Dietitian and Nutritionist

dietitian and nutritionist career guide

Table of Contents

Overview

Job Responsibilities

  • Evaluate a person’s nutritional and health needs
  • Conduct counseling sessions with patients on their nutrition issues
  • Teach clients about healthy eating habits
  • Develop meal and nutrition plans based on evaluation while considering both clients’ preferences and budgets
  • Assess the effects of meal plans carried out and modify them as needed
  • Contribute to health promotion by speaking to groups and organizations about diet, nutrition, good eating habits and how important it is in preventing or managing certain diseases
  • Create educational materials, such as books, media, and charts about healthy food choices
  • Stay updated on the latest food and nutritional science research
  • Conduct or be part of food and nutritional science research projects
  • Document patients’ progress through reports

How Much Does a Dietitian and Nutritionist Make?

Dietitian and nutritionists made a median salary of $60,370 in 2018. The best-paid 10 percent made $84,610 that year, while the lowest paid 10 percent made $38,460.

median bell graph dietitian and nutritionist

Common Requirements

  • A bachelor’s degree in either one of these programs: dietetics, foods and nutrition, clinical nutrition, public health nutrition, or any related program
  • Complete courses in nutrition, psychology, chemistry, and biology
  • Dietetic Internship (DI) which consists of at least 1,200 hours of supervised experience after degree completion or as part of your school’s curriculum
  • State licensure or certification
  • Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN) credential from Commission on Dietetic Registration
  • A keen interest in food, nutrition, and how it affects a person’s overall health and wellbeing

Similar Careers

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Common Skills

Interpersonal Skills

Computer Literacy

Research Translation

Organizational Skills

Fundamental Psychology

Cooking

Coaching and Motivation

MEDIAN SALARY

$60,370 per year
$29.02 per hour

JOB OUTLOOK

11%

NUMBER OF JOBS

70,900

A Comprehensive Guide to Becoming a Dietitian and Nutritionist

Food and nutrition play a vital part in anybody’s life, especially to persons with health issues or those aiming to achieve a healthier lifestyle. It is no wonder that in order to become someone who helps people in this area, there are several rigorous prerequisites that you need to accomplish. A dietitian and nutritionist needs to be knowledgeable and skillful enough to formulate and implement plans relating to a person’s nutrition and diet. 

What Does a Dietitian and Nutritionist Do?

The main goal of a dietitian and nutritionist is to help promote their clients’ health and control disease. They do this by carefully plotting and implementing nutritional programs that are based on the diet needs that have been identified during a patient’s health assessment.

Here are some of the more detailed roles and responsibilities of this type of professional:

  • Evaluate a person’s nutritional and health needs
  • Conduct counseling sessions with patients on their nutrition issues
  • Teach clients about healthy eating habits
  • Develop meal and nutrition plans based on evaluation while considering both clients’ preferences and budgets
  • Assess the effects of meal plans carried out and modify them as needed
  • Contribute to health promotion by speaking to groups and organizations about diet, nutrition, good eating habits and how important it is in preventing or managing certain diseases
  • Create educational materials, such as books, media, and charts about healthy food choices
  • Stay updated on the latest food and nutritional science research
  • Conduct or be part of food and nutritional science research projects
  • Document patients’ progress through reports

Signs You Should Consider Becoming a Dietitian and Nutritionist

There are certain traits and characteristics that one must possess in order to become a successful dietitian and nutritionist. Some of these characteristics are naturally occurring, while others may take time and practice to develop. Here are a few tell-tale signs that being a dietitian and nutritionist is the right career path for you:

You are a good listener.

Being in this profession means that you have to sit through numerous consultations with clients and their families. Having good listening skills is essential because you have to be keen on understanding a person’s nutritional needs and their diet goals, which may differ from person to person. Your clients should also feel that their concerns are being heard so that they feel more comfortable and confident in confiding with you.

Being a good listener also enables you to work seamlessly with other members of the healthcare team, managing a patient’s case. You will be able to listen to considerations brought up by other team members concerning a patient’s diet in relation to their medical needs, and thus be able to come up with the best possible diet plan for the patient.

You are naturally compassionate.

When discussing dietary issues, some clients may become emotional, especially if it is something that they have been struggling with for a long time. They might also likely be dealing with a particularly difficult medical condition that merited the need for nutritional intervention. Knowing that there may be some emotions involved while conducting counseling sessions, a sense of compassion and some care and empathy should be practiced

You are a good problem solver.

The first part of your job involves assessing the current state of your patient’s nutrition. It is at this point of the job that you have to employ some problem-solving skills by first being able to identify the challenges that your patient needs help in order to address it.

After the initial assessment and after identifying what needs to be improved in the patient’s diet, you will have to find or formulate counter-measures to tackle it. This part is where your problem-solving skills come fully into play, and it doesn’t stop after the planning phase. Part of the problems or challenges you need to confront is how to ensure that your client sees through the diet plan.

