A dietitian's work involves teaching individuals about nutrition, doing evaluations of patients'/clients' nutritional needs, developing the appropriate meal plans, monitoring the effects of the meal plans, and changing the meal plans as necessary. Some dietitians also give talks to groups of people to educate them about proper eating and disease prevention.
Dietitians must stay up to date on the latest scientific research on nutrition. There are different types of dietitians: clinical dietitians, management dietitians or community dietitians. A clinical dietitian provides medical nutrition to patients; they work in hospitals, nursing homes or long-term care facilities. For example a clinical dietitian might work with a patient with chronic kidney disease on an appropriate diet. Management dietitians work within the food service industry in settings such as cafeterias, corporations or hospitals. The type of work performed includes developing meal plans, being in charge of kitchen staff or other dietitians, and running the overall kitchen operation; sometimes, management dietitian buy food and handle daily management activities. Community dietitians work in the public arena providing educational nutrition programs to groups and individuals. They work in public health clinics, nonprofit organizations, government agencies, and with health maintenance organizations (HMOs). A community dietitian could work with a specific group; for example, they can provide education to pregnant women.
A career as a dietitian typically requires a bachelor's degree in dietetics or food and nutrition management; the degree programs include courses in nutrition, physiology, chemistry, and biology. Some states require the dietitian to be licensed as a registered dietitian or a similar credential. After completion of the necessary degrees and licensing, the dietitian completes hundreds of hours of supervised training in internship programs.
Most dietitians work full-time and their hours vary depending on where they are employed. Some dietitians become self-employed, where they may have a more flexible schedule.
- Advise patients and their families on nutritional principles, diet modifications, food selection and preparation.
- Consult with physicians and health care staff to determine nutritional needs and diet restrictions of patient.
- May monitor food service operations to ensure conformance to nutritional, safety, sanitation and quality standards.
- Counsel individuals and groups on basic rules of good nutrition, healthy eating habits and nutrition monitoring.
- Screen, assess and evaluate nutritional needs, diet restrictions and current health plans to develop and implement dietary-care plans and provide nutritional counseling.