How to Become a Dietitian


If the following description sounds like you, then you’re probably well suited for a career as a dietitian:


Becoming a dietitian means you are someone who cares about public health and the well being of others. It means that you have skills and knowledge in food and nutrition, and you want to apply your abilities to a career that allows you to promote good health.


Working in this field also means that you have the intellectual and emotional capacity to complete the necessary educational and work experience requirements to work as an accredited and accountable professional in the field of dietetics.


Below we've outlined what you'll need to begin a career as a dietitian. We've also included helpful information for this career, such as job description, job duties, salary expectations, a list of possible employers and much more!



Education and Experience Needed to Become a Dietitian

In Canada or the United States, you must earn an undergraduate degree and complete a supervised practice program, either as part of your undergraduate education, or following its completion. 


Becoming a Dietitian in Canada: 


In Canada, you must complete a degree in Food and Nutrition from a university program that has been accredited by Dietitians of Canada (DC). These programs typically include a wide range of subjects, including microbiology, chemistry, physiology, social sciences and communications, as well as courses specifically related to a career as a dietitian, such as food science lifecycle, disease specific, community nutrition and food service management.


You also need to complete a supervised work program in order to become a licensed dietitian in Canada. Some dietetic education programs have these programs built into them, while others require students to pursue these work placements after graduation from the program. These programs are typically 40-45 weeks long and allow students to apply academic knowledge to a variety of nutrition practice settings. 


After completion of the educational and experience requirements, you must then pass the Canadian Dietetic Registration examination and register with your provincial regulatory body in order to practice as a registered dietitian (RD).


Becoming a Dietitian in the United States: 


In the United States you need to complete a bachelor’s degree at a college or university that is U.S. regionally accredited, and includes coursework accredited or approved by the Accreditation Council for Education in Nutrition and Dietetics (ACEND) of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.


In addition to completing the necessary coursework, you also need to complete an ACEND-accredited supervised work practice program during or after undergraduate or graduate studies. These programs may take place in a variety of settings, including a health-care facility, community agency, or a foodservice corporation.





General Job Description

Registered Dietitians (RD's) are responsible for creating and implementing nutritional strategies for groups and individuals. They are responsible for designing nutrition programs to protect health, prevent allergic reactions and alleviate the symptoms of many types of disease.


As dietitians are experts of the impact of food on health, they may also be involved in developing and analyzing food and food products, as well as managing food service systems.



Typical Job Duties

Although the specific job duties of dietitians can vary based on factors such as their level of responsibility and their area of specialty, they are generally responsible for performing the following duties:


• Assess the nutritional intake of individuals and groups

• Create, implement, monitor and evaluate nutritional programs

• Liaise with other health care professionals, such as physicians and health care aides

• May be responsible for managing food service operations and clinical nutritional services

• Develop and implement health promotion programs

• Develop and deliver food service and nutrition education programs

• Assist individuals, families, consumer groups, communities and industry apply nutrition principles



Who Employs Dietitians? Where Do They Work?

Dietitians are employed by organizations that are involved in the creation and implementation of nutritional strategies for groups and individuals; developing and analyzing food and food products; or organizations that manage food service systems. Such organizations may include:


• Hospitals, clinics and long-term healthcare facilities

• Social service agencies

• Correctional services

• The armed forces

• Pharmaceutical and medical supply companies

• Fitness centres

• Home health agencies

• Corporate wellness programs

• Food processing, food service and catering companies

• Food science and nutritional research firms

• Non-profit and community organizations

• Colleges and universities

• Public and private schools and school districts

• Self-employment





Dietitian Career: Areas of Practice

Registered Dietitians may choose to specialize their practice to an area of their interest or expertise. Below are some of the main areas of practice for dietitians.


Clinical Dietitian

Clinical dietitians are responsible for providing medical nutrition therapy for patients in institutions such as hospitals, clinics and long-term care facilities. They assess the nutritional needs of patients, and work with doctors and other healthcare professionals to develop and implement nutritional programs for the patient, as well as monitor and report the results.


Community/Public Health Dietitian

Community dietitians are responsible for developing nutrition programs that are designed to prevent disease and promote health within a targeted group of people (such as the elderly or individuals with special needs) or people within specific geographic regions.


Dietitians that practice in the community/public health areas have expertise in nutrition, food systems and related public health sciences. Dietitians in this area of practice may work in settings such as public health clinics, fitness centers, corporate wellness programs or home health agencies.


Consulting Dietitians

Consulting dietitians are responsible for performing nutritional assessments for their clients, and advise them about diet-related concerns, such as weight loss, disease avoidance and control, or cholesterol management.


They typically work under contract with healthcare facilities or in their own private practice. They may also consult for wellness programs, sports teams, supermarkets, and other businesses that are directly impacted by the relationship of food and nutrition.


Management Dietitian

Management dietitians are responsible for overseeing large scale meal planning, preparation and service. They typically work within health care facilities, large companies, correctional facilities, nursing homes and educational facilities.


Pediatric Dietitian

Pediatric dietitians are responsible for ensuring that children and adolescents are receiving proper nutrition, as it is key for their healthy development.