You are passionate about food and nutrition. 

This is probably the most prominent characteristic that a dietitian and nutritionist should have. Although you have a good theoretical grasp on what should be an ideal diet for your patients, you should be well-attuned to the process that converts your diet plans into actual meals on their tables.

The whole process should trace back from the market to food preparation, from cooking to serving–and even storage. If you are knowledgeable and passionate about food, you are likely going to be more effective in your role because you know the ins and outs of food and all the work that goes into producing it. You will be able to give better suggestions and formulate meal plans which are realistic and attainable for your clients.

You are an excellent communicator.

Apart from formulating analyses and creating meal plans, much of your work will involve communication with patients, their families, other members of the healthcare team, and fellow dietitian nutritionists. On top of that, you will also be speaking for groups and organizations about how diet and nutrition play a vital role in sustaining good health and controlling certain medical conditions. 

Below are a few tips you can employ in order to communicate with clients effectively:

  • If you intend to teach your patient several concepts, do it in manageable amounts. One idea at a time is ideal as you make sure that each one is fully understood by the client before moving onto the next one. Start with the most fundamental, moving up towards the more complex things.
  • Clearly define technical terms with simple layman language. Oftentimes, patients do not understand medical jargon. A good example would be the word “positive.” While it may sound optimistic, it generally means that something is not right in medical terms.
  • Make sure to repeat important information. Arrange your presentation in such a way that these vital tidbits stand out the most.
  • To accurately check for understanding, ask your patient to reiterate the information you just shared with how they understood it. In a way, it would be like quizzing the patient on the information that you just imparted. If there is any piece of information that they got wrong, make sure to revisit the concept and tackle it in a different way that may shed some more clarity.
  • Actively listen to your patients. Make sure that they feel urged to share their information freely and without any judgment. Do encourage them to ask questions by asking open-ended questions. Try to avoid asking too many questions that are answered with “yes” or “no.”
  • Actively demonstrate and practice with your patients. It could be a food-label reading activity or practicing serving sizes using models and charts. Doing exercises in actual allows for better retention and will let your patients follow through with their diet plan with more confidence.
balanced diet foods

How Do You Become a Dietitian and Nutritionist?

If you think you possess all the natural qualities that would make you a good dietitian and nutritionist, here is how you can officially become one:

1. Complete a relevant bachelor’s degree.

Typically, dietitians and nutritionists have completed a degree in dietetics, foods and nutrition, clinical nutrition, public health nutrition, food service system management, or any related program. Basically, any program that offers courses on psychology, chemistry, biology, and nutrition are most recommended. 

Once you have completed your bachelor’s, it is generally recommended to seek a more advanced degree because many dietitians and nutritionists are graduate degree holders. Securing higher education and continuing learning after college will put you at par or possibly give you an edge over other competing applicants.

2. Undergo supervised training.

This type of job will require you first to undergo hundreds of hours worth of supervised training. You can avail of this training through an internship that you can apply to after graduation. However, you can check ahead if your school offers supervised training as part of its curriculum, as this can help you get licensed and get to the job faster. To be able to become a Registered Dietitian and Nutritionist (RDN), you will have to complete 1,200 hours worth of dietetic internship on top of your bachelor’s degree.

3. Obtain a license to practice.

Although there are a few states that are quite lenient (Michigan, New Jersey, and Arizona), most institutions require their dietitians and nutritionists to have an RDN credential or a state license at the very least. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics–through their crediting agency, the Commission on Dietetic Registration–administers the RDNs. To maintain the RDN status, the professional who has acquired it needs to attain 75 continuing professional education credits every five years.

The Board of Certification for Nutrition Specialists also offers the Certified Nutrition Specialist (CNS) credential, which is a higher form of credential that certifies that a nutritionist possesses an advanced level of knowledge. In order to obtain this certification, you need to complete at least a master’s degree, undergo one thousand hours of supervised training, and pass an exam. To maintain CNS status, you should also attain 75 continuing professional education credits every five years.

4. Seek additional specialized certification.

Aside from the RDN credential, the Commission on Dietetic Registration also offers accreditation for RDNs who wish to specialize in a specific field. Below are a few examples you might be interested in:

  • Pediatric Nutrition. This specialization focuses on the needs of infants and children and their dietary requirements to support their growth and development. It takes into consideration the short and long term effects of parents’ feeding choices towards their children.
  • Sports Dietetics. A sports dietitian has the primary goal of meeting the nutritional needs of athletes. He or she should factor in diet strategies that fit best with an athlete’s physical needs as well as training and competition schedule.
  • Renal Nutrition. People with renal or kidney issues need to have significant alterations in their diet, which is why this specialization was established. Usually, their diets are low in sodium, phosphorus, and specific types of protein.
  • Gerontological Nutrition. This specialization offers nutrition and diet services to older adults. Usually, the elderly have specific nutritional needs that differ from younger adults and thus demand more specialized nutritional interventions.
  • Oncology Nutrition. This specialization aims to help cancer patients deal with the challenges faced during the course of their illness. Its primary goal is to support treatment, minimize symptoms or side-effects, and improve the overall quality of life as much as possible.

What are the Knowledge and Skills Needed to be a Dietitian and Nutritionist?

Dietitians and nutritionists are not only well-educated professionals–they also possess high levels of skills and knowledge that come in very handy when doing their jobs. Their expertise is not only limited to what their degree program has taught them in theory because they have also acquired enough experience and skill to become as effective as they can be in their role. Below are some of these crucial skills and knowledge:

Meal Preparation

In order to empathically relate to your patients and effectively convey your nutritional plans, you need to have at least a fundamental understanding of the process of food preparation. Knowing how to shop for the right food correctly, how to prepare it at home, and how to make the proper serving portions helps you explain and even demonstrate how they can execute your meal plans.

Active Listening

While this skill may come naturally to others, it can also be developed through conscious and consistent practice. The importance of developing active listening skills is paramount in this type of profession where you will be counseling with patients. You will need to gather as much accurate data as possible to formulate a nutritional plan that is realistic and attainable for your client.

Psychology

Since you will be dealing with people on a one-to-one basis, you will need a fair amount of background in psychology. The Center for Nutritional Psychology states that nutrition plays a vital role in a person’s mental health, just as much as a person’s psychological state determines his or her food choices. On top of that, the act of dealing with a client on a matter as personal as their daily food choices means that you should come prepared to also deal with how they are going to react through the course of your conversation.

Teaching

Another yet important skill that a dietitian and nutritionist must possess is the skill of teaching. You should be able to convey information in such a way that your clients retain it and confidently apply it to their daily living. You can look up health teaching strategies that will ensure that your diet plans are not just polished, but more importantly, carried out effectively enough to make a positive impact on your patient’s health.

Research

Just like in the field of medicine, there are numerous advances and updates on information and practices when it comes to diet and nutrition. You can check out credible sources such as the World Health Organization’s nutrition page or directly from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics for the latest information that you can apply to your practice.

Below are some of the best schools and colleges we could find for aspiring dietitians and nutritionists in the US:

  • University of Delaware, Delaware
  • California Polytechnic State University – San Luis Obispo, California
  • D’Youville College, New York
  • California State University – Long Beach, California
  • Florida International University, Florida
  • San Jose State University, California
  • San Diego State University, California
  • Texas Christian University, Texas
  • SUNY Oneonta, New York
  • Michigan State University, Michigan
  • University of Pittsburgh – Pittsburgh Campus, Pennsylvania
  • University of Vermont, Vermont
  • California State University – Chico, California
  • Brigham Young University – Provo, Utah
  • University of Rhode Island, Rhode Island
  • University of Illinois at Chicago, Illinois
  • The University of Alabama, Alabama
  • Iowa State University, Iowa
  • Florida State University, Florida
  • Miami University -Oxford
  • Marywood University, Pennsylvania
  • Kansas State University, Kansas
  • Appalachian State University, North Carolina
  • St. Catherine University, Minnesota
  • Lipscomb University, Tennessee
  • Point Loma Nazarene University, California
  • Viterbo University, Wisconsin
  • University of Mississippi, Mississippi
  • University of New Haven, Connecticut
  • Texas Tech University, Texas

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meal planning beside fruits

How to Get a Job as a Dietitian and Nutritionist

The current job outlook for dietitians and nutritionists is quite positive and growing faster than average at 11%. With that, it is probably safe to say that given the right skills and credentials, you will be able to find and bag a job quickly. Here are three things you can try out to get that job:

Network among other dietitians and nutritionists.

Having the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics credential and becoming part of it means that you automatically have a networking community of other dietitians and nutritionists to back you up. Their official website features a “Find an Expert” application, which allows patients or clients to seek out registered dietitians and nutritionists within their locality actively. The feature makes RDNs more accessible to the public and can earn them private clients in the form of individuals or organizations and institutions that are looking to hire.

Look for job openings within your community.

Chances are, you may not even need to look far and wide to be able to find a place that is in need of a dietitian and nutritionist. Your dream job could just be waiting for you around the next corner, literally. The best place to look for dietitian and nutritionist jobs are at the following sites:

  • Hospitals
  • Schools
  • Gyms
  • Public health facilities
  • Long-term care facilities
  • Food hubs
  • Universities
  • Large corporations
  • Factories
  • Research facilities
  • Sports hubs

Look for job opportunities online.

If you want a more modern approach to finding a job, you may easily look for opportunities online. You can actively look for employment in trusted job-posting websites and put up a profile with your resume so that potential employees can easily spot you and check out your skills and credentials.

