Dietitians and Nutritionists Overview

Most dietitian and nutritionist jobs require at least a bachelors degree, though certification, licensure and registration requirement vary by State. Those who hold an advanced degree, have specialized training or certifications beyond the State’s minimum requirements will enjoy the best opportunities. The majority of jobs are located in nursing care facilities, outpatient care centers and hospitals.

Nature of the Work for Dietitians and Nutritionists

Dietitians and Nutritionists

Dietitians and nutritionists primarily supervise meal preparation, oversee the serving of meals and plan food and nutrition programs. They promote health eating habits and recommend dietary modifications in order to prevent and treat illnesses.

For service systems for institutions, including schools and hospitals, dietitians conduct research and promote sound eating habits through education. From there, many dietitians specialize, becoming community dietitian, management dietitian, clinical dietitian or consultant.

In hospitals, nursing care facilities and other institutions, clinical dietitians provide nutritional services to patients. Some of their responsibilities include, assessing patients nutritional needs, developing nutrition programs and evaluating and reporting on results. They must also communicate with healthcare professionals to coordinate nutritional and medical needs. In nursing care facilities, small hospitals or correctional facilities, clinical dietitians may manage the food service department

Community dietitians work in home health agencies, public health clinics and health maintenance organizations to develop nutritional care plans and instruct individuals and their families. They work with children, elderly and individuals with special needs to provide instruction on grocery shopping and food preparation.

Dietitians in food manufacturing, marketing or advertising are needed as public interest in nutrition increases. In these companies, dietitians prepare literature for distribution, analyze food or report on topics such as vitamins, dietary fiber or the nutritional contents of recipes.

In healthcare facilities, prisons, company cafeterias and schools, management dietitians supervise large-scale meal planning and preparation. Main duties include, budget for and purchase food, equipment and supplies; hire, train and direct other dietitians and food service workers; prepare records and reports; enforce sanitary and safety regulations.

Under a contract from a healthcare facility, or in their own practice, consultant dietitians offer advice on diet-related concerns and perform nutrition screenings for their clients. In some cases, they may consult with food service managers in order to provide expertise on menu development, safety procedures, sanitation, planning and budgeting.

Most dietitians must be on their feet for the majority of the workday. They typically operate out of well-lighted, clean and well-ventilated areas, though some work in hot, congested kitchens.

The majority of full-time dietitians and nutritionists work a 40-hour workweek, though some work weekends. Close to 19 percent of dietitians and nutritionists work part-time.

Training, Other Qualifications and Advancement for Dietitians and Nutritionists

The minimum education requirement for most positions as a dietitian or nutritionist is a bachelors degree in dietetics, food service systems management, foods and nutrition or another related area. Graduate degrees may also be pursued. Common course loads include, nutrition, food, statistics, psychology, economics, computer science and sociology.

In 33 States, dietitians are required licensure, while 12 require statutory certification and 1 requires registration. The rest of the States do not have laws governing dietetics. Requirements for licensure vary by state.

Only people who are licensed dietitians and nutritionists may work in States that require licensure. Those States that require statutory certification, individuals lacking certification can still practice as a dietitian or nutritionists, but they may not use the same occupational titles. Unregistered people may practice as a dietitian or nutrition, so this is the least restrictive form of State regulations.

The Commission on Dietetic Registration of the American Dietetic Association offers the Registered Dietitian designation to those who complete academic coursework, a supervised internship and pass an exam. This certification is not required, and differs from the statutory certification regulated by some States. In order to maintain this certification, a Registered Dietitian must complete at least 75 hours in approved continuing education classes every 5 years.

Experienced dietitians and nutritionists may advance to management positions, such as assistant director or director of dietetic department, or may become self-employed. They may also specialize in diabetic, renal, pediatric or cardiovascular dietetic. Others may leave the occupation permanently to become sales representatives for pharmaceutical, equipment or food manufacturers. In career paths related to research, public health, or advanced clinical positions, a masters degree can help some workers advance their careers.

Top 10 Most Popular Dietetics and Clinical Nutrition Services Schools

1. Lindsey Hopkins Technical Education Center (Miami, Florida)
2. Western Michigan University (Kalamazoo, Michigan)
3. Community College of the Air Force (Montgomery, Alabama)
4. College of Saint Benedict (Saint Joseph, Minnesota)
5. Texas Christian University (Fort Worth, Texas)
6. Madonna University (Livonia, Michigan)
7. Lansing Community College (Lansing, Michigan)
8. Marywood University (Scranton, Pennsylvania)
9. University of Pittsburgh, Main (Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania)
10. Community College of Allegheny County (Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania)

See All Dietetics and Clinical Nutrition Services Schools

Most Popular Online Dietetics and Clinical Nutrition Services Schools

1. Purdue University Global
2. Kansas State University - Online School

Employment and Job Outlook for Dietitians and Nutritionists

Number of People in Profession


Changing Employment (2008-2018)

Employment is projected to grow about as fast as average (increase 7 - 13%).

Dietitians and nutritionists hold about 60,300 jobs. Most of the jobs were in nursing care facilities, outpatient care centers, hospitals or offices of physicians and their health practitioners. Additional jobs in State and local government agencies are also available. They sometimes are employed in special food services, or firms that provide food services on contract to facilities.

Other jobs may be located in community care facilities for the elderly, public and private educational services, the Federal Government or home healthcare services.

Employment of dietitians and nutritionists is expected to jump 9 percent in the next decade, which is about as fast as average for all occupations.

Job growth will be due to many factors, including a growing aging population that will demand nutritional counseling; public interest in nutrition; increased emphasis on health education; expansion of Medicare coverage to include medical nutrition therapy for diabetic and renal patients.

Restriction in job growth will occur if some employers substitute other workers, such as food service managers, health educators, and dietetic technicians to do work related to nutrition. Also, although more insurance plans cover nutritional therapy services, the extent of coverage varies depending on the plan. This will curb growth for dietitians and nutritionists.

Hospitals will continue to be the largest employers of dietitians and nutritionists to plan meals and provide medical nutritional therapy. However, these hospitals will also continue to contract with outside agencies for food service, which will slow job growth in hospitals related to outpatient facilities, food service and other employers.

There is expected to be a decline in the number of dietitian positions in nursing care facilities as they continue to contract outside agencies for food services. This will cause an increase in job growth in contract providers of food services.

Job openings will also be a direct results from the need to replace experienced workers who leave the occupation or retire. Those with an advanced degree, specialized training, or certifications beyond the State requirements should have the best job opportunities. Applicants who have anything less than a bachelors degree will face strong competition for jobs.

Earnings and Salary for Dietitians and Nutritionists

Dietitians and nutritionists have a median annual wage of $52,150. The highest 10 percent earn more than $74,690, while the lowest 10 percent earn less than $33,230. The middle 50 percent earn between $42,400 and $63,460. The median annual wages for top industries for dietitians and nutritionists are:

Outpatient care centers: $52,120
General medical and surgical hospitals: $51,390
Nursing care facilities: $47,390
Local government: $47,390
Special food services: $45,410

Annual Salary for Dietitians and Nutritionists

On average, Dietitians and Nutritionists earn $52,150 per year.

10% 25% 75% 90% $33,230/yr $42,400/yr $63,460/yr $74,690/yr

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook