Dietician

The Job and What's Involved

Dietitians turn their scientific knowledge into practical advice about the links between diet and health. They work with individuals and groups of people, helping them to make informed choices about what they eat. They help to:

- Promote well-being.
- Treat disease.
- Prevent nutrition-related problems.

After qualifying, many dietitians work in hospitals, or in community and public health settings. Some apply their expertise in other sectors, including industry, sport, the media, education and research.

Hospital-based dietitians advise people who need a modified or special diet, such as people with diabetes, cancer or a food allergy. They may also advise hospital caterers on the nutrition that patients need.

Community dietitians are involved in health promotion, clinical work, or a mixture of both. They may work with individuals, health professionals, schools and youth services, elderly people and those in residential care.

Sports dietitians help athletes understand the links between their performance and what they eat and drink.

Many dietitians work directly for a food manufacturer, food retailer or pharmaceutical company, or with a public relations company representing an industry client. They give unbiased advice on nutrition, produce literature, respond to customer concerns and set nutritional standards for the companies.

In the research sector, dietitians develop and test new ways of working in the field, and keep other health professionals informed about the outcomes.

Some dietitians work as lecturers in higher education. They may also train other healthcare workers, such as nurses and GP's.

Many dietitians work with the media to make sure that consistent, accurate messages are conveyed. They may write articles for newspapers or magazines, or appear in TV and radio programmes.

Dietitians working in the National Health Service (NHS) work as part of a healthcare team alongside doctors, nurses, nutritionists, health visitors and other professionals. Those working directly with patients must keep case notes. They may be helped by assistant dietitians.

Dietitians employed by the NHS generally work 37.5 hours a week, Monday to Friday, from 9am to 5pm. They may sometimes attend weekend clinics.

It is often possible to work part time.

Many dietitians are based in hospitals. They usually have an office, but may visit almost any ward or department in the course of their work, from outpatient clinics to intensive care.

Community dietitians may travel within the local area to patients' homes or to facilitate group sessions. A driving licence is useful.

Dietitians working in research may spend some time in laboratories; those in education teach in lecture halls.

Salaries for newly-qualified NHS dietitians may start on around £19,166 a year. Extra allowances are available for dietitians working in London and some other areas where the cost of living is higher.

Getting Started with this Career Choice

There are around 7,600 dietitians in the UK. Opportunities exist in all parts of the country.

The main employers are:

- NHS hospital and primary care trusts
- Local authorities
- The food and drinks industries
- Food retailers
- Pharmaceutical companies
- Education and research establishments
- Publishers and broadcasters.

Opportunities are growing, but there are more applicants than vacancies for new entrants. There is high demand for those with specialist skills.

Vacancies may be advertised in the local press, as well as on NHS trusts' websites.

Other sources include the website of the British Dietetics Association (BDA - www.bda.uk.com), www.jobs.nhs.uk (for England and Wales), www.show.scot.nhs.uk (for Scotland) and www.hpssjobs.com (for Northern Ireland), and trade publications such as Health Service Journal.

Education and Training

Dietitians must be registered, which means gaining a qualification approved by the Health Professions Council. This can be either:

- A degree course in dietetics and/or nutrition
- A postgraduate diploma in dietetics

Approved degree courses are currently offered by 14 UK universities, listed on the BDA website. Entry requirements are normally A levels/H grades (A-C/1-3) in maths or science subjects - chemistry is usually preferred - plus five GCSE's/S grades (A-C/1-3), including English and maths. Equivalent qualifications may be acceptable, such as the BTEC National Diploma in Science, with a merit pass in chemistry at Level 3.

Eight universities offer postgraduate diplomas in dietetics. Candidates are normally expected to hold an honours degree in a science subject, including an acceptable level of human physiology and biochemistry.

Some universities expect candidates to have visited a dietetics unit before applying for a course.

A Few More Exams You Might Need

Degree students study for three or four years. The postgraduate diploma takes two years. Both courses are full time.

Subjects covered include:

- Biochemistry
- Psychology
- Nutrition
- Physiology
- Communication skills
- Dietetics
- Public health

Both courses also include some practical training in a hospital or community setting. Students spend four weeks in a placement early in the course, followed by two 12-week placements later.

Once in the job, dietitians are expected to keep up with new research and developments in the field.

Registered dietitians can become members of the British Dietetics Association. It offers a Continuing Professional Development (CPD) programme, designed to help dietitians to maintain and extend their knowledge and skills.

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Skills and Personal Qualities Needed

A dietitian must be:

  • Able to relate to all kinds of people.
  • Good at influencing people to change their behaviour.
  • Good at explaining complex issues in an easily-understood way.
  • Confident in written communication.
  • Caring and non-judgmental.
  • Highly accurate.
  • Very patient.
  • Good at working in a team.

Your Long Term Prospects

After gaining experience, NHS dietitians may specialise in a specific area of health, such as cancer care, or in working with a particular group, such as children. They may take on a management role, leading a dietetics department.

Many dietitians choose to be self-employed. They may offer their expertise on a consultancy basis to the media, the food and pharmaceutical industry, in private practice, or in publishing.

Get Further Information

The British Dietetic Association, 5th Floor,
Charles House, 148/9 Great Charles Street,
Queensway, Birmingham B3 3HT
Tel: 0121 200 8080
Website: www.bda.uk.com

Health Professions Council (HPC), Park House,
184 Kennington Park Road, London SE11 4BU
Tel: 020 7582 0866
Website: www.hpc-uk.org

Working in the NHS:

England: NHS Careers,
PO Box 2311, Bristol BS2 2ZX
Tel: 0845 606 0655
Website: www.nhscareers.nhs.uk

Northern Ireland:
Website: www.hpssjobs.com

Scotland: NHS Scotland
Tel: 0845 601 4647
Website: www.nhscareers.scot.nhs.uk

Wales: NHS Wales Careers
Tel: 01443 233472
Website: www.wales.nhs.uk

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