Career Path Options for a Dietitian and Nutritionist

The average value of the Bachelor degree needed to become a dietitian and nutritionist is $1,094,353.00.

Points of Interest

Competition for employment in dietetics and nutrition is increasing, but job outlook remains good, thanks to growing health concerns as well as new legislation related to dietetics and nutrition. -Licensure requirements vary from state to state. All states share a minimum requirement of a bachelor’s degree, with further education and training strongly recommended. -A significant number of dietitians currently hold part-time jobs. Many struggle to obtain full-time employment.

Nature of the Work

The International Confederation of Dietetic Associations defines a dietitian as: “a person with a qualification in nutrition and dietetics recognized by national authorities. The dietitian applies the science of nutrition to the feeding and education of groups of people and individuals in health and disease.” Dietitians work in a variety of settings and hold many different responsibilities, including those of an administrative, clinical, teaching, supervising or research function. Traditionally, dietitians have worked mainly in hospitals and nursing homes. Even today, over 60 percent of all dietitians work in a hospital setting.

However, as new opportunities arise and as the field continues to expand into other disciplines, dietitians find themselves working in many areas of need outside of hospitals and clinics. A growing number of professionals work as freelancers or consultants. This trend has been spurred, in part, by the recent economic decline, but is also a result of the newfound influence of nutrition in other fields of study.

Dietitians serve many roles, but some are more common than others. Activities completed most frequently by nutritionists include the following: -nutrition counseling -biochemistry interpretation -care plan development -diet recommendation -medical referrals -nutritional assessment -nutrition screenings -education

Clinical Dietitians

Over half of all dietitians and nutritionists work in clinical settings, such as hospitals, nursing homes, family clinics, dental clinics, eating disorder treatment centers, and a variety of other institutions. The main responsibilities of clinical dietitians include diet assessment, the development of personal diet plans, and the evaluation and assessment of the results imparted by recommended nutritional plans. Dietitians work closely with doctors, psychiatrists and other health professionals to coordinate medical and nutritional treatments.


Clinical dietitians often specialize in areas such as weight management, prenatal nutrition and diabetes. Such specializations allow nutritionists to better serve patients with special needs.

Community Dietitians

Often employed in public agencies and health maintenance organizations, community dietitians tend to focus on disease prevention, especially in heart disease, diabetes and other illnesses related to poor nutrition.

Many community dietitians work to educate individuals and families on healthy meal planning and food preparation, while others focus on educating the community about significant health issues.

Nutrition Administration

A growing number of dietitians are obtaining employment in various settings as managers and administrators. These professionals often foresee the meal planning and preparation involved in larger facilities such as hospitals, schools, nursing homes, prisons and corporate cafeterias. Responsibilities include budgeting for and purchasing food and cooking equipment, enforcing sanitary regulations, educating and training food service employees, keeping detailed records and compiling reports based on those records.

Dietetics Research

Researchers collect information surrounding current health trends and issues.

This research has a huge impact on the medical field, and influences the practices promoted by clinical and community based dietitians. By gathering conducting scientific studies and collecting empirical evidence, nutritional researchers help to educate the public, highlight nutritional issues that deserve increased attention, and advance the field with new breakthroughs and discoveries.

Other Dietetics Related Positions

Those with expertise in nutrition may also be qualified for employment as dietary assistants or dietary aides. For many, this is a great way to enter the field upon receiving an undergraduate degree, especially while studying for a higher degree in nutrition or dietetics.

Those interested in the field but unable to attend a four year university may be interested in obtaining an Associate’s degree in dietetics and then pursuing a career as a Registered Dietetic Technician, also known as a diet tech. Diet techs often work alongside professional dietitians in clinical settings.

Training, Other Qualifications, and Advancement

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In most circumstances, a dietitian cannot find employment without first earning a Bachelor’s degree and then receiving licensure in his or her state of residence. The International Confederation of Dietetic Associations defines the necessary minimum education for licensure as a dietitian to be a Bachelor’s degree and at least 500 supervised hours of work in the field. However, these requirements are the bare minimum, and in recent years most dietitians and nutritionists have also needed to earn a Master’s degree to get well paying full-time jobs. It is not enough to recieve an education at any college or university.

Those wishing to pursue a career in nutrition will want to be sure to choose one of the 279 undergraduate or 18 graduate programs approved by the American Dietetic Association’s Commission on Accreditation for Dietetics Education. Each student is also required to meet a number of competency standards before receiving a professional title as a nutritionist. Licensure tests aim to determine whether or not students are ready to work in a professional setting.

Requirements for licensure vary greatly from state to state, so it is important for dietitians to understand the specific requirements for the states in which they wish to work. There are a few states that do not require licensure in order to enter the profession. In these states, it is possible to work as a nutritionist without certification. However, certification will still help greatly during the job hunt. Those who do obtain certification will need to keep it updated in order to continue practice in the field.

The American Dietetic Association’s Commission on Accreditation for Dietetics Education requires Registered Dietitians to maintain their licensure by taking at least 75 credit hours of continuing classes every five years. Many Registered Dietitians choose to take additional classes or pursue a higher degree in Nutrition in order to advance in their careers. Earning a Master’s degree of a PhD is one of the surest ways to advancing in the field. The American Dietetic Association encourages further education and awards a number of scholarships to Registered Dietitians enrolled in doctoral degree programs.


In 2010, the American Dietetic Association’s Commission on Accreditation for Dietetics Education listed 4,062 Registered Dietetics Technicians and 79,411 Registered Dietitians on the registry. Several thousand of these individuals held Board Certifications in specialized areas, including 453 in in Pediatric Nutrition, 380 in Renal Nutrition, 339 Sports Dietetics, 258 in Oncology Nutrition and 238 in Gerontological Nutrition. There are also several employed dietitians and dietary aides not registered with the American Dietetic Association, although exact numbers are unknown.

Job Outlook

Job outlook for the dietetics and nutrition field is good, with an expected nine percent increase in employment between 2008 and 2018. The outlook is best for those with Board Certifications in Gerontological Nutrition, given the aging population and the large numbers of baby boomers expected to require dietary care in coming years. Demand is even greater for Registered Dietary Technicians, as they are able to complete much of the same tasks as Registered Dietitians but do not require the same benefits or level of pay.

Part-time positions for dietitians and dietary technicians are expected to be far more abundant than full-time jobs. The demand for freelance and consultant dietitians is also expected to rise as corporations attempt to cut costs but retain qualified workers. Possible constrains on employment include the increasing inability of patients to pay for the services of nutritionists, either out-of-pocket or through a health insurer. Many insurance companies cover the services of dietitians, but this coverage varies greatly from state to state. Higher levels of unemployment have resulted in the jobless forgoing the services of nutritionists and dietitians. However, programs such as Medicare are beginning to place more emphasis on nutrition, given the concern over obesity and related health issues.


The United States Bureau of Labor Statistics projects an overall nine percent increase in nutritionist positions, which is about average when compared to the projections in other fields. As of 2008, there were about 60,300 employed dietitians, a number which is expected to grow to about 65,800 by 2018. A substantial increase in self-employed nutritionists is expected, as is a moderate increase in the number of dietitians employed by the government. The majority of dietitians are still expected to work in public and private hospitals, although a number will also be employed in nursing homes and outpatient care facilities.


The median annual earnings of Registered Dietitians was $52,160 as of May 2009. Annual earnings ranged from $33,230 for the bottom ten percent of nutritionists to $74,690 for the top ten percent of professionals. Top paying industries that employed dietitians included technical and management consulting services, the Federal Executive Branch (OES Designation), medical and diagnostic laboratories and home health care services. However, few jobs were available in these areas. Most available employment could be found in lower-paying industries such as nursing care facilities, public and private hospitals, and outpatient care centers.

Wages – The average hourly wage for a Registered Dietitian was $25.07 in May 2009. Dietitians earned as little as $15.08 an hour and as high as $35.91. Wages were much lower for Dietary Aides and Registered Dietary Technicians, who typically earned hourly wages between $12.00 and $18.00.

Related Occupations

Dietetics is related to a number of other fields. As mentioned above, Registered Dietary Technicians and Dietary Aides share many of the same responsibilities as professional dietitians. Other fields with striking similarities include food service management, health management, health education and nursing.

Sources of Additional Information

To learn more about accredited academic programs related to dietetics and nutrition, as well as general information about the field, visit the American Dietetic Association (ADA) webpage at: For licensure and certification requirements, visit the webpage of the ADA’s Commission on Dietetic Registration at:

For information about current topics relevant to dietitians and nutritionists, check out Today’s Dietitian Magazine or To Learn More about dietitians and dietetics associations on an international level, visit the International Confederation of Dietetics Association’s webpage at: