Most dietitians work for hospitals, government agencies, nursing facilities and doctors' offices, but some are self-employed. The career usually requires a minimum of a bachelor's degree in a dietetics or a related major and a supervised internship. Most states also require licensing or certification -- for example, as a registered dietitian nutritionist. As nutrition professionals, most dietitians focus on planning healthy diets for individuals and groups. Their specific responsibilities depend largely on the type of job they have.
Clinical dietitians usually work for a health care provider, such as a hospital or doctor's office. They evaluate patients' health and nutritional needs, design meal plans and counsel patients. As time passes, they check the effectiveness of these dietary plans and alter them as necessary. Clinical dietitians often focus on managing health conditions such as diabetes and high cholesterol, according to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. They also devise plans for weight loss and help clients control food sensitivities and allergies, including lactose intolerance. Their responsibilities often include counseling patients on proper food choices and shopping methods and teaching techniques for staying on track, such as keeping a food journal.
Some dietitians work as managers for cafeterias in schools, businesses, prisons or hospitals, where they are in charge of menus and food preparation. They must plan nutritious meals for a large number of people while adhering to budgetary and practical constraints. Also called management dietitians, their additional duties may include buying food supplies and maintaining safety and sanitation standards. They may also keep records and supervise other dietitians and kitchen workers.
Community dietitians work for the government, nonprofit organizations, health maintenance organizations, public health clinics, home health agencies and fitness centers. They often specialize in a particular population, such as senior citizens. It is their responsibility to create a dietary program to improve health for the target population. Because their role is largely educational, they provide instruction on what to eat, how to shop and how to prepare foods.
Dietitians in Private Practice
The responsibilities of dietitians in private practice depend on whether they take private clients, do consulting or both. For example, they may counsel private clients on how to lose weight or control high blood pressure. As consultants, they may provide advice on nutrition to sports teams and corporate wellness programs. Other consulting dietitians advise food service supervisors on menu planning, cost control, sanitation and food safety. Self-employed dietitians typically have additional business duties, including scheduling consultations, keeping records and marketing their services.
Other Dietitian Roles
Some dietitians work for food-manufacturing companies, where they analyze foods and write reports on their nutritional value. They may also provide information on the health benefits of foods for advertising campaigns. Other dietitians teach in technical schools, colleges and universities, helping educate doctors or nurses. Others may conduct research on food and nutrition for medical centers, universities, food companies and government agencies.
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