Unlike nutritional therapists, registered dietitians are healthcare professionals and can be employed by the NHS. They are experts in the science of nutrition and use this knowledge to help people with health problems practically apply it to their dietary choices.
Dietitians assess patients’ diets and lifestyles and offer dietary treatment and advice on a range of diseases.
A huge part of being a dietitian is education. As a result, dietitians need fantastic communication skills to be able to convey complex things in a simple way to patients needing specialist nutritional advice.
Not only will they teach patients, but they’ll also educate members of the community, doctors, nurses and other health professionals.
Dieitians aren’t just employed by the NHS; they can work in education, the food industry or set up their own practices.
Within the NHS, there are a range of options for dietitians, such as training in a specialism, running outpatient clinics or working in the community.
Those working in the food industry might help to develop new products and calculate their nutritional value or compile scientifically accurate promotion material for products.
Salary & benefits
A dietitian might start off earning between £21,000 and £28,000 a year, rising to around £35,000 with experience. Those at the top of their game can earn up to £41,000.
Working hours are usually a pretty standard nine-to-five, although some weekend work might be required. Freelance and self-employed dietitians might have more flexible working hours.
Dietitians need a Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC) approved degree or postgraduate qualification in dietetics or nutrition and dietetics before they can start practicing.
To apply for an undergraduate degree, five GCSEs and at least two A levels (one in a science subject) will usually be required, although entry requirements will vary university to university.
For postgraduate qualifications, students will usually need to have a first degree in a science subject. After completion of the relevant qualification, graduates can then register with the HCPC and start to work as a dietitian.
A good dietitian should have an interest in science and food, be very enthusiastic and possess excellent communication and people skills. A patient and understanding manner is also vital.
Training & progression
Training never really stops for a dietitian. They have to continue to study throughout their careers to keep abreast of new breakthroughs and treatments in nutritional science.
Dietitians are required by the HCPC to undertake continuing professional development and can become members of the British Dietetic Association, which offers further professional and postgraduate courses.
The NHS has a clear career path for dietitians, from trainee to specialist to more senior roles. Those working in the private sector might advance to more managerial roles, whilst some dietitians will become self-employed and venture into areas like the media, health promotion or teaching.