A look into your career as a dietitian and nutritionist
Who are dietitians and nutritionists? These experts help guide patients’ eating habits, but what some people may not realize is that dietitians and nutritionists are able to work in a wide variety of industries for many different types of patients.
Look no further than Peggy Fullenkamp, a pediatric dietitian with the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit at Phoenix Children’s Hospital. Her role allows her to work directly with young children as part of a broader professional healthcare team. In order to attain such a role, new dietitians and nutritionists may soon be required to have a graduate-level education and other advanced skills and credentials.
“The whole profession is moving toward having a master’s degree in order to become registered,” says Fullenkamp. By 2024, individuals will be required to have a graduate degree to sit for the national registered dietitian exam, which means that professionals already working as RDs could consider earning their master’s degrees to keep up with those who are incoming.
Earning a master’s degree as an RD can help to elevate your professional opportunities when looking to advance your career, positioning you to build better programs to serve patients. “It’s important for people to know that science is the underpinning to good nutrition,” says Fullenkamp, who earned her online Master of Science in Nutritional Science (Dietetics) from ASU. A love of learning new things coupled with the desire to branch out within health science led her back to school to earn her graduate degree.
Based on the scientific foundations of nutrition, the online MS in Nutritional Science (Dietetics) also reinforces essential skills in project management, interpretation of research literature, critical inquiry and problem-solving. This combination of the science and the skills needed to succeed in careers like dietitian and nutritionist helps students learn to assist in promoting health and controlling diseases. Available to RDs with at least one year of experience, this online degree program is ideal for individuals seeking to continue their education and advance their skills as practitioners.
A typical day in the life of a dietitian and nutritionist
As a pediatric dietitian, Fullenkamp’s typical day begins by reviewing patient information, checking to see if there are any specific needs for nutrition help or intervention. She then makes rounds, which she says is the “time when we get stuff done,” as she collaborates with doctors, nurses, therapists, pharmacists, other dietitians and a patient’s family. During this time, Fullenkamp strives to both speak up and advocate for nutrition.
This is just one typical day for one role in a career as a dietitian and nutritionist. In general, your day on this professional path could also include tasks such as:
- Planning and conducting food service or nutritional programs
- Counseling individuals to promote health or manage a specific disease
- Conducting nutritional research
- Advising on what to eat in order to lead a healthier lifestyle or achieve specific health-related goals
- Caring for patients with varying medical conditions and those who want to improve their overall health
In this role you may also be required to evaluate an individual client’s health and then build a customized plan to address any nutritional issues to improve their well-being. You also can work directly with patients or consult for a larger organization.
A closer look at the professional landscape of a dietitian and nutritionist
The public’s increasing awareness of the role food can play in preventing and even treating certain diseases like diabetes may be contributing to the above-average job growth in this market. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), from 2016 to 2026, an estimated 14 percent job growth for dietitians and nutritionists could lead to 16,000 job openings.
A combination of professional experience, education and certification can be contributors to one’s appeal with employers. The median salary in 2016 for dietitians and nutritionists is around $60,000, according to the BLS.
Becoming a dietitian and nutritionist
While most opportunities in this field have specific degree requirements, what’s also important is your overall educational background. Having a well-rounded education in science, math and therapy/counseling can improve your chances of being hired as a dietitian and nutritionist. Relevant experience in an area related to what you’d like to focus on is integral as well. Certification may be mandated by the state. You need a bachelor’s degree in food and nutrition or a related area, complete supervised practice and pass an exam in this case. Optional certification is also available to earn your Registered Dietitian Nutritionist credential through the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. The requirements for this credential are very similar to those typically laid out by the state.
According to the BLS, a bachelor’s degree is the minimal requirement for applicants in this field. A master’s or a Ph.D. may also be needed. The online MS in Nutritional Science with an emphasis on Dietetics is one such degree program offered to registered dietitians with at least one year of experience. The non-thesis program culminates with an applied project to build on existing and developing skills relevant for the field. Fullenkamp cites skills such as communication and a continual need to learn as essential to success. Additional skills that are beneficial in this role include:
- Interpreting scientific studies and translating nutrition science into practical eating advice through strong analytical skills
- Communicating effectively so that people with less technical knowledge can understand how to best care for themselves
- Interacting with clients in a caring and empathetic way; a key trait also stressed by Fullenkamp when addressing health and dietary issues
- Being a good listener, not only to clients when breaking down their goals and concerns, but also when collaborating with other health care workers on your team
- Keeping track of the many aspects related to the work in this field requires organizational skills. Especially if you’re self-employed, keeping your day-to-day activities and responsibilities organized is essential for success
Learn more about your potential career as dietitian and nutritionist
Taking your experience as a registered dietitian to the next level and exploring your options to become a dietitian and nutritionist could lead to a career that improves the well-being of many people. To prepare for this career path, it’s important to have the right combination of skills, experience and education, and an online Master of Science in Nutritional Science (Dietetics) can support you by advancing your skills as a practitioner, providing you with strong writing abilities, computer literacy, interpretive expertise and problem-solving skills.