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How Do You Become A Dietitian

by Lyndon Langley
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How Do You Become A Dietitian

How Do You Become A Dietitian

As someone who has always been fascinated with food—and how we can transform it into tasty meals—I was ecstatic when I learned that being a dietician involves helping people eat right. It’s not just about telling them what they should be eating, but also figuring out why they’re choosing certain foods and replacing those choices with healthier options.
Dietitians are experts in nutrition science. They know all there is to know about nutrients, minerals, calories, and other important factors that affect our health. And because they understand how different food choices impact weight gain and loss, they have the tools to help their patients make healthy decisions.
You’ll need a bachelor’s degree in nutrition, or a closely related field, to get started in your career. This will give you an edge over most other job applicants, since employers prefer candidates with degrees from accredited colleges and universities.
Most states require licensure or certification for practicing dietitians. The Commission on Dietetic Registration (CDR) offers national certification and testing which earns dietitians the title Registered Dietitian (RD), as well as state licenses. To become certified, RDs must complete at least 1,000 hours of continuing education credits every two years.
The CDR recommends earning 150 hours of CE credit per year if you plan to work in private practice, 250 hours annually for hospital employees, and 400 hours each year for public school professionals. But don’t count on working in this capacity until after graduation; many new graduates opt to take a couple of years off before getting started. If you want to set up shop in retail or corporate settings, however, you may find yourself facing more stringent requirements. For instance, some states only allow registered dieticians to work under supervision within the first six months of employment, while others mandate a yearlong probationary period.
Your employer will probably offer CE classes through its own training facility, so check with HR departments for details. In addition, the Food and Drug Administration requires any medical professional who treats children or adults with diabetes to obtain certification in pediatric diabetes management. So, if you think you might like to specialize in type 2 diabetes treatment, look for jobs where you can add additional credentials later on.
In the meantime, read on to learn about how to become a dietician, including whether to pursue a master’s degree or simply keep your focus on the next rung of the ladder.
Advancing your career means going beyond the basics: Earning a graduate degree in one area won’t necessarily open doors. Many employers see such advanced diplomas as unnecessary luxuries. However, earning a doctorate in nutrition could increase your salary potential by 15 percent, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Even better, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) has found that dietitians who hold the NIH Special Emphasis Award receive higher salaries than peers who don’t.
Becoming a Dietician
Duties of a Dietician
Working Conditions of a Dietician
Becoming a Dietician
A typical entry-level position in the dietetics field starts with a two-year associate’s degree in nutrition, food service management, or another relevant major. After graduation, you’ll attend a four-year college or university to continue your studies, and then apply for certification. Certification usually takes three years, followed by recertification every five years.
To prepare for certification exams, prospective dietitians should spend time studying basic nutrition principles and completing prerequisites for specific schools. Once you’ve earned your diploma, you can decide if you’d like to move forward toward a master’s degree in nutrition. While many dietitians choose to do so, it doesn’t guarantee a higher salary. Depending on location, earnings can range anywhere from $30,000 to $80,000 less than individuals pursuing further education.
If you’re interested in working in hospitals, nursing homes, or large corporations, you may want to consider specializing. Becoming a registered nurse gives you a solid foundation in the fundamentals of healthcare, but isn’t enough to break into the field. By contrast, becoming a licensed practical nurse provides more direct experience with patient care. Another option is to earn a bachelor’s degree in exercise physiology, sports medicine, or physical therapy. Then begin working toward certification in nutritional sciences.
Once you’ve passed certification, you can start looking for work. Read on to discover what duties a dietician performs.
The average annual income for dietitians varies widely depending on location. According to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing, the lowest 10 percent of earners made less than $21,000 in 2010, while the top 10 percent averaged nearly $79,000. The median pay rate for dietitians was $63,580 in 2009.
Duties of a Dietician
As a dietician, you’ll play an integral role in helping the general population maintain good health. Your job includes assessing clients’ dietary needs, recommending appropriate diets based on age, gender, and lifestyle preferences, and educating them about healthy meal planning. You may also advise patients on weight loss plans, diabetes prevention, heart disease risk reduction, and other areas.
Before starting your career, you should familiarize yourself with the following topics:
Nutrition research: Learn everything there is to know about vitamins, carbohydrates, fats, protein, and water intake needed for proper nutrition.
Basic anatomy and physiology: Get acquainted with the structure of human organs and systems, as well as the functions they perform.
Food groups: Familiarize yourself with the differences between macronutrients (carbs, proteins, and fat) and micronutrients (vitamins and minerals).
Healthy lifestyles: Understand the importance of maintaining a healthy body weight, exercising regularly, reducing alcohol consumption, smoking cessation, and avoiding drugs and tobacco products.
Clinical assessment: Gain knowledge of screening tests used to detect diseases and disorders, as well as how to interpret test results.
Allergies: Know how to identify allergic reactions and symptoms, plus which environmental substances cause allergies.
Patient counseling: Practice giving informative talks to educate clients on how to improve their wellness and manage chronic conditions.
Preventive health: Learn about ways to prevent common illnesses, such as cancer, cardiovascular disease, osteoporosis, and infections.
Educating patients: Improve patients’ understanding of health concerns and guide them through personal changes necessary to achieve optimal health.
Working Conditions of a Dietician
While dietitians often enjoy flexible schedules, this perk comes at a cost: low wages. Overhead costs associated with running a business can significantly decrease profits. That’s especially true for independent practitioners, whose profit margins tend to be lower than those employed by hospitals or large companies. Additionally, many states restrict the number of private practices a person can operate. As a result, the demand for qualified dietitians far outweighs supply.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics expects the number of dietitians nationwide to grow 36 percent over the decade ending 2016, slightly faster than the average growth rate for all occupations. The median wage for dietitians was $65,590 in May 2011.
However, even though the BLS projects a strong future demand for dietitians, it does note several drawbacks. First, although the average weekly earnings of dietitians were above the national average, the majority reported having no benefits, pension, or retirement savings. Second, 90 percent of respondents said they would change careers if given the opportunity. Third, 75 percent said they had experienced job dissatisfaction during their tenure in the field. Finally, only 25 percent reported receiving regular feedback from supervisors regarding performance.
For aspiring dietitians, the biggest obstacle may be locating a mentor willing to support them throughout the process. Fortunately, there are several organizations dedicated solely to providing guidance for young professionals, including the Society for Clinical Dietetics, the International College of Sports Nutritionists, and the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics Foundation.

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