What is a Dietician?
As a dietician, you will be responsible for identifying and treating malnutrition. You will provide guidance to those with nutritional problems, helping people make appropriate lifestyle and food choices.
You will need to be in touch with all of the latest scientific developments and public health research to provide this guidance.
You’ll treat complex clinical conditions such as:
- Chronic fatigue
- Eating disorders
- Food allergies and intolerance
- Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
- Kidney failure
You can either work for the NHS or a private clinic to help individuals or at a public-health level. You will need to advise on food and health policy at a national, local and individual level. Dieticians are the only nutrition professionals that are statutorily regulated.
- Undertake nutritional assessments of patients with a range of complex medical conditions
- Educate and advise patients with diet-related disorders on the practical ways in which they can improve their health by supporting them to make appropriate lifestyle and food choice
- Devise, monitor, review and improve nutritional care plans
- Deliver group sessions to other healthcare professionals or patient groups
- Work with the patient and multidisciplinary team (including other healthcare professionals) to ensure patient-centred care is provided
- Liaise with hospital staff and external agencies to ensure the smooth transition of patients discharged from hospital back into the community so that they can continue to receive the dietary support needed
- Promote health and wellbeing by informing the public about the importance of diet and nutrition
- Educate other healthcare professionals about food and nutrition issues
- Advise hospital catering departments about any specific patient dietary requirements
- Support schools in the provision of healthy school meals
- Run clinics in hospital outpatients departments or GP surgeries
- Record all assessments and interventions, write reports and case notes, and maintain accurate records
- Prepare information packs, flyers and other promotional materials.
As you become more experienced, you may also be required to train pre-registered students and oversee less experienced teams.
According to Glassdoor the average salary for a dietician is £41,708 in London.
- If you are working within the NHS, your salary is split into nine pay bands. Starting salaries can start anywhere between £25,655 to £31,534 (band 5)
- At Band 6 where you are considered a specialist, you can earn anywhere between £32,306 and £39,027. Advanced dieticians (band 7) will earn between £40,057 and £45,839
- Those who are at clinical lead level can earn considerably more – up to £53,219. At the highest level (band 8) your salary can rise to £75,874.
NHS staff typically work 37.5 hours a week. If you are not employed by the NHS you can expect to work normal hours between 9am to 5pm, however additional hours and weekend work may be required. Those that are self-employed can dictate their own hours, but this will vary depending on your client’s availability.
What to expect
- Being a dietitian can be a very rewarding career as you’re able to make a significant contribution to improving patients’ health.
- Patient caseloads can be challenging and require working closely with other healthcare professionals.
- If you work in the NHS, you’ll usually be based in a hospital, health centre or clinic and will have a private consultation room. Community dietitians may have to travel locally to meet clients. If you’re involved in research, you may work in laboratories.
- Jobs are available in most towns and cities throughout the UK.
- Self-employment and freelance work are possible within a clinical setting, sports and private health sectors, as well as in the food industry, in public relations companies and in the media.
Firstly, you will need to be registered with the Health & Care Professions Council to practise as a dietician. You must complete an HCPC-approved programme and have undertaken an undergraduate degree or of the like. If you are looking to do a postgraduate course, you must have a life sciences degree and have achieved a 2:1 or above. Relevant degree subjects include:
- Biomedical science
- Health sciences
- Human biology
- Human nutrition
- Nutritional science
must have skills:
- An interest in the scientific aspects of food
- An interest in working in a care-based setting
- Strong verbal and written communication skills
- The ability to explain complex ideas simply
- Excellent interpersonal skills to develop relationships with patients/carers
- Teamworking skills to work effectively as part of a multidisciplinary healthcare team
- The ability to prioritise your work and manage a caseload
- Time management skills and the ability to work under pressure
- IT skills to record and access patient records
- A positive attitude and the ability to motivate others
- Understanding and tact to deal with sensitive issues
- Negotiation skills to help patients overcome barriers and create positive change
- Caring and compassionate approach to other peoples’ feelings
- Willingness to keep up to date with current nutrition information and research.
It may be useful to visit a local dietetic clinic to gain an understanding of the industry and get a feel for the work before you start applying to courses. There are also voluntary and paid opportunities where you can show your interest and enthusiasm, which may put you in good stead in the future.
The NHS is the main employer of dieticians where you will work in hospitals and GP surgeries for example. But there are also other opportunities to work in the private sector. Additional areas include:
- Local authorities
- Catering companies
- Care homes
- The food industry and food and drink manufacturers
- Supermarket chains
- Trade associations and promotional groups
- Schools, universities and research establishments
- Pharmaceutical companies
- The media
- Public relations companies
- Publishing companies
- Government and non-governmental organisations (NGOs)
- Professional gyms, sports clubs and Olympic camps.
You will need to complete continual training and professional development courses throughout your career as a dietician. You can do this by becoming a member of the BDA, who run regular training sessions. These will usually focus on a particular expertise.
You may wish to undertake postgraduate study in your area of specialism. Masters modules are available in areas of dietetic practice, which can be taken either as stand-alone or Masters programmes.
NHS staff will have a defined route for career progression making their way up the bands and you will be able to choose your specialism based on your own interests – this may be working in a patient’s home or at a GP and you may decide to focus on one specific area such as diabetes, cancers or with a certain demographic.
You can also be self-employed and determine your work schedule and the route you would like your career to take based on your own personal interests.