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Dieticians and Nutritionists

If you like people, food and the science behind it, and enjoy counseling, coaching and active listening, you might be a great candidate for a career as a dietician or nutritionist. Join a field that is growing at a faster than average rate and provides a variety of job opportunities in almost any location.

To become a dietitian, you need a minimum of a bachelor's degree in dietetics, foods and nutrition, food service systems management or a related area. College students in these majors take courses including foods, nutrition, institution management, chemistry, biochemistry, biology, microbiology and physiology. Many states require licensure for dieticians; fewer states require licensure for nutritionists. Investigate the requirements for your state using the Spouse Licensure Map.

Nutritionist and dietician opportunities are plentiful, growing at a much faster than average rate of 15 percent, which may make it easier to find a job when you transfer to your next duty assignment. You may find positions on your installation or in the surrounding community at schools, corporations or medical facilities. As you gain experience and proficiency, think about working towards a management position, focusing on a specialty or teaching others.

Registered dieticians typically earn a bachelor’s degree with approved coursework, complete a supervised practice program at a health care facility, community agency or foodservice company and pass a national certification examination. Different states may also require dieticians to obtain state licensure or certification. Some of the practice areas for dieticians include the following.

  • Clinical dieticians provide nutritional services for patients in institutions like hospitals and nursing homes. They assess the patient’s nutritional needs, develop nutritional plans, evaluate results and work with the doctors and medical team assigned to the patient.
  • Community dieticians counsel individuals and groups on nutritional practices designed to prevent disease and promote good health. They typically work in public health clinics, home health agencies and health maintenance organizations.
  • Management dieticians are responsible for directing large-scale meal planning and preparation in health care facilities, company cafeterias, prisons and schools. They hire and train other workers, enforce sanitation and safety rules, create budgets and purchase food and supplies.

Nutritionists study nutrition and may have a graduate degree in nutrition from an accredited college or university. Dieticians are considered nutritionists, but not all nutritionists are dieticians. Some types of nutritionists include the following.

  • General nutritionists work in a physician's office or hospital and serve as consultants for patients with specific nutritional needs. They may help someone interested in becoming a vegetarian develop menu plans or counsel patients on how to improve nutrient deficiencies.
  • Public health nutritionists may work with institutions like schools and hospitals, be involved in research or counseling or even advise government agencies on public health policies.
  • Animal nutritionists specialize in caring for animals in agriculture, veterinary science, aquatics or equine science.
  • Specialty nutritionists target specific food or nutritional needs. They may help diabetic patients, patients with eating disorders or possibly focus on seniors, children or other age groups and demographics.

Professional organizations and networking

Consider joining a professional organization in your chosen field to gain a better understanding of current industry practices and policies and possibly continue your education through workshops and conferences. Networking with other professionals in your industry may help you find the connections you need to obtain an interview at your new location.

Read The Value of Professional Associations for more information on how becoming a member can help enhance your career. Joining an association can assist you in forming the network connections you may need to find employment.

Next steps

If you are considering a career as a nutritionist or dietician, review the Research Occupations tool on MySECO. Take the Strong Interest Explorer and Myers-Briggs self-assessments to make sure your skills and interests align with this career path. Investigate whether you are eligible for My Career Advancement Account Scholarship assistance and use the Scholarship Finder to see if money is available to help fund any classes or certifications you might need.

If you are already a nutritionist or dietician and are seeking employment, investigate opportunities with the following Military Spouse Employment Partnership employers who are interested in hiring military spouse candidates:

Call 800-342-9647 and speak with a career coach for assistance with choosing a school, finding scholarship funding, searching for a job or overcoming challenges.

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