Registered dietitians are specialists in food and nutrition who advise people on what they should eat to achieve a wide range of health goals such as weight loss, adequate nutrition during cancer chemotherapy, and maintaining good health through planned daily menus. Surveys of registered dietitians show that they find their work personally gratifying, but they do have persistent concerns about their salaries, chances for promotion and their professional status.
The dietetic profession emerged in the 19th century from cooking schools that offered instructions on caring for the sick, hospital staff who prepared patient menus, and food clinics that prescribed diets for sick people living in poverty. Dietitians' primary professional organization, the American Dietetic Association, was founded in 1917 and renamed the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics in 2012. Future registered dietitians typically complete a four-year bachelor of science in dietetics program authorized under the academy's accredited Coordinated Programs in Dietetics initiative. They then enter an internship at a community agency, health care organization or food service corporation, usually lasting six to 12 months. Finally, they must pass a national examination.
Registered dietitians earned an average yearly salary of $53,250 in 2010, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Studies of dietitians note that many registered dietitians are dissatisfied with their salaries. Registered dietitians complain that they are paid less than nurses and other members of their health care teams, despite having extensive scientific education and training in their niche. Dissatisfaction with salaries is, in turn, connected with complaints that they have few opportunities for advancement and that they are seen as less important than nurses, doctors, pharmacists and other health care professionals.
Possibilities for Change
Dietitians searching for fulfilling careers have several options. One study showed that the happiest dietitians were those who found a mentor early in their careers, had served as a mentor to another dietitian, were involved in professional dietitian groups and obtained full-time, well-paid jobs. Dietitians who entered higher-paid management jobs reported greater levels of job satisfaction than dietitians in non-managerial positions. Entrepreneurial dietitians have sought independence and higher pay by creating private practices, which they have expanded through writing books and giving talks. Some dietitians have become employees or consultants for corporations needing nutrition and food professionals. Other dietitians have entered sub-specialties within dietetics, such as sports dietetics or oncology nutrition.
Trends in U.S. public health problems will encourage job growth for registered dietitians. In 2010, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that more than one-third of the U.S. population was obese. The growing number of elderly U.S. residents will also require more dietitians, as seniors often have special nutritional needs. The BLS estimated in 2012 that the number of jobs for registered dietitians will increase by 21 percent between 2012 and 2022, a rate that is much faster than average.
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