Nearly 75,000 dietitians and nutritionists currently work in the United States, but the industry shows strong signs of growth in the coming years as individuals take more interest in the roles that nutrition and food can play in different aspects of life. As more research demonstrates the connection between diet and various illnesses and diseases, qualified dieticians will inevitably grow in demand.
If you’ve been thinking about pursuing a dietician career but want to learn more before taking the plunge, keep reading. Throughout this page, we spotlight common responsibilities, career salary and outlook, and what it takes to become a dietician.
What Is A Dietitian?
Dieticians work in many different professional settings, including at food production companies, in hospitals, in-patient or out-patient care centers, or in private practice. Dieticians use the knowledge and skills gained from at minimum a bachelor’s degree in dietetics to treat individuals and groups, contribute to food research, and educate others on healthy eating habits.
Dieticians must follow a set of professional, ethical, and legal requirements when performing their duties. They must also keep their licenses current to continue working directly with clients or patients. Some standard job responsibilities include:
- Meeting with clients to understand their nutritional needs and provide an assessment of their health
- Providing individual and group counseling to help clients meet their goals and develop healthy habits around food
- Check-in with clients regularly to ensure nutrition plans work effectively and make changes as needed
- Maintain detailed records on each client that can be referred to as needed
- Develop educational materials to help clients and communities understand how to make healthy choices in what they eat and how they live
- Conduct research on food and nutrition and share findings
- Participate in professional development and continuing education opportunities to stay up-to-date on the latest research and recommendations
Dietitian Salary and Career Outlook
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) provides annual salary and career outlook data for a wide spectrum of careers, including those for dieticians. According to the BLS, dieticians earned median annual salaries of $61,650 as of 2021. Several factors can influence wages, including the level of experience, education, location, and type of employer.
Those in the top 10% of earners commanded salaries in excess of $93,640 in 2021, while dieticians in the bottom 10% brought home less than $42,530 during the same year. Dieticians working in outpatient care centers earned the highest median salaries at $74,640, while those in nursing and residential care centers earned the least at $60,840.
The BLS also projected an 11% growth of dietician roles between 2020-2030, with the potential for 7,800 new positions to develop by the end of the decade. That said, projections do not guarantee job growth.
How to Know if You Would Enjoy a Job as a Dietitian
No fail-safe process exists for ensuring you will enjoy working as a dietician. That said, individuals with specific personality traits and interests typically fid these roles better than others. Individuals who become dieticians typically enjoy working with a wide variety of personality traits and take pride in helping others live healthier happier lives.
Steps to Becoming a Dietitian
Dieticians must go through several steps to meet legal and professional requirements. Students who successfully complete each of the steps below can begin their careers as dieticians.
Step One: Earn An Education
To work as a registered dietician (RD), you must first complete at minimum a bachelor’s degree in nutrition, dietetics, food science, or a related topic. Students should look for programs accredited by the Accreditation Council for Education in Nutrition and Dietetics (ACEND). These programs consist of approximately 120 credits and typically require four years of full-time study.
Programs vary from school to school, but common coursework includes nutritional physiology, principles of nutrition, food production and service, nutrition and the lifecycle, and nutritional aspects of the disease. After completing a bachelor’s degree and working in the field for a few years, some students decide to pursue a master’s degree in dietetics so they can qualify for senior-level or managerial positions.
Step Two: Complete an Internship and Hone Your Skills
As part of licensure requirements, dietetics-in-training must complete at least 1,200 hours of supervised training before they can apply for certification. While some schools incorporate these internships into degree requirements, most students complete this step after graduating. Several options exist for meeting supervised training requirements, including a dietetic internship, an individualized supervised practice pathway, or a coordinated program pathway.
Step Three: Become Certified/Registered
The majority of states require those who want to work as dieticians to complete requirements for licensure, registration, or certification. Students should check with their state’s board of licensing to learn about specifics. Many employers confer preference on candidates who become registered dieticians through the Commission on Dietetic Registration. Learners looking to earn this designation must possess a bachelor’s degree and complete a dietetic internship before seeking credentialing through the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
Professionals who possess a master’s or doctorate degree in dietetics or a related topic can apply to become certified nutrition specialists through the Board for Certification of Nutrition Specialists and the American Nutrition Association.
How Long Does it Take to Become a Dietitian?
Earning a bachelor’s degree in dietetics typically requires four years of full-time study or six years of part-time study. That said, some schools may provide accelerated paths that take as few as three years. Most graduates spend another 8-24 months completing the internship requirements and applying for their certification or licensure. If they decide to work towards a master’s degree, dieticians can expect to spend another two years in school.
What is the Difference Between Dietitians and Nutritionists?
While the work that dieticians and nutritions do overlap significantly, there are slight differences to keep in mind. Both jobs focus on how to adequately provide nutrition to the human body but may come at it in different ways. Most importantly, the certification and registration pathways are different. While registered dieticians receive certification through the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics Commission on Dietetic Registration, nutritionists receive certification through the Clinical Nutrition Certification Board.
Dietitians use their qualifications and knowledge to help clients develop healthy eating habits and provide proper nutrition to their bodies. They can work in a variety of different settings or in private practice.
Dietitians are not doctors because they do not complete medical school. Some dietitians may decide to earn a doctorate in the discipline, but this does not mean they completed the same type of training as physicians.
Becoming a dietician is a worthwhile career move for many individuals, particularly those who want to help others live healthful lives. Dieticians earn salaries above the national average for all occupations and can take their careers in many different directions.