Learn About Geographic and Location Pay Differentials

Dietitians and nutritionists earn an average of $60,370 in a year. It varies greatly depending on the field they work in, their specialization, and their location. Here is a list of annual pay differentials for these professionals across all states:

State2018 Mean Annual Wage
California$74,060
Alaska$71,210
Connecticut$69,610
Hawaii$69,050
New Jersey$68,810
Maryland$68,760
Oregon$68,590
New York$68,050
Nevada$65,710
Washington$65,110
Massachusetts$64,860
Delaware$64,590
Wyoming$63,120
Rhode Island$61,870
Minnesota$61,820
Florida$61,710
Virginia$61,550
New Hampshire$60,900
Colorado$60,500
Arkansas$58,390
Maine$58,310
Illinois$58,020
Kentucky$57,980
Vermont$57,640
Ohio$57,500
State2018 Mean Annual Wage
Kansas$57,300
Michigan$57,000
Indiana$56,620
Texas$56,550
Louisiana$56,440
Pennsylvania$56,440
Utah$56,390
North Dakota$56,240
Oklahoma$56,100
Nebraska$55,900
Wisconsin$55,760
South Dakota$55,680
Alabama$55,580
West Virginia$55,180
Tennessee$55,120
Arizona$55,060
North Carolina$54,810
Georgia$54,550
New Mexico$54,300
Missouri$54,030
South Carolina$53,690
Idaho$53,420
Mississippi$51,690
Montana$50,650
Iowa$47,580

Report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics

Make Your Resume Stand Out

Below are the things you could include in your dietitian and nutritionist resume to get you noticed: 

1. Professional summary

This portion of your resume should summarize your qualifications, experience, and why you wish to apply–basically everything you want potential employers to know to consider you for the position at first glance.

2. Skills

Take note of the skills which are most important for the role and emphasize them in your resume. Skills like active listening, relationship-building, communication, time management, and decision making all make you stand out as a candidate for the position.

3. Education

It is important to emphasize your most relevant educational attainments because this is the fundamental qualification that an employer looks for in this profession.

4. Experience

If you have not had that much experience in the field of dietetics and nutrition, you can include other relevant experience like customer service in health-related settings such as fitness clubs or health food stores. Also, if you have had some experience in clinics and food establishments, it could come in handy in this portion as well. Any volunteer experience, such as taking part in soup kitchens, can also be applied.

5. Certifications

Feature any of your state certification, RDN, CNS, or any nutrition and diet workshops you may have attended. Make sure that you have these well-documented with copies of your certificates and merits. For many locations, you may be required at least state certification to get the job.

6. Hobbies and Interests

Listing down relevant hobbies and interests can also be to your advantage. For example, if you are into sports and fitness, you will have a better chance to bag a job as a sports nutritionist. Also, stating an interest in the kitchen would be an added bonus.

Ace Your Dietitian and Nutritionist Interview

When they finally call you back for an interview, there are a few things you can review to prepare for your encounter with the hiring manager. Here are a few things you can think of ahead to get ready:

1. Explain why you want to become a dietitian.

Get to the root of how you began having an interest in the field. Try and enumerate what motivates you the most in this line of work. Having a heart for the job makes a very solid foundation for it, and this will show your employer that you are willing to go above and beyond in the performance of your tasks.

2. Describe how you handle difficult patients.

Difficult patients include those who are stubborn, illiterate, or non-compliant. If you have had such an experience in the past, describe how you were able to overcome it. If not, tell the interviewer how you plan to handle such cases so that it will bear a positive outcome.

3. Recount some of your proudest moments while on the job.

Make sure you describe an experience that is relevant to the job. It could be helping someone attain a healthy weight, minimizing someone’s illness-related symptoms, or simply helping someone make better food choices at a specific time.

4. Describe how you handle conflict with co-workers.

Recall how the problem started, the actions you have taken to address it, and how you resolved it in the end. Show your potential employer that you are good at dealing with difficult situations and that you have excellent interpersonal relationship skills.

5. Provide some examples of your work.

Your interviewer might ask this as it is, but most of the time, you will be given a scenario for which you can expect to handle hypothetically. For example, they could give you the task to create a week’s meal plan for an elderly hypertensive woman or a child with juvenile diabetes.

6. Explain why you want to work for their company.

For this type of question, it would be helpful if you did some background research on the company itself. Having some knowledge about the company may impress the hiring manager as it shows how interested you are in their company. Take note of their company mission and how you can tie that in with your personal and professional goals.

Top Online Courses for Aspiring Dietitians and Nutritionists

Sharpen your dietetics and nutrition in marketing by taking these top online courses

If you are interested in getting into this career, below are a few top courses that you can check out to increase your knowledge and improve your skills in dietetics and nutrition:

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