Become a Food and Nutrition Expert: Dietician Degree

With a focused specialization in the area of nutritional food content and its intake, earning a dietician degree is the first step in becoming a registered dietician. Dietitian degree graduates will work with all kinds of people seeking nutritional help tips and advice, from athletes to the retired and elderly.

A bachelor’s dietitian degree program is the minimum requirement for anyone wishing to be certified and accredited by the American Dietetic Association (ADA), with a four year degree program, graduating with a Bachelor of Science in Dietetics, Nutritional Science or Food Service Management.

Those wishing to take on management roles can then further their studies by earning a master’s degree in nutrition.

Dietician Education and Degree Information

The requirements for becoming a registered dietician include earning at least an accredited bachelor’s degree in dietetics or related subject, undergoing a supervised internship program accredited by the Accreditation Council for Education in Nutrition and Dietetics (ACEND) and passing a national exam given by the Commission on Dietetic Registration. Once these requirements are fulfilled, the state of residence will grant licensure, certification or registration to the candidates. Dieticians work in hospitals, health clinics, schools, prisons, food services, cafeterias, food service management, day care centers and wellness programs. They educate the public about food and nutrition, formulate nutritional health plans for individuals or communities, advise athletes on food and fitness, work under contract with foodservice and restaurant managers and in scientific research labs.

The majority of dieticians work in hospitals, health clinics and nursing homes. Most work full time with about 20 percent working part time. Many dieticians are self-employed, advising and consulting with various groups and individuals. To retain their license, certification or registration, dieticians keep up their education with continuing education credits.

Online Education

Many universities and colleges offer full or partial online degree programs in dietetics. The supervised internships, of course, are paid or unpaid hands-on work in hospitals, nursing homes or other health centers. Coursework, however, can be done online for the most part. Both bachelor’s and master’s degree programs are offered with a distance learning option.

Bachelor’s

Obtaining a bachelor’s degree in dietetics, nutrition or food service management is the first step in becoming a registered dietician. People who know they want to be dieticians usually make sure they take three years of high school chemistry, biology and math to prepare for their college degree. As students in college, they will study microbiology, chemistry, statistics, algebra, trigonometry, fundamentals of human nutrition, nutrition and disease and food system management. General education courses in oral and written communication, research methodology, technical writing and anatomy and physiology are also recommended or required. Students are assisted in finding a supervised, hands on internship for their junior year. They will be paid or not paid, but they will work with a registered dietician performing all the regular dietician’s tasks. The supervised internship takes six months to a year to complete, and is required for the state’s licensure.

Master’s

Many students decide to take their education further and apply to a master’s degree program in dietetics or nutrition. Master’s degrees are sometimes required for higher management positions. Coursework in master’s degree programs broadens and expands nutritional concepts and provides dieticians with new research and emerging technology in food sciences. Upper level management, consulting and research positions become available to people with master’s degrees in food and nutrition.

Coursework

Dietician students will take a variety of classes from several disciplines, including math and science. Biology, chemistry, microbiology and math courses figure heavily in the first year or two of the bachelor’s degree. Nutrition courses include:

  • Medical nutrition
  • Nutrition and disease
  • Lifespan nutrition
  • Community nutrition
  • Food systems management
  • Nutritional counseling and communication
  • Dietetics
  • Food chemistry
  • Introductory food science
  • Anatomy and physiology
  • Some dieticians students also specialize by taking courses in atheletic nutrition, pediatric nutrition or geriatric nutrition.

Career Opportunities

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics(BLS) states that jobs for dieticians and nutritionists are growing faster than average at 20 percent. As more of the populace becomes interested in the relation of nutrition, health and disease, more dieticians will be called upon to advise and assist in planning healthy meals for communities and individuals. Clinical dieticians work in large health centers such as hospitals devising medical nutrition plans for patients. Management dieticians plan meal programs, overseeing other dieticians and food service workers. Community dieticians focus on educating the public about food, nutrition and health. As there is more focus on preventative health care recently, the role of food and nutrition in preventing and treating disease grows stronger and receives more emphasis. The nation’s aging population will also create more need for dieticians in nursing homes.

Earning Potential

The BLS gives the median annual wages for dieticians and nutritionists as $53,250. The lowest paid 10 percent of dieticians earned $33,330 and the highest paid 10 percent earned $74,480. With extra certifications or specialties, dieticians can increase their pay. Greater experience and a longer time on the job can increase a dietician’s wages as well. The states employing the most dieticians are Texas and New York. Pay for dieticians, as for many other occupations, will vary by state and region as well as occupational niche. For example, dieticians who work in hospitals and nursing homes earned in the mid-$50s. Dieticians who work in scientific and technical consulting services earned $72,580 and home health care dieticians earned $62,800.

Dietician Degree FAQ

What types of jobs can I expect with a dietician degree?

The actual daily job of a dietician will vary depending on whether they are clinical, management, community or consulting dieticians. Clinical dieticians work in hospitals and nursing homes, planning meal services for all the patients and working as part of a health care team. Management dieticians perform meal planning for large scale operations, overseeing other dieticians and food service workers. They are employed in health care centers, large hospitals, correction facilities and schools. Community dieticians work in small community facilities, education people about food and nutrition and advising them on healthy meal planning, food science and food safety. Consulting dieticians work by contract for health care businesses or with individuals or groups, advising on a healthy diet to prevent or treat diseases. Most dieticians work full time.

How long will it take for me to earn a dietician degree?

The Bachelor of Science in Dietetics takes four years to complete. A master’s degree in nutrition will take another year or two. The supervised internship, which is done either simultaneously with earning a bachelor’s or immediately after usually takes a year to complete, though programs may vary.

Where are the highest paying jobs for dieticians?

The highest paid positions for dieticians and nutritionists are in the scientific and technical consulting industry with salaries of $72,580, working for the federal government with salaries of $69,020 or working for insurance carriers with a salary of $64,360. States paying dieticians the most money are Maryland, Nevada and California at $77,400, $70,100 and $66,690 respectively.

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