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What Dietitians and Nutritionists Do About this section

dietitians and nutritionists image
Dietitians and nutritionists counsel clients on nutrition issues and healthy eating habits.

Dietitians and nutritionists are experts in the use of food and nutrition to promote health and manage disease. They plan and conduct food service or nutritional programs to help people lead healthy lives.

Duties

Dietitians and nutritionists typically do the following:

  • Assess clients’ nutritional and health needs
  • Counsel clients on nutrition issues and healthy eating habits
  • Develop meal and nutrition plans, taking clients’ preferences and budgets into account
  • Evaluate and monitor the effects of nutrition plans and practices and make changes as needed
  • Promote healthy lifestyles by speaking to groups about diet, nutrition, and the relationship between good eating habits and preventing or managing specific diseases
  • Create educational materials about healthy food choices and lifestyle
  • Keep up with or contribute to the latest food and nutritional science research
  • Document clients’ progress

Dietitians and nutritionists evaluate the health of their clients through nutrition assessment and diagnostic laboratory testing. Based on their findings, dietitians and nutritionists advise clients on behavior modifications and intervention plans, including which foods to eat—and which to avoid—to improve their health.

Dietitians and nutritionists help prevent or support treatment of health conditions such as heart disease, autoimmune disease, and obesity. Many dietitians and nutritionists provide personalized information for individuals. For example, a dietitian or nutritionist might teach a client with diabetes how to plan meals to improve and balance the person’s blood sugar. Other dietitians and nutritionists work with groups of people who have similar needs. For example, a dietitian or nutritionist might plan a diet with healthy fat and limited sugar to help clients who are at risk for heart disease. Dietitians and nutritionists may work as part of a team with other healthcare staff to coordinate client care.

Dietitians and nutritionists who are self-employed may meet with clients, or they may work as consultants for a variety of organizations. Self-employed workers may need to spend time on marketing and other business-related tasks, such as scheduling appointments and keeping records.

Although many dietitians and nutritionists do similar tasks, there are several specialties within the occupations. The following are examples of types of dietitians and nutritionists:

Clinical dietitians and clinical nutritionists provide medical nutrition therapy. They create customized nutritional programs based on the health needs of clients and counsel clients on how to improve their health through nutrition. Clinical dietitians and clinical nutritionists may further specialize, such as by working only with people who have kidney disease, diabetes, digestive disorders, or other specific conditions. They work in institutions such as hospitals, long-term care facilities, and clinics, as well as in private practice.

Community dietitians and community nutritionists develop programs and counsel the public on topics related to food, health, and nutrition. They often work with specific groups of people, such as adolescents or the elderly. They work in public health clinics, government and nonprofit agencies, health maintenance organizations (HMOs), and other settings.

Management dietitians plan food programs. They may be responsible for buying food and for carrying out other business-related tasks, such as budgeting. Management dietitians may oversee kitchen staff or other dietitians. They work in food service settings such as cafeterias, hospitals, prisons, and schools.

Work Environment About this section

Dietitians and nutritionists
Dietitians and nutritionists develop meal and nutrition plans to meet the health needs of clients.

Dietitians and nutritionists held about 73,000 jobs in 2020. The largest employers of dietitians and nutritionists were as follows:

Hospitals; state, local, and private 31%
Government 13
Outpatient care centers 10
Nursing and residential care facilities 9
Self-employed workers 7

Work Schedules

Most dietitians and nutritionists work full time. They may work evenings and weekends to meet with clients who are unavailable at other times.

How to Become a Dietitian or Nutritionist About this section

Dietitians and nutritionists
Dietitians and nutritionists must clearly explain nutrition plans to other healthcare workers.

To enter the occupation, dietitians and nutritionists typically need at least a bachelor’s degree. They also typically are required to have supervised training through an internship. Many states require dietitians and nutritionists to be licensed.

Education

Dietitians and nutritionists typically need a bachelor's or higher degree in dietetics, food and nutrition, or a related field to enter the occupation. Many dietitians and nutritionists have an advanced degree.

Training

Dietitians and nutritionists typically receive supervised training, usually in the form of an internship following graduation from college. Some schools offer coordinated programs in dietetics that allow students to complete supervised training as part of their undergraduate- or graduate-level coursework.

Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations

Many states require dietitians and nutritionists to be licensed in order to practice. Other states require only state registration or certification to use certain titles, and a few states have no regulations for this occupation.

The requirements for state licensure and state certification vary by state, but most include having a bachelor’s or an advanced degree in food and nutrition or a related area, completing supervised practice, and passing an exam.

Employers may prefer to hire candidates who have a professional credential, such as the Registered Dietitian (RD)/Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN) or the Certified Nutrition Specialist (CNS) designation. Although these credentials are not always required, the qualifications may be the same as those necessary for becoming a licensed dietitian or nutritionist in states that require a license.

The RD/RDN designation is administered by the Commission on Dietetic Registration, the credentialing agency for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. It requires completion of a minimum of a bachelor’s degree and a Dietetic Internship (DI), which includes supervised experience. Students may complete both criteria at once through a coordinated program, or they may finish their degree before applying for an internship. In order to maintain the RDN credential, dietitians and nutritionists must complete continuing professional education credits within a designated number of years. Beginning in 2024, education requirements will increase to a master’s degree.

The Certified Nutrition Specialist (CNS) designation is administered by the Board for Certification of Nutrition Specialists, the certifying arm of the American Nutrition Association. Many states accept the CNS credential or exam for licensure purposes. To qualify for the credential, applicants must have a master’s or doctoral degree, complete supervised experience, and pass an exam. To maintain the CNS credential, nutritionists must complete continuing education credits within a designated number of years.

Dietitians and nutritionists may seek additional certifications in an area of specialty, such as diabetes education, oncology nutrition, or sports dietetics.

Important Qualities

Analytical skills. Dietitians and nutritionists must keep up with food and nutrition research. They should be able to interpret scientific studies and translate nutrition science into practical guidance.

Compassion. Dietitians and nutritionists must be caring and empathetic when helping clients address health and dietary issues and any related emotions.

Listening skills. Dietitians and nutritionists must listen carefully to understand clients’ goals and concerns. They may work with other healthcare workers as part of a team to improve the health of a client, and they need to listen to team members when creating nutrition plans.

Organizational skills. Dietitians and nutritionists must prepare and maintain many types of records for multiple clients. Self-employed dietitians and nutritionists may need to schedule appointments, manage employees, and bill insurance companies in addition to maintaining client files.

Problem-solving skills. Dietitians and nutritionists must evaluate the health status of clients and determine appropriate food choices to improve overall health or manage disease.

Speaking skills. Dietitians and nutritionists must explain complicated topics in a way that people can understand. They must clearly explain eating plans to clients and to other healthcare workers involved in a patient’s care.

Pay About this section

Dietitians and Nutritionists

Median annual wages, May 2021

Healthcare diagnosing or treating practitioners

$81,270

Dietitians and nutritionists

$61,650

Total, all occupations

$45,760

 

The median annual wage for dietitians and nutritionists was $61,650 in May 2021. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $42,530, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $93,640.

In May 2021, the median annual wages for dietitians and nutritionists in the top industries in which they worked were as follows:

Outpatient care centers $74,640
Government 61,830
Hospitals; state, local, and private 61,820
Nursing and residential care facilities 60,840

Most dietitians and nutritionists work full time. They may work evenings and weekends to meet with clients who are unavailable at other times.

Job Outlook About this section

Dietitians and Nutritionists

Percent change in employment, projected 2020-30

Healthcare diagnosing or treating practitioners

12%

Dietitians and nutritionists

11%

Total, all occupations

8%

 

Employment of dietitians and nutritionists is projected to grow 11 percent from 2020 to 2030, faster than the average for all occupations.

About 5,900 openings for dietitians and nutritionists are projected each year, on average, over the decade. Many of those openings are expected to result from the need to replace workers who transfer to different occupations or exit the labor force, such as to retire.

Employment

Interest in the role of food and nutrition in promoting wellness and preventive care, particularly in medical settings, continues to increase.

The importance of diet in preventing and controlling certain illnesses, such as diabetes and heart disease, is well established. More dietitians and nutritionists will be needed to provide care for people who have, or are at risk of developing, these conditions.

Moreover, as the population ages and looks for ways to stay healthy, there will be more demand for dietetic and nutrition services.

Employment projections data for dietitians and nutritionists, 2020-30
Occupational Title SOC Code Employment, 2020 Projected Employment, 2030 Change, 2020-30 Employment by Industry
Percent Numeric

SOURCE: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Employment Projections program

Dietitians and nutritionists

29-1031 73,000 80,800 11 7,800 Get data

Contacts for More Information About this section

For more information about dietitians and nutritionists, visit

Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics

For a list of academic programs, visit

Accreditation Council for Education in Nutrition and Dietetics

For information on the Registered Dietitian or Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RD/RDN) exam and other specialty credentials, visit

Commission on Dietetic Registration

For information on the Certified Nutrition Specialist (CNS) exam and credential, visit

Board for Certification of Nutrition Specialists

For information on the Clinical Nutrition Certification (CCN) exam and credential, visit

Clinical Nutrition Certification Board

CareerOneStop

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