What Does a Dietitian and Nutritionist Do?

Learn About the Salary, Required Skills, & More

Image by Tim Liedtke © The Balance 2019 

Dietitians and nutritionists plan food and nutrition programs and supervise the preparation and serving of meals. They help prevent and treat illnesses by promoting healthy eating habits and suggesting diet modifications.

Some dietitians run food service systems for institutions such as hospitals and schools, promote sound eating habits through education, and conduct research. Primary areas of practice include clinical, community, management, and consultant dietetics.

Dietitian and Nutritionist Duties & Responsibilities

This profession typically requires the ability to do the following work:

  • Offer dietetic educational services
  • Assess patients’ nutritional needs
  • Develop dietetic plans at an institutional level
  • Facilitate group sessions
  • Oversee meal planning
  • Collect data and prepare statistical reports

Dietitians and nutritionists sometimes work with individual clients to develop customized diets and meal plans as part of their overall health care. This involves coordinating with clients’ caregivers to make sure the plan is appropriate for the individual’s health care needs.

Some dietitians and nutritionists will develop meal plans at an institutional level. For example, a professional in this field might work with food service managers at a nursing care facility or similar location to develop a menu that is appropriate for the residents.

Dietitians and nutritionists also work with groups and individuals to help provide education about eating habits and how they can impact overall health.

Dietitian and Nutritionist Salary

Those working in outpatient care centers tend to earn the most, while dietitians and nutritionists working for government facilities or for nursing home facilities tend to earn a bit less.

  • Median Annual Salary: $59,410 ($28.56/hour)
  • Top 10% Annual Salary: $83,070 ($39.93/hour)
  • Bottom 10% Annual Salary: $36,910 ($17.74/hour)

Education, Training, & Certification

Working as a dietitian and nutritionist requires at least a bachelor’s degree, and most states have licensure requirements as well.

Dietitian and Nutritionist Skills & Competencies

Dietitians and nutritionists need certain soft skills in order to effectively work with patients and put their knowledge of diet and nutrition to use. Some of these skills include:

  • Active listening: Clients need complete attention when they are talking about their health issues, dietary concerns, and other challenges.
  • Verbal communication: A significant part of a dietitian and nutritionist’s job involves conveying information to clients and their caregivers. Doing so effectively requires excellent communication skills and speaking skills.
  • Interpersonal Skills: These people skills allow dietitians and nutritionists to instruct and persuade clients and also to interact with colleagues.
  • Time management and organizational skills: Caseloads sometimes can be heavy, and be highly organized can help prevent dietitians and nutritionists from becoming overwhelmed.
  • Work independently: While dietitians and nutritionists spend a lot of time working with clients and their caregivers, they need to be able to meet with those clients, evaluate cases, and make recommendations independently.

Job Outlook

Job growth for dietitians and nutritionists is projected at 15 percent for the decade ending in 2026, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. This is slightly better than twice the 7 percent rate projected for all occupations.

In part, BLS attributes the growth to the Centers for Disease Control report that about one-third of adults in the U.S. are obese and dietitians and nutritionists will be needed to help prevent heart disease, diabetes, and any other conditions that can be traced back to obesity.

Work Environment

Hospitals employ the most substantial number of dietitians and nutritionists. Others work for the government, as well as for nursing and residential care facilities. Some dietitians and nutritionists work independently and build their own client bases. In addition to working with patients or clients, they also need to be able to work with doctors or other health care providers who are overseeing the general care for their patients or clients.

Work Schedule

Hours can vary depending on where a dietitian and nutritionist works. Some hospitals, nursing care facilities, or other medical practices might schedule them only during standard business hours, but some patients might be available only during evenings or weekends and still need to be accommodated.

How to Get the Job

BACHELOR’S DEGREE

An undergraduate degree in dietetics or some related field is a necessary start.

TRAINING

Many undergraduate or graduate programs include internships.

CERTIFICATION

A specific credential is required to be a registered dietitian.

Comparing Similar Jobs

Those interested in working as a dietitian and nutritionist might also be interested in the following careers, listed below with median annual salaries:

  • Community health worker: $45,360
  • Registered nurse: $70,000
  • Rehabilitation counselor: $34,860