How To Become a Dietitian (With Job Duties, Skills and FAQs)

Updated 28 June 2023

A dietitian stands with a client, and a pile of vegetables sits between them.

Dietitians are trained health care professionals who use their expertise to assess, diagnose and treat nutritional and diet-related health problems. They work to raise awareness of the link between diet and health, both at an individual and broader societal level. If you're interested in the science behind food and looking for a rewarding career where you can make a difference in people's lives, you might consider becoming a dietitian. In this article, we explain how to become a dietitian, discuss the skills needed for the role and answer some dietitian FAQs.

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How to become a dietitian

Dietitians are highly skilled at diagnosing and treating diet-related conditions and helping people with other health provisions to manage their diet. Dietitians have an in-depth knowledge of various health issues and the possible effects of certain foods. This means that you may need a postgraduate degree and clinical experience to work as a dietitian. The following steps can help you learn how to become a dietitian:

1. Complete a Bachelor of Nutrition and Dietetics

Try to enrol in a Bachelor of Nutrition and Dietetics course accredited by Dietitians Australia. Bachelor's degrees usually take four years to complete and can equip you with the basic foundations of knowledge for a career in nutrition or dietetics. Often, students have the opportunity to do a work placement as part of their studies to begin building their professional experience.

2. Complete a postgraduate Master of Dietetics

A Master of Dietetics usually takes two years to complete. If you already have a bachelor's degree in science or nutrition and dietetics, you may be able to get a place on a master's program through your existing credits. A master's program can build on the knowledge of nutrition and diet you learned during your undergraduate study and prepare you for working as a professional in the field.

3. Complete a one-year supervised Provisional Program

The program allows you to work under the supervision of a qualified dietitian for at least a year. Once you have completed the provisional period, you can receive Accredited Practicing Dietitian (APD) accreditation from the Dietitians Association of Australia (DAA). The DAA is the only body able to certify dietitians located in Australia.

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4. Complete the necessary CPD every year as you practice

As a practising dietitian, you may need to complete at least 30 hours of continued professional development (CPD) each year to retain your accreditation. This allows dietitians to continue learning throughout their careers. It also ensures they keep up to date with the latest research and changes in the field to offer the best possible care to their patients.

What do dietitians do?

A dietitian's work may vary depending on their specialism and where they work. Common responsibilities of a dietician include:

  • educating and advising patients with a wide range of complex medical conditions on how food and diet could affect their health

  • supporting patients with nutrition-related health problems and giving practical advice on how they could improve their health through lifestyle changes

  • planning diets and meal plans for individual patients, and providing information on the functional requirements of a diet

  • collecting, organising and analysing health data from individual patients or groups of people

  • planning and carrying out regular nutrition assessments for patients and monitoring food intake and related health outcomes

  • consulting with other health professionals to supplement medical treatments with diet plans

  • conducting research into nutrition, food and health as it relates to cultural and ethnic communities

  • generating and contributing to educational literature on health education for various groups

What skills do dietitians need?

Dietitians use a thorough knowledge of various medical conditions and how they can be affected by diet. Successful dietitians also have the following skills:

  • team-working skills to work effectively with other medical practitioners and combine diet with other medical care

  • strong interpersonal skills to forge trusting and productive relationships with patients

  • the ability to explain complex scientific ideas simply and clearly

  • the ability to prioritise work and manage a complex caseload

  • time-management skills and the ability to work well under pressure

  • IT skills for inputting and accessing patients' files

  • understanding, tact and empathy, for working with patients who may be in pain, upset or worried

  • logic, reasoning and critical thinking skills to effectively diagnose patients who may present with multiple or complex health conditions

  • problem-solving skills for finding the most appropriate treatments and diet plans for patients

  • strong written and verbal communication skills for talking to patients, other health care practitioners and other professionals

Related: Problem-Solving Skills: Definitions and Examples

Dietitian FAQs

Here are the answers to some common questions about working as a dietitian to help you decide if it's the right career choice for you:

How much does a dietician make?

The national average salary for a dietitian is $79,459 per year. How much you can earn as a dietitian might depend on your experience level or where you live. For example, dietitians in South Australia make an average salary of $88,725 per year, and in the Northern Territory, the average is $92,915 per year.

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Where does a dietitian work?

Dietitians often work in public and private hospitals, community health centres and larger multidisciplinary health practices. They may also work at private dietetic practices. Some dietitians work in fitness centres and for sports organisations, where they may specialise in helping athletes manage their diet in a way that maximises their performance. Specialist dietitians may work in aged care, mental health and disability facilities.

In addition to working in direct patient care, dietitians work across a range of government and non-government organisations and bodies to contribute to public health, food standards and policy.

What are a dietitian's working conditions like?

Working as a dietitian can be a very rewarding career. You can directly contribute to helping people better manage their health conditions, either on an individual, community or societal level. Dietitians usually work in hospitals or other clinical settings, usually in a private consultation room. They tend to work full-time, standard office hours. Dietitians may sometimes deliver unpleasant news to patients or help patients who are feeling upset or vulnerable.

What kinds of patients do dietitians work with?

Dietitians work with a range of patients to advise them on the lifestyle choices they can make to improve their health outcomes and manage their medical conditions. This can include patients with diabetes, cancer, heart disease, renal disease, food allergies and gastrointestinal diseases. Dietitians provide specialised advice and care for each patient, depending on their specific needs.

What is the difference between a dietitian and a nutritionist?

Dietitians and nutritionists may perform similar roles, but they are not interchangeable terms. The main difference between the two is one of education level. Dietitians usually hold a Master of Dietetics and meet specific eligibility criteria to receive their APD accreditation. Conversely, a nutritionist is a general term for anyone who works in the field of nutrition. The definition applies to dietitians, but all nutritionists are certified dietitians. A nutritionist may refer to someone with minimal qualifications in the field.

Another possible difference is that dietitians tend to either work with patients who have nutrition-related illnesses, or help patients with other medical conditions use their diet to manage their health. Nutritionists tend to work with healthy people to provide diet advice and promote healthy eating habits.

Can I become a dietitian without a degree?

To be accredited as a dietitian, you may need to hold a Master of Dietetics and at least a year's supervised Provisional Program. This means that you cannot usually become a dietitian without a degree. However, you may be able to get into similar roles, such as nutritionist or nutritional therapist, without the same level of education.

What professional development is available to a dietitian?

There are several different ways that a dietitian can advance as they progress through their career. For example, if you work at a large hospital, there may be opportunities to take on team leader or management roles in addition to your clinical duties. Although an accredited dietitian can treat most conditions, it's also possible for a dietitian to specialise. