Dieticians educate people and populations about food, nutrition and health. They work in a wide variety of settings, including hospitals, long-term care facilities, schools, private practice and sports nutrition programs. They can also work as counselors for individuals with eating disorders, substance abuse or medical conditions that require dietary intervention.
You’ll need a bachelor’s degree in a subject related to dietetics or food and nutrition. This can include a major in nutrition science, dietetics or culinary arts. Most bachelor’s degrees include a supervised practice component in which you learn how to apply your knowledge to real-world situations under the supervision of an experienced nutritionist or dietitian.
In addition, you’ll need to complete a supervised practice internship under the supervision of an RD or nutritionist and earn a master’s degree in dietitian education. You’ll then take the national RD registration exam and become a registered dietitian.
The best way to ensure your success is to select a school that offers an accredited program. The Accreditation Council for Education in Nutrition and Dietetics (ACEND) is the agency that evaluates and accredits academic dietician program preparing students to become registered dietitians.
Graduate degrees in the field of nutrition are usually a required step to becoming a dietitian, and you can find many options for earning a master’s degree. Some focus on a specific clinical area, while others provide a broad, generalized curriculum.
Doctoral degrees in the field of dietetics are more advanced and can focus on a specific area, such as food service management, clinical nutrition or nutritional sciences. They may also have a strong emphasis on research, which is crucial for advancing knowledge about food and health.
You’ll learn how to conduct a range of qualitative and quantitative studies, and you’ll also have an understanding of research ethics. This is important for working with human subjects, and you’ll be able to design research projects and carry out the studies necessary to make scientific discoveries.
For example, you could use the findings from a study on how eating certain foods can affect blood pressure to develop new treatment methods or improve dietary patterns for an individual with diabetes. You’ll also have the ability to assess a patient’s current dietary behaviors and habits, as well as predict future needs.
Most dietitians and nutritionists work in the food service industry, which means you’ll spend a lot of your time in restaurants or other food venues. You might work as a consultant with a restaurant owner to help them create healthier menu items or train their employees about food safety. You might also be responsible for coordinating health and wellness events or developing recipes for local restaurants.
Some dietitians run their own businesses. Some focus on specialized areas, such as nutrition for athletes or special diets for patients with chronic diseases. They also often have a background in public relations, communications or marketing.
Graduates can choose to go on to become a registered dietitian or nutritionist, or they can continue their education and pursue a career in research or other areas of the health profession. Some RDs work in their own practices, while others consult with other professionals to help them establish and grow their practice.