Dietitians are healthcare experts who specialise in diet and nutrition. They assess, diagnose and treat dietary issues, such as diabetes, food allergies, eating disorders and malnutrition. They also work with athletes, food manufacturers and pharmaceutical companies to give advice and develop new products.
One key difference between a dietitian and a nutritionist is that a ‘registered dietitian’ is protected by law and the profession is governed to maintain high standards. The nutritionist profession is not legally protected. They tend to focus on nutritional supervision and the health properties of food.
If you have an interest in science, health and food, then a career as a dietitian could be for you. You are likely to spend a lot of time working with members of the public, so you also need good communication skills and a caring attitude. Becoming a dietitian takes hard work and dedication, so you need to be committed.
To work as a dietitian in the UK, you must be registered with the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC). To register, you need to complete a dietetics degree that is approved by the HCPC.
Step 1: A Level (or equivalent)
You need A Levels in chemistry and biology, plus another subject such as maths or physics. Universities typically ask for A Level grades of AAB or above.
A Science and Pharmacy Foundation is an alternative to A Levels.
You should have at least five GCSE grades at C or above, or equivalent evidence of a good secondary or high school education. Your subjects should include maths, English and sciences.
You also need a high level of English language, with an IELTS overall band score of 7.0. Some universities may accept an IELTS of 6.0.
Step 2: Dietitian work experience
Work experience can help you to understand the role of a dietitian and decide if it’s the right career for you. Try contacting a dietetics manager at a local hospital or health clinic and asking if you can shadow a dietitian for a period of time.
Any experience in a nutrition-related organisation demonstrates an interest in the subject, which is valuable for university applications.
Step 3: HCPC-approved degree
To qualify as a dietitian in the UK, you must complete a degree that is approved by the HCPC. This could be an undergraduate or postgraduate degree.
The most direct route to becoming a registered dietitian is an undergraduate degree in dietetics, or dietetics and nutrition. Dietitian entry requirements at most universities are at least AAB for A Levels, or at least 70% for Science and Pharmacy Foundation.
If you hold a bachelors degree in an alternative life sciences subject, you can qualify as a dietitian by completing a Postgraduate Diploma (PgDip) or a Masters (MSc). To apply, most universities ask for an undergraduate grade of 2:1 or above in a relevant subject, such as nutrition, biology or biomedical science.
Step 4: HCPC registration
After your degree, you need to register with the HCPC. This involves making an application to declare your education, experience and personal details.
Dietitian career opportunities are many and varied. You could work in an NHS (National Health Service) hospital, a private medical centre, or with a huge range of other employers, from professional sports clubs to supermarket chains and health magazines.
Most dietitians work in NHS hospitals or community settings, such as clinics or healthcare centres. You could work with a wide variety of patients, or within a specialist area, such as paediatrics, diabetics, cancer or geriatrics.
The HCPC requires all registered dietitians to continually develop their skills and knowledge. Training sessions are run by workplaces, food manufacturers and the British Dietetics Association (BDA). You could also apply for postgraduate study, or take part in mentoring and teaching.
Registered dietitians can also choose a variety of other career paths. For example, you could develop products for a supermarket chain, work with athletes and sports teams, or work in public relations, research, education or journalism.
Understand the day-to-day responsibilities of a dietitian and the skills you need to succeed.