A career helping people improve their health and manage diseases and conditions isn’t only the purview of doctors. Because doctors have little formal nutrition training, dietitians are increasingly found on the frontline of disease and condition treatment. Registered dietitians help countless people each year manage their diabetes, high blood pressure, cholesterol, lactose intolerance, obesity and risk of heart disease and stroke.
“Doctors need our help and some are starting to work with dietitians on a more regular basis,” said Dobbins, who is also a certified diabetes educator.
The career path to work in nutrition therapy takes less time and is less costly than going to med school, but still opens the doors to many health care-related job opportunities. People with an interest in becoming a registered dietitian study nutrition in college, then take an internship to prepare for certification as a registered dietician nutritionist, or RDN, choosing different specialties along the way.
After earning a degree, RDNs serve a nine-month internship where they choose one or more specialties to gain experience and build their resumes. Becoming a dietetic technician requires a two-year degree, with career opportunities including supporting RDNs at institutions or in private practices. While some dietitians specialize in one or two areas, many offer a variety of services in their practices, including sports nutrition counseling, corporate wellness consulting, weight loss, eating disorder counseling and community education.
To specialize in nutrition therapy, dietitians might focus their internships on clinical work, interning at a hospital or other health care facility. This path helped Dobbins build a foundation that allowed her to create her own practice that includes community education, diabetes counseling, working with patients with specific health needs, teaching nutrition to culinary students and offering media consulting to professional dietitians.
“Dietetics is such a great field and there are so many different paths you can take, I encourage people to try out a few different areas and not be narrow minded about jobs,” said Dobbins, based in Chicago’s northern suburbs. “I never would have dreamed in a million years that working in a hospital setting would have given me all of these opportunities, but it did.”
Her current practice takes her all over Chicagoland and across the country, including coaching other dietitians on media and communications skills.
Registered dietitians earned median pay of $53,250 in 2010, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, with the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics reporting 2009 salaries of RDNs with five years or less experience at approximately $51,000 to $62,000. Compensation increases with years of experience, with the AND finding that RDNs with management and business practices earn incomes of $85,000 to $88,000. The employment outlook for RDNs is projected to be positive through 2014 because of increased demand for diet therapy and an aging population.
To learn more about a career in dietetics, visit the website of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, headquartered in Chicago, at www.eatright.org.