I am a student majoring in dietetics and have never talked to a dietitian.

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HI, I am a student and I am majoring in dietetics. We are supposed to do this interview assignment. It isn’t for a job, but just for the information. If you have time, I would greatly appreciate it if you could answer the following questions. Basically, I want to find out if this is a job I would really be interested in. I have never talked to an actual dietitian, but I am really interested in food and helping people be more healthy.

  1. What kind of education and training did you receive? Which certifications and licenses?
  2. What is your field of interest and in that field, which qualifications are need?
  3. What is the company, organization, agency, or institute are you employed with?
  4. What kind of on the job training did you receive? What are some of the responsibilities of your position? What is the salary range for the field?
  5. Do you have opportunities for advancement? Are you involved in any current training or advanced degree work? What former work experiences have you had related to this position?
  6. What are your professional responsibilities? What personal and professional qualities are needed for this position?
  7. Has your personal life been affected by the profession?
  8. What work experiences and classes should I pursue while I am in school preparing to be a dietitian?

Thank you very much for taking your time to read through and answer my questions.

With great appreciation.

I would highly recommend that before you spend your time and money educating yourself for a career, talk to dietitians about their jobs. Ask them about a typical day, what they like/dislike about their jobs, how they got their job, etc. Does this describe a job that you would like? Also, check out the salary survey of the Academy members, which was published in August 2001. You should find it in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. After you read the survey ask yourself does this meet your salary expectations?

Here are some dietitian salaries from 2013 compensation and benefits survey:

Area of Practice Median Salary
Clinical Dietitian $60,008
Food and Nutrition Management $60,798
Community Nutrition $45,490
Consultation and Business $52,000
Education and Research $50,024
Dietetic Technician $40,000

 

My Bachelor’s degree is in Dietetics with a minor in Chemistry from the University of Northern Colorado in Greeley. My Master’s degree is in Nutrition with a minor in counseling and guidance from North Dakota State University in Fargo. I am registered with the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and licensed in Minnesota. I did not do an internship, but completed practical experience during graduate school instead. I worked one year as a student dietitian at the University of Illinois Research Hospital in Chicago between my bachelor’s and master’s degrees.

My passion has been clinical practice, but I also loved forming a nutritional support service (intensive care nutrition with oral or tube feedings or IV formulas) in a community hospital. So you would call me a generalist rather than specializing in say diabetes or pediatrics. I was the only clinical dietitian in a 173-bed hospital with an attached 125-bed long-term care facility (nursing home) so I worked with every type of patient and diet.

Dietitian qualifications are a 4-year degree in dietetics or nutrition with a 9 to 12-month internship or completion of a coordinated undergraduate program that combines classroom and clinical experience.

I am the president of a corporation whose mission is using computer technology and the Internet to deliver nutrition information, data, and software. During the course of my professional career, I have worked as a clinical dietitian in a hospital and long-term care, outpatient medical clinic, consultant to an anorexia/bulimia (eating disorders) program at a mental health center, taught at the University of Minnesota, Duluth and 2 dietetic technician programs in Minneapolis before designing software for a CDROM publisher and starting my consulting corporation.

Funny thing is I got into jobs that were over my head, but I usually learned valuable new skills. In the traditional jobs, I have had in dietetics (hospital, long-term care, outpatient medical and mental health clinics), I learned from doctors, nurses, and patients as well as continuing education (CE) programs on every aspect of medical nutrition therapy. Continuing education programs taught me the practical applications or provided me with information about new research that I could incorporate into my practice. Prior to teaching at the University and diet tech programs, I didn’t have any training to “teach” however, teaching a diet to one patient is similar to teaching 170 students. Prior to designing software, I knew PC word processing and that was it. I have learned a lot about designing software and computer technology from programmers and database developers as well as reading computer magazines and manuals. FYI, I have never taken a computer course and learned what I know on the job, reading software manuals and just working for technology companies.

However, to design databases or publish websites, you don’t need any formal training or education or a degree. You can learn what you need from reading software manuals, looking at what other people do on the Internet and doing it yourself. Unfortunately, this pays much more than dietetics.

My hospital and clinical responsibilities covered nutritional assessment and support, anthropometrics (skinfold measurements with a caliper) and using diet to treat diseases or maintain health. Teaching responsibilities covered teaching over 500 students per year and every nutrition class offered at UMD. In the diet tech programs, I was the program director for about 20 students at each school where I taught nutrition and foods classes as well as supervised hospital experience rotations for students. Software design responsibilities included designing algorithms based on nutrition practice that make nutrient analysis software programs work correctly, testing the software to make sure it worked correctly, identifying nutrient databases and designing databases for brand-name food nutrient data as well as working at trade shows to sell the software. I have managed database development, which includes not only finding data to store but designing the database information to produce meaningful reports people need. Internet publishing includes writing the content you see here, writing the HTML code and marketing the site to generate income. I also designed the Healthy Body Calculator on this website but hired a programmer to write the code that makes the calculator work. With my corporation, I can do whatever I envision.

As to salary, check out the salary survey above. Teaching jobs vary in salary ranges depending on whether or not the staff is unionized and can mean overworked and underpaid at large universities unless you do research as a Ph.D. Consulting can range from $50+ per hour depending on your skills and area of the country. Most companies contact me because of my computer/database skills and I know nutrition. Remember though that with consulting, you continually have to market for clients whereas, in a staff position, your employer assigns you the work to be performed and finds new work for you to do. Consultants also have to pay all their own expenses including health insurance. So if you decide to go into consulting, charge two to three times what you need per hour.

Since I am president, I can go as far as my vision, energy, and enthusiasm take me, but I have to focus all 3 on products that are profitable or have the potential for profit.

I continually take continuing education classes at state and national meetings like the Academy, but I don’t think I will get any more degrees. Are you aware that when you become a registered dietitian, you have to take 75 credit hours every 5 years? What that means is for every 1 hour spent in an educational program, you get 1 credit. This is unlike college classes where you get 3 credits for attending a class 3 hours a week for 12 – 16 weeks.

Since 1989, on the job computer training and work experiences have amassed to what I know today. When I need to know more about a particular topic or skill I ask people I know (aka networking) especially programmers, buy books or magazines about the topic and just sit down at a computer to learn what I need to know. I surfed the World Wide Web in March 1995 and by July had launched the first Ask the Dietitian web site. My #1 criteria for any job is to have fun while I provide services or products that enhance people’s health.

Don’t exactly know what you mean by profession responsibilities? Please explain.

If I consider my current position, I need the patience to identify problems, logic to figure out solutions and creativity to think of possibilities for new products. I am a visionary who sees probable solutions and the confidence to take risks in spite of the risk of failure.

Unfortunately, I spend too much time working on computers and because of that don’t get as much exercise as I did at jobs where I walked around. So I now schedule exercise outside my work.

My family has been fortunate to have a dietitian who is also a good cook and serves healthy food. The proof of that is my children will eat anything including spinach, asparagus and they are willing to try unfamiliar foods.

I would first highly recommend that you talk to some dietitians who are doing what you think you would like to do. Then ask one of them to mentor you. Get a job in healthcare during college to see if you like the work. Don’t spend 4 years of your life educating yourself for something you find you don’t like or doesn’t meet your salary expectations. Your coursework probably follows the educational guidelines from the Academy for approved dietetic programs. In spite of this take outside courses in subjects that you would like to explore. The future definitely includes computer technology, complementary and alternative medicine – find out how it fits with health and wellness. Take some business and marketing courses as you will probably change careers at least 8 times during your work life. Read newspapers, magazines and watch TV to see what aspect of nutrition the public is interested in, then educate yourself about it because they will seek you as the nutrition expert.

Good luck and remember to have fun with your career.