The Definitive Guide: How To Become A Dietician

Published on: 21 Jul 2017
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If you’ve even taken an interest in TV programmes like Supersize Vs Superskinny, and US export, The Biggest Loser, a job helping people improve their lives via diet and exercise could well be for you. Have you thought about becoming a dietician, for example?

Contrary to popular belief, a dietician doesn’t necessary advise people how to diet but instead gives them practical advice regarding their food, nutrition and overall health. With that in mind, it’s worth knowing that you can’t simply walk off the street and into a role like this; it takes time, passion and determination to make it into the industry. Oh, and a real love of food and its nutritional benefits, too.

So, what does a dietician do in their day-to-day role? We’ve put together this handy guide here at Leisure Jobs to give you a little insight into the job of a dieticianand what it takes to enter the profession. Read on…

What is a Dietician's Salary?

Now we move onto the question you’ve probably been pondering the answer to since you first stumbled upon this guide to becoming a dietician: what’s the salary like?

While many people enter the profession because they have a keen interest in food and nutrition, some might also be drawn to the promise of a good wage.

Within the NHS, jobs generally consist of nine pay bands and are usually covered by the Agenda for Change (AfC) Pay Rates. As a guide, starting salaries for qualified dietitians (band 5) range from £21,909 to £28,462 – not a bad salary at all for anyone making their first steps into the industry!

Dietitians at specialist level (band 6) can earn between £26,302 and £35,225, with those at an advanced level (band 7), taking home anywhere between £31,383 and £41,373 a year.

Aside from a generous annual salary, there are often on-call and special-duty allowances for dietitians working in the NHS. In London and the South East a cost of living allowance is sometimes available too.

Of course, salaries outside of the NHS vary but those listed above give you a general idea of the kind of money you can expect to earn should you enter this highly-skilled profession.

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What is a Dietician?

So what exactly is a Dietician – and what exactly does it entail?

  • Job Description

    So, what does a Dietician crew do in terms of day-to-day duties?

    As a dietician, you’ll assess, diagnose and treat dietary and nutritional problems. So, it isn’t a case of simply putting people on a diet, but working out why your patient’s health might be affected as a result of their nutritional choices and lifestyle.

    Key duties in your role as a dietician include informing the public and health professionals about diet and nutrition, with your aim being to encourage good health. On top of this though – and by helping those you work with achieve a healthier lifestyle by making better choices – you’ll be preventing the risk of disease in individuals themselves and their wider community.

    As a dietician working within the NHS, for example, you could find yourself carrying out the role in hospitals or out in the community. You might also be working within the food industry, though, or in sport, the media, PR, research or publishing – the list really is endless.

    Some dieticians also work on a freelance, self-employed basis too, which will sometimes give them the freedom to veer away from a standard 9 to 5 routine and set their own hours.

    Skilled in translating scientific and medical research relating to food and health into practical guidance their patients can put into use, dieticians work hard to get where they are and can earn a good salary too.

  • Hours of Work

    So, we’ve touched on dieticians who work for themselves – but what about those who don’t? What kind of hours will a dietician working within a healthcare practicetypically find themselves keeping?

    Most dieticians will work a 37.5-hour week, which could include weekend shifts too. For those who’d rather do fewer hours, part-time work will sometimes be available.

    In terms of your workplace, you’ll usually either be completing your job from a consulting room which is attached to a clinic, or you might find yourself going about your daily duties from a hospital or health centre.

  • Main Responsibilities

    If you’re a dietician working in a hospital or community setting, here are just some of the duties you might find yourself carrying out day-to-day:

    • Offering practical advice to patients with diet-related disorders on the ways in which they can improve their health
    • Improving the treatments made available by evaluating and tweaking them, if required
    • Delivering sessions to children and patient groups, focusing on healthy eating and achieving a healthier lifestyle
    • Working as part of a multidisciplinary team to gain patients' cooperation in following the dietary treatments you’ve recommended
    • Educating fellow healthcare professionals about nutrition issues

    On top of these key responsibilities laid out above, you might also find yourself advising hospital catering departments when it comes to the dietary requirements of your patients. There’ll also be an element of travel involved in the role; you may support schools by providing healthy meals, for example, or run in-hospital clinics.

    There could also be a certain amount of report writing to do, with dieticians expected to keep accurate records of the work they complete.

    Some dieticians work directly with athletes and sports coachesand their day-to-day duties may differ slightly. Their main responsibilities can include:

    • Offering advice on diet and how it can help improve performance and allow for recovery from an injury
    • Encouraging patients to understand the physiology and biochemistry of exercise and the role of nutrition within them.

    Of course, there are several routes you can go down if you decide to become a dietician. In some roles, for example, you may be involved in the development of new food products. This could see you evaluating their nutritional content and setting up clinical trials, or offering advice to those who work in the pharmaceutical industry.

    If you’d like to complete an approved postgraduate course, you’ll need a degree in a life science subject which covers topics human physiology and biochemistry.

Key Dietician Qualifications

So, what qualifications might you need to become a dietician?

You won’t get very far without a degree or postgraduate qualification in dietetics, or human nutrition and dietetics – and the course you sign up for must be approved by the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC).

To be accepted on a dietetics degree, you’ll also need five GCSEs (A-C), including maths and English. On top of this, you’ll need two or three A levels, with one to include chemistry and another science-related subject. Different course providers will have different entry requirements, so do take time to check what these are before you sign up for a course which might not be necessary.

Vital Dietician Skills

And what about key skills or personality traits? And why do some people make it as a dietician over others? Here are just a few key skills you must be possess to get ahead in the ever-competitive industry:

  • A keen interest in nutrition and in people’s overall health and wellbeing
  • An aptitude for science and the ability to explain complicated issues to those who aren’t from a scientific background
  • A patient approach and a non-judgemental and understanding attitude about different lifestyles
  • Tact - and the ability to motivate people to alter their eating habits and lifestyle
  • Excellent communication skills and the ability to work alone and as part of a team
  • Great organisational skills
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How To Become A Dietician

Want to become a dietician and wondering what your next steps should be? You must first be registered with the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC) and in order to register with them, you must complete an approved degree in dietetics.

Often, this degree is a BSc (Hons), although there are shortened postgraduate programmes for those who have already completed a first degree which is relevant to the industry.

Courses generally last up to four years – and providing you already have a degree in a life science subject, you might be able to take a postgraduate Diploma or Masters in dietetics.

A mixture of theory and practical work, courses tend to cover biochemistry, psychology, nutrition, physiology and communication skills. Practical training takes place in hospital and community settings and gives those who’d like to enter the profession an insightful glance into what life will be like in the role.

For an undergraduate degree, you’ll need to first pass two or three A levels, including chemistry, maths or biology, along with five GCSEs (grades A-C), to include English language and maths.

You might also decide to take any of the following routes into the industry:

  • BTEC, HND or HNC which includes science subjects
  • A relevant NVQ or a science-based access course
  • Equivalent level Scottish or Irish qualifications
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Successfully completed a programme approved by the HCPC? You’re now eligible to apply for registration with the HCPC – and once registered as a practitioner, you’ll be required to retain your name on the register by ensuring you keep your knowledge and skills up-to-date.

Dietician: The Next Steps

Dieticians enjoy great job satisfaction and take home an attractive salary, too – but what would be the next steps for anyone who’s spent some time in the industry?

You might opt to specialise in a specific area, like gastroenterology for example. Or you could choose to become a department manager or team leader. There’s a world of possibilities out there for those who’ve spent some years as a dietician. Now there’s some career-related food for thought…

Ready, steady…time for that career lift off we talked of earlier!

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