They are typically employed within the public and non-profit sectors, by hospitals, clinics, school boards, non-profit organizations or community wellness centers.


Renal Dietitian

Renal dietitians are specialist clinical dietitians. They are responsible for providing dietary and nutritional services to hemodialysis or peritoneal dialysis patients in clinical, hospital or extended care settings.


They take into medical and social factors, as well as the food preferences of the patient, in order to design and implement a dietary plan that maximizes the organ function and overall health of the dialysis patient.


Research Dietitians

Research dietitians are responsible for conducting laboratory or social research in nutrition. For example, those that study nutrition in a laboratory may study the effects that a specific type of diet has on cancer treatment, and a social science researcher may investigate the impact of health policies change or effectiveness of nutritional programs.


They can be employed with research laboratories of universities, as well as food and pharmaceutical companies. They may also support practice-based research initiatives in clinical, community or food service settings



How Much Do Dietitians Earn?

The salary level of dietitians can vary based on factors such as their level of education, their level of experience, their area of specialty, where they work, their specific job responsibilities and much more.


Salary - Canada: According to the 2012 Alberta Wage and Salary Survey (latest figures available at the time of writing - June 15'19), Albertans working in the Dietitians occupational group earn an average wage salary of $85,056 per year.


Salary - United States: According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics 2009 Dietetics Compensation and Benefits survey, half of all Registered Dietitians in the United States who have been working in the field for five years or less earn a salary of between $51,100 and $62,200 per year. The survey also reports that Registered Dietitians in management and business earn incomes of $85,000 to $88,000.



Personal Characteristics Needed to Be Successful

To enjoy performing the duties of a dietitian, you need to have certain personality traits. Taking enjoyment from your duties as a dietitian is important, as it helps you maintain a positive attitude towards your work, which usually leads to having a long and successful career.


• You care about public health and the well being of others

• You are responsible, honest, accountable and professional

• You have an interest in science, food and nutrition

• You enjoy consulting with other professionals

• You are willing to keep up to date with the latest nutrition research

• You have a results-oriented approach to work activities



Skills Needed to Be a Dietitian

To become effective in a career as a dietitian, and perform your job duties with competence, you need to posses a certain set of skills, including:


• You are able to effectively evaluate the health status of patients

• You are able to stay organized and manage the nutrition of many patients simultaneously

• You are able to listen carefully in order to understand the goals and concerns of patients and healthcare professionals

• You are able to determine appropriate food choices for a client to improve overall health or manage a disease

• You are able to work effectively with other team members

• You are able to communicate technical knowledge to laypeople



Job Opportunities

Our job board below has dietitian postings in your area of Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom and Australia, when available:




Differences Between a Dietitian and a Nutritionist

The terms “Dietitian” and “Nutritionist” are not interchangeable. Although these professions are similar in nature, there are many key differences among them. These differences exist mainly in the augmented levels of experience, education, accreditation and accountability needed to become a dietitian.


Differences in Education and Experience

Dietitians must earn a Bachelor’s degree specializing in food and nutrition, and must complete supervised practical training through a university program or an approved hospital or community setting. However, in most Canadian provinces there are no formal education and supervised requirements needed to become a nutritionist.


Differences in Accreditation and Accountability

In Canada, Dietitians must be registered with provincial regulatory bodies, and are the only professionals who can use the legally protected titles “Registered Dietitian”, “Professional Dietitian” and “Dietitian”. The letters R.D., P.Dt. or D.Pt. after a Dietitian’s name can identify them as registered members of the profession. Because of this registration, Dietitians are accountable to provincial regulatory bodies for their professional conduct and the care they provide.


For nutritionists on the other hand, there are no regulatory standards that protect the term “Nutritionist” by law in Canada, thus there are no regulating bodies to be accountable to.



Similar Occupations in Our Database

Listed below are careers in our database that are similar in nature to dietitian, as they involve many of the same skills, competencies and responsibilities.


Food Scientist

Health Educator 


Public Health Nutritionist

Sports Nutritionist




Please consult the references below to find more information on the various aspects of this profession:


Occupations in Alberta:Dietitian.” (December 5, 2012). ALIS website - Alberta Learning Information Service. Retrieved November 10, 2019.

Healthcare:Dietitians and Nutritionists.” (September 4, 2019). Occupational Outlook Handbook - United States Bureau of Labor Statistics website. Retrieved November 10, 2019.

Become a Dietitian:Education.” (n.d.). Dietitians of Canada website. Retrieved November 10, 2019.



Scholarships for Becoming a Dietitian

The 'Applicable Majors; section below shows fields of study relevant to a career as a dietitian. You can search for scholarships matched to those fields of study on our Exercise Science Scholarships, Kinesiology Scholarships and Nutrition Scholarships pages.


Success Tip: Be sure to apply for any scholarships that you even barely qualify for, as there are millions of dollars of scholarships that go unused every year due to a lack of applicants.



Applicable Majors

Studying one of the university majors listed below is an excellent starting point for getting into this field. Click on the links to find out what else you can do with these majors!


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