A dietician is a medically trained professional that alters an individual’s diet based on medical conditions, body make up, blood type, or contributing factors affecting the nutrition one receives. They assess, diagnose, recommend, and treat various medical diagnosis and dietary problems primarily on a one-on-one basis. Their primary goal is to ensure that the right quantity and type of nutrients are being consumed by the individual they are working with.
Watch a video to learn what a dietician does:
How to Become a Dietician
Usually a bachelor’s degree is required in nutrition, food, dietetics, clinical nutrition, food service systems management, or clinical nutrition for this occupation. Some decide to pursue a Master’s degree and most states require you to become registered or licensed. To become registered, you must attend a program that is accredited by the Accreditation Council for Education in Nutrition and Dietetics (ACEND) in addition to completing a 6-12 months internship that is supervised by a licensed registered dietician. Then, you can sit for the written exam offered by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. However, not all dietitians decide to become registered, some just get licensed. Be sure to check your state’s requirements.
There is also the study of animal nutrition science for those interested. To learn more about the science behind animal nutrition, you can read about the Smithsonian’s National Zoo and Conservation Institute’s animal nutrition program (link opens in a new tab). They claim that “in the early 1980s, the Smithsonian’s National Zoo was the first zoo in the U.S. to hire a research nutritionist.”
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Job Description of a Dietician
A dietician helps prevent illness or improve a person’s condition through diet. They educate groups, individuals, or families about nutrition, food, and it’s connection to disease or weight problems to help them live healthy lifestyles.
Dietitians also help people maintain a healthy weight and help them to set and achieve goals as part of their health maintenance. They may also design programs for food services that provide meals for clients, such as schools or hospitals. In this case, they would check nutrition standards and ensure the food is within health and safety codes.
If a client has specific health challenges, they may consult a physician or other health care professional to determine if any changes to the diet or nutrition for the person are needed. A dietician can be found working in cafeterias, hospitals, nursing homes, schools, or clinics. Some may be self-employed with their own practice.
Free Student and Teacher Resources
Edx.org has many free courses on nutrition. For example, Rice University offers a free course titled Proteins: Biology’s Workforce on EdX.org (opens in a new tab) with the option to pay a small fee receive a verified certificate upon completion of the course. By taking this course, you’ll learn:
- How proteins are structured and fold into functional forms.
- The variety of functions that proteins perform, including enzyme catalysis.
- How to purify, analyze, and characterize protein structure and function.
Dietician Career Video Transcript
Have you ever wanted to improve your diet, but been overwhelmed with all the advice, opinions, and options available? Enter dietitians and nutritionists— experts in the use of food and nutrition to promote health and manage disease. Dietitians and nutritionists meet with clients to assess their current nutritional habits and health needs. They advise clients on all aspects of eating for a healthy lifestyle or to reach a goal… covering topics such as portion control, food allergies, weight loss, or weight gain. They discuss food preparation and meal plans that detail calories, nutrients, and timing of meals.
Dietitians and nutritionists frequently work in hospitals, nursing homes, and clinics helping patients with specific medical needs, such as managing blood sugar in diabetes, or supplementing extra calories for very ill patients. Hospital-based dietitians and nutritionists may work in intensive care units with doctors to manage critically ill patients and insert feeding tubes.
Some dietitians may work in schools where they consult with food services and educate students on healthy eating. A bachelor’s degree in dietetics, foods and nutrition, or a related area is required for most dietitian jobs, along with a license. Many dietitians and nutritionists have advanced degrees or other specialized credentials. When patients ask “what’s for dinner?” dietitians and nutritionists give them more than just food for thought.
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Dietitians and Nutritionists.
National Center for O*NET Development. 29-1031.00. O*NET OnLine.
The career video is in the public domain from the U. S. Department of Labor, Employment and Training Administration.