The primary role of a clinical dietician is to design nutrition programs to improve or maintain the health of patients. These programs may be short-term, such as to ensure that proper nutrition is delivered to an accident victim until full healing has occurred. Or they may be long-term for patients with diabetes, kidney disease or old age conditions that affect proper nutrition. The programs designed may be preventive, for heart disease or obesity, or therapeutic to help a patient with heart disease maintain a baseline health and nutrition state.
Clinical dieticians most often work in hospitals, clinics, or public and community health settings. They are also employed in long-term care facilities, veterans’ hospitals, universities and public schools, private practice, or HMOs.
A clinical dietician is often at the center of the interactions between doctor, patient, and the staff of the facility in which care is administered. A delicate balance sometimes exists between what a doctor recommends and a patient’s ability to implement the nutrition program. Factors such as a patient’s income, level of education, psychological and physical state, living conditions, family assistance, and ability to follow the program must be considered. Sometimes the clinical dietician must provide a great deal of patient contact, counseling, and education to achieve that balance.
What a Clinical Dietitian will study
Nutrition is a science, and the education will be science-based. Course work can include anatomy, physiology, chemistry, biochemistry, basic math, statistics, epidemiology, psychology, and microbiology. Because nutrition serves many needs and deals with many cultures and food types, the courses specifically related to nutrition are varied and might include micro- and macronutrients, sensory analysis, oncology, wellness, global studies, or community nutrition, to name just a few.
Every state has at least one college offering a program in nutrition sciences. Most states have colleges that also offer graduate programs. No matter what college you attend or how you structure your education (i.e., a combination of junior college, distance learning and traditional on-campus studies), most programs take at least four years to earn a Bachelor of Science degree. Most require an internship, which may be completed after the undergraduate coursework is completed or is built into the four-year schedule.
Not all programs are created equal, and your education is the foundation of your career. Attending a college with an accredited nutrition program will help lay that foundation. Many states require licensure or certification to practice as a clinical dietician, and attending an accredited program will prepare you for that step.
How much does it cost?
Your choices (which school you choose and your living conditions) dramatically affect how much your education will cost. Obviously, attending Harvard or an out-of-state school will cost much more than your local university, though all are accredited programs and provide a good education. One tried and true method of keeping total costs low is to complete prerequisite courses or even the first year or two of undergraduate studies at a lower-cost institution, such as a community college. Much of this can also be accomplished online.
Every school’s website has all the information you need to make informed choices, including tuition, financial aid and all the required courses. If the website does not answer all your questions, most programs have advisors you can contact in person.
All financial aid begins with the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), and can be done on the FAFSA website. By visiting the website of your school of interest and the FAFSA website, in less than half an hour you can get a very good estimate of available financial aid and the total cost of attending the school of your choice.
How much can a clinical dietitian earn?
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), dietitians and nutritionists earned an average salary of $65,620 as of May 2021. Early career professionals earned about $49,490 during this time, while those with extensive experience earned about $93,640.*
Between 2020 and 2030, the BLS projects that the number of jobs among dietitians and nutritionists will rise by 11 percent, from 73,000 to 80,800 jobs.* Not only are the job prospects for clinical dietitians very good, the general field of nutrition is expanding to include wellness programs, a wider variety of dietetic and nutrition services, and global outreach and education. The emphasis on disease prevention in the Affordable Care Act is a prime example of how nutrition’s role in our health care system is growing.*2021 US Bureau of Labor Statistics salary figures and job growth projections for dietitians and nutritionists reflect national data not school-specific information. Conditions in your area may vary. Salary statistics representing entry-level/early career = 25th percentile; mid-level= 50th percentile; senior-level/highly experienced = 90th percentile. Data accessed April 2022.
Purdue University Global's Bachelor of Science in Nutrition Program is an approved holistic nutrition education program through the National Association of Nutrition Professionals (NANP).
UNC's Online MPH With Nutrition Concentration. UNC's top-ranked public health school offers an online MPH with Nutrition concentration. Complete in 20 months. Bachelor's degree required. No GRE required. Enroll in our January or May 2022 cohort and receive a $12,000 scholarship..
Arizona State University's Nutrition Bachelors and Masters level programs online prepare students for careers in Health Education, Community Health, Food Analysis and more.
George Washington University's Online Master's in Integrative Medicine with a Concentration in Nutrition specialize in promoting health and wellness through nutrition.
American University’s online Master of Science in Nutrition Education will prepare you to become an influential leader in nutrition education and advocacy while promoting nutrition and healthy lifestyle choices in your community and beyond.