Three Important Steps to Becoming a Dietitian
The road to becoming a dietitian requires passing three important milestones. These may require an extensive commitment on your part, but with continued efforts you can work toward your goal of completing these three steps. They are:
- First, complete an accredited degree program and earn a bachelor's or master's degree in nutrition, dietetics, health science or a related field.
- Second, complete a work-study program under a licensed or registered dietitian. This study program can require up to 900 hours of work in some states.
- Third, as it can be a criminal violation to practice dietetics without a license in many states, if you are intending on working in one of the 46 states that regulate the practice of dietetics, take and pass any and all examinations required for licensure or registration as a dietitian.
While this short list may seem complicated, it may be easier than it looks to earn a degree, complete a work study internship and gain both registration and a licensure as a dietitian. Be sure to check out our detailed How to Become a Dietitian state pages for more information on licensing and registration requirements for dietitians by state. Some states may require dietitians to continue their education in order to remain licensed and/or registered, but requirements may vary by state. For more information about registering as a dietitian in general, please visit the Commission on Dietetic Registration, the credentialing agency for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
What Types of Patients See a Dietitian?
Individuals who are most often referred to, or seek care from, a dietitian include overweight or obese individuals, those suffering from diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease or hypertension, and people with digestive or gastrointestinal disorders. People with various cancers may also see dietitians. Others may seek the attention of a dietitian during the recovery of an injury, such as surgery or a prolonged illness.
What is a Dietitian's Job Like?
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, a healthy diet and exercise are an important part of preventative medicine (BLS, 2013). As such, dietitians can play a vital role in the health care industry along with other health care professionals who may also be working to reduce preventable ailments such as diabetes, hypertension, and heart disease.
Dietitians can work in a variety of environments providing patients and clients with a wide array of care. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the most common places of employment for today's dietitians include the following (BLS, 2013):
- Nursing Care Facilities
- Outpatient care centers
- Offices of physicians
- Private consultants
As of 2010, about 15 percent of dietitians were self employed and maintained their own practice (BLS, 2013). As part of their day-to-day operations, dietitians may be responsible for explaining nutritional issues to clients, patients or caregivers. In a clinical setting, they may be responsible for determining a patient's meal plan as well as evaluating the plan's effectiveness at treating illnesses or assisting in the healing. In a non-clinical environment a dietitian may assess a client's dietary needs and suggest changes to limit the amount of fat, sugar, gluten or increase the amount of vitamins. Dietitians may also educate individuals or groups on subjects of diet, nutrition and good eating habits.
Clinical dietitians can provide nutritional screening of patients and clients, make assessments of specific needs, and prescribe diet programs. Various aspects of a patient's needs and vitals can go into a nutritional screening such as age, weight, height and sometimes, body mass index or BMI. After the screening, the patient's nutritional behavior is taken into account including present diet, fitness level, allergies or health issues. This process can include any current medications the patient is taking. The health of a patient's skin, sight and smell may also be recorded. From this information, a dietitian can assess the needs of the patient and prescribe a diet of foods or nutritional supplements that may be beneficial to their health. Dietitians may also work closely with doctors or other health care providers to help give patients care while under observation or while taking medication.
Hospital and Care Facility Dietitians
Dietitians employed in hospitals, care facilities, or nursing homes may work closely with doctors, nurses and other health care professionals to provide healthy, balanced diets to supplement a patient's treatments or speed a patient's recovery. For instance, they may prescribe a specific diet to a patient to help with maintenance of their strength while undergoing chemotherapy. Hospital and care dietitians may work with those staying in hospitals but also in outpatient centers as well. In some cases, patients who come in with gastrointestinal or other related ailments may not leave the hospital or clinic without talking to a dietitian about the improvement of their conditions.
Prenatal and Pediatric Dietitians
Some dietitians may choose to work with expecting mothers, new mothers and/or their new babies. These prenatal dietitians work to prevent problems during pregnancy or childbirth and may help ensure the nutrition of a child early in the life of a newborn. Prenatal and pediatric dietitians may prescribe exercise and dietary supplements for mothers and nutritional timetables for the babies.
What Types Of Skills Or Personality Traits Are Recommended as a Dietician?
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the skills a dietician may benefit from include organization, the ability to work well with others, the ability to explain complex issues with simplicity, and the compassion to take care of patients (BLS, 2013). However, being interested in others may not be enough. Dietitians may want to stay up to date with current events in the dietetic industry. This can include knowledge about the latest diet fads and drug approvals or new information about health warnings and diet research. Some states may require dietitians to complete continuing education units periodically to maintain their licensure or registration. Be sure to be clear on the continuing education requirements that may be needed in your state so that you know you are on track with state regulations.