Dietitian job profile
Dietitians are the only qualified healthcare professionals who can assess, diagnose and treat patients by adjusting their diet and nutritional intake.
What do dietitians do?
Dietitians treat medical conditions and promote healthy living by providing practical advice about food and nutrition. Following a diagnosis, they provide treatments and diet plans to improve or enhance a person’s health. Dietitians work with individuals to treat medical issues, such as kidney problems, diabetes or cancer. They also work with the public, government bodies and private companies to promote health through nutrition.
A dietitian’s role depends on the specific area they specialise in. Some work in research, education or food development. Others specialise in children’s health, food allergies or sports nutrition.
Types of dietitian include:
- Clinical - works in hospitals and other healthcare facilities
- Community - promotes health within a community
- Food Service - large-scale food planning and quality control
- Gerontological - specialises in nutrition for the elderly
- Neonatal - works with premature babies in Neonatal Intensive Care Units
- Pediatric - specialises in nutrition for infants and children
- Research - conducts dietary research into health policies etc
- Business - provides nutritional expertise within the media.
Duties of a dietitian
Dietitian duties can vary, depending on where they work and what they specialise in.
Duties may include:
- Providing one-to-one consultations
- Devising, delivering and evaluating meal plans
- Writing reports and keeping accurate records
- Advising public and corporate catering departments
- Running clinics for people with eating disorders
- Raising awareness on healthy eating and healthy lifestyles
- Educating other healthcare professionals about nutrition issues
- Speaking to the media about new research and products
- Working with athletes to improve performance and recovery.
Dietitian work environment
Most dietitians work from consulting rooms within hospitals, clinics, doctors’ surgeries or other healthcare facilities. You could also be visiting patients on hospital wards or in their homes. They often work as part of a larger team of medical professionals.
Other types of dietitians work in a range of different settings. Sports dietitians, for example, may work at a fitness centre or sports club; and research dietitians may work in universities, offices and hospitals.
Dietitian work hours
Typical work hours are between 35 and 40 hours per week, working 9am to 5pm. This may include occasional weekends. Part-time work is often an option. Dietitians also have the opportunity to work on a freelance basis. This gives you more flexibility, as you'll be able to set your own hours.
During your training you’ll develop specialist skills required to be a dietitian. In addition to practical skills, dietitians also need a wide range of soft skills. These include:
You’ll be explaining complex and sensitive issues to patients, healthcare professionals, government bodies and the media. Good listening, writing and speaking skills are essential.
A patient attitude is vital when you’re working with people from different backgrounds. It takes time to fully understand a person’s needs and provide the right advice to suit them.
Motivating people to change their diets can be difficult. It involves positivity, tact and strong relationship-building skills.
A caring attitude is important. You’ll need to be mindful of other people’s feelings, sensitive to their personal circumstances, and motivated to improve their health.
Dietitians often manage several patients at once, all with differing needs. Good organisation skills are essential in order to deliver an effective, high-quality service.
Before providing nutritional advice, you’ll need to be skilled in collecting, analysing and assessing information and data to make an accurate diagnosis.
How much do dietitians make?
Careers in the NHS fall into nine pay bands. Dietitian salary rates are determined by the Agenda for Change. Other employers set their own rates of pay but these are likely to be on a similar scale.
Current NHS rates are:
- Starting salaries for qualified dietitians (band 5): £23,023 to £29,608
- Specialist level (band 6): £28,050 and £36,644
- Advanced level (band 7): £33,222 to £43,041
Qualifications and training
Dietitian training requirements involve completing a degree that is approved by the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC). Undergraduate degrees take three or four years to complete. If you hold a degree in a related subject, such as biology, you’ll need to complete an approved postgraduate course.
After your degree, you can apply for registration with the HCPC. You will then be qualified to work as a Registered Dietitian.
Dietitian career path
Your career path will depend on where you work and what type of dietitian you’d like to become when you graduate. An NHS clinical dietitian, for example, may have a very different career path to a food service dietitian or a research dietitian. All registered dietitians must take part in Continuing professional development (CPD) throughout their careers, in order to retain their registered status.
As a clinical dietitian in an NHS hospital, you can follow a structured route for career progression. After graduating, you would enter your career as a basic grade dietitian. You could then work your way up to take on specialist dietitian roles and advanced roles. Each step in the career path comes with more responsibility and higher pay. To progress further, you could apply for higher-level management roles.
If you choose to work as a research dietitian for a food manufacturing company, your career path may be less structured. Depending on your interests, you could progress to a role marketing, education, scientific research or journalism. Some dietitians prefer the flexibility and diversity of this type of career path, while others prefer the structure of an NHS setting.