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Career Advice

How to Become a Dietitian

fruitsReckon you know your vitamin C from your omega 3? Do you have a passion for proteins and a flair for fibre?  Looking to turn your nutritional knowledge into a fruitful career? Then becoming a dietitian might just be the right choice for you… here’s our quick guide.

What is a dietitian?

First off, let’s clear up a little bit of confusion – a dietitian is different from a nutritionist or a nutritional therapist.  Dietitians are qualified health professionals that are able to assess, diagnose and treat dietary and nutritional problems. Like doctors, nurses and other healthcare professionals, they are regulated by law and bound by a strict code of ethics to ensure the highest levels of patient care and professional accountability.

What does a dietitian do?

Dietitians work with patients in a variety of environments including within NHS services, private healthcare practices, private industry, educational institutions and residential settings. The type of work activities which they carry out will depend greatly upon the environment in which they work. For example, a dietitian working for a professional sports team will have a very different role than one working in the NHS.

Put in its most basic way a dietitian takes all of the complicated science associated with nutrition and simplifies it in a way that a patient can easily understand and apply to their daily life.   But of course it’s a bit more complicated than that. Here are some of the things which a dietitian may be expected to do on a regular basis;

  • Providing support and advice to people with special dietary requirements

  • Diagnosis of diet related problems and conditions

  • Creating treatments and diet plans for people with special dietary requirements – including the prescription of a limited range of medication.

  • Working out a patient’s nutritional requirements based upon equations which take a number of factors into account

  • Working with patients who need to adopt a special diet in conjunction which the other treatments for a range of conditions including; kidney disease, liver disease, HIV/AIDS, food allergies, diabetes and eating disorders.

  • Undertaking the responsibility to inform the wider public of the importance of healthy nutrition and providing advice where needed. This can often be through the creation of pamphlets and information packs

  • Keeping other healthcare professionals well educated in the issues surrounding nutrition.

  • Making sure that other hospital staff are made aware of a patient’s special dietary requirements

  • Writing reports and ensuring that all records are as accurate as possible

  • Working in an advisory capacity to the food industry

vegetablesSkills and attributes of a good dietitian

  • A genuine interest in and passion for science, particularly human physiology and food science

  • The desire to work with patients in a healthcare environment

  • Great communication skills and the ability to explain complex scientific principles in a way which is easy for the patient to understand

  • Friendly and approachable, particularly when it comes to dealing with patients

  • Ability to work as part of a team of health care professionals as part of a patient’s treatment plan

  • Being able to empathise with a patient and help put forward positive solutions to their obstacles

  • A calm, understanding and patient attitude towards your work

  • The desire to implement a continuous development plan, undertaking any additional training as and when it is required

Qualifications Needed

In order to practise as a Dietitian within the UK, you must have successfully completed a degree in ‘dietetics’ or ‘nutrition and dietetics’ which has been approved by the Health and Care Professionals Council or HCPC .  As with any degree course, the qualifications which are required will vary significantly between institutions. Generally though, most universities will require at least 3 good A Levels and 5 GCSE’s to include maths and science. Alternative qualifications are also accepted by most institutions including BTEC National Diploma in Science  and Advanced GNVQs in science. A degree in dietetics will generally last between 3-4 years full time, although some universities do offer the course on a part time basis.

It is also possible to become a dietitian by undertaking a postgraduate qualification in Dietetics which has been approved by the HCPC. These courses normally last for 2 years and are open to those who already hold a degree in a relevant subject e.g. biology, chemistry etc.

Career Progression and Salary

As you can probably guess, the direction in which your career will develop is very much dependant upon the environment in which you are working. As most dietitians in the UK work for the NHS, we have taken them as an example of the kind of progression and salary that you can expect.

Within the NHS dietitians fall within clearly defined roles and levels of seniority. Generally, dietitians begin at band 5 which means that their salary is between £21K and £27K. As they progress, this will increase to around £30k for specialists and £35k for advanced dietitians.

All sounds good? Then good luck ! However if you are now thinking that perhaps becoming a dietitian isn’t the right decision for you then you might want to consider some of these health related career options:

How to become a dental hygenist

How to become a nurse

How to become a surgeon

How to become a Pharmacist

Or take a look through our fab career directory



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