressure or the reduction of fat
and sugar intake for those who are overweight.
Dietitians manage food service systems for institutions such
as hospitals and schools, promote sound eating habits through
education, and conduct research. Major areas of practice include
clinical, community, management, and consultant dietetics.
Clinical dietitians provide nutritional services for patients
in institutions such as hospitals and nursing care facilities.
They assess patientsí nutritional needs, develop and implement
nutrition programs, and evaluate and report the results. They
also confer with doctors and other health care professionals to
coordinate medical and nutritional needs. Some clinical dietitians
specialize in the management of overweight patients or in the
care of critically ill or renal (kidney) and diabetic patients.
In addition, clinical dietitians in nursing care facilities, small
hospitals, or correctional facilities may manage the food service
Community dietitians counsel individuals and groups on
nutritional practices designed to prevent disease and promote
health. Working in places such as public health clinics, home
health agencies, and health maintenance organizations, community
dietitians evaluate individual needs, develop nutritional care
plans, and instruct individuals and their families. Dietitians
working in home health agencies provide instruction on grocery
shopping and food preparation to the elderly, individuals with
special needs, and children.
Increased public interest in nutrition has led to job opportunities
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 screenings for their clients and offer advice on diet-related
concerns such as weight loss and cholesterol reduction. Some work
for wellness programs, sports teams, supermarkets, and other nutrition-related
businesses. They may consult with food service managers, providing
expertise in sanitation, safety procedures, menu development,
budgeting, and planning.
Most full-time dietitians and nutritionists work a regular 40-hour
week, although some work weekends. About 1 in 4 worked part time
Dietitians and nutritionists usually work in clean, well-lighted,
and well-ventilated areas. However, some dietitians work in warm,
congested kitchens. Many dietitians and nutritionists are on their
feet for much of the workday.
Training, Other Qualifications, and Advancement
High school students interested in becoming a dietitian or nutritionist
should take courses in biology, chemistry, mathematics, health,
and communications. Dietitians and nutritionists need at least
a bachelorís degree in dietetics, foods and nutrition, food service
systems management, or a related area. College students in these
majors take courses in foods, nutrition, institution management,
chemistry, biochemistry, biology, microbiology, and physiology.
Other suggested courses include business, mathematics, statistics,
computer science, psychology, sociology, and economics.
Of the 46 States and jurisdictions with laws governing dietetics,
31 require licensure, 14 require certification, and 1 requires
registration. Requirements vary by State. As a result, interested
candidates should determine the requirements of the State in which
they want to work before sitting for any exam. Although not required,
the Commission on Dietetic Registration of the American Dietetic
Association (ADA) awards the Registered Dietitian credential to
those who pass an exam after completing their academic coursework
and supervised experience.
As of 2004, there were about 227 bachelorís and masterís degree
programs approved by the ADAís Commission on Accreditation for
Dietetics Education (CADE).
Supervised practice experience can be acquired in two ways. The
first requires the completion of a CADE-accredited program. As
of 2004, there were more than 50 accredited programs, which combined
academic and supervised practice experience and generally lasted
4 to 5 years. The second option requires the completion of 900
hours of supervised practice experience in any of the 265 CADE-accredited
internships. These internships may be full-time programs lasting
6 to 12 months or part-time programs lasting 2 years. To maintain
a registered dietitian status, at least 75 credit hours in approved
continuing education classes are required every 5 years.
Students interested in research, advanced clinical positions,
or public health may need an advanced degree.
Experienced dietitians may advance to management positions, such
as assistant director, associate director, or director of a dietetic
department, or may become self-employed. Some dietitians specialize
in areas such as renal, diabetic, cardiovascular, or pediatric
dietetics. Others may leave the occupation to become sales representatives
for equipment, pharmaceutical, or food manufacturers.
Dietitians and nutritionists held about 50,000 jobs in 2004.
More than half of all jobs were in hospitals, nursing care facilities,
outpatient care centers, or offices of physicians and other health
practitioners. State and local government agencies provided about
1 job in 5ómostly in correctional facilities, health departments,
and other public-health-related areas. Some dietitians and nutritionists
were employed in special food services, an industry made up of
firms providing food services on contract to facilities such as
colleges and universities, airlines, correctional facilities,
and company cafeterias. Other jobs were in public and private
educational services, community care facilities for the elderly
(which includes assisted-living facilities), individual and family
services, home health care services, and the Federal Governmentómostly
in the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
Some dietitians were self-employed, working as consultants to
facilities such as hospitals and nursing care facilities or providing
dietary counseling to individuals.
Employment of dietitians is expected to grow faster than the
average for all occupations through 2014 as a result of increasing
emphasis on disease prevention through improved dietary habits.
A growing and aging population will boost the demand for meals
and nutritional counseling in hospitals, residential care facilities,
schools, prisons, community health programs, and home health care
agencies. Public interest in nutrition and increased emphasis
on health education and prudent lifestyles also will spur demand,
especially in management. In addition to employment growth, job
openings will result from the need to replace experienced workers
who leave the occupation.
The number of dietitian positions in nursing care facilities
and in State government hospitals is expected to decline, as these
establishments continue to contract with outside agencies for
food services. However, employment is expected to grow rapidly
in contract providers of food services, in outpatient care centers,
and in offices of physicians and other health practitioners. With
increased public awareness of obesity and diabetes, Medicare coverage
may be expanded to include medical nutrition therapy for renal
and diabetic patients. As a result, dietitians that have specialized
training in renal or diabetic diets or have a masterís degree
should experience good employment opportunities.
Employment growth for dietitians and nutritionists may be constrained
if some employers substitute other workers, such as health educators,
food service managers, and dietetic technicians. Growth also may
be curbed by limitations on insurance reimbursement for dietetic
Median annual earnings of dietitians and nutritionists were $43,630
in May 2004. The middle 50 percent earned between $35,940 and
$53,370. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $27,500, and the
highest 10 percent earned more than $63,760. In May 2004, median
annual earnings in general medical and surgical hospitals, the
industry employing the largest number of dietitians and nutritionists,
According to the American Dietetic Association, median annualized
wages for registered dietitians in 2005 varied by practice area
as follows: $53,800 in consultation and business; $60,000 in food
and nutrition management; $60,200 in education and research; $48,800
in clinical nutrition/ambulatory care; $50,000 in clinical nutrition/long-term
care; $44,800 in community nutrition; and $45,000 in clinical
nutrition/acute care. Salaries also vary by years in practice,
education level, geographic region, and size of the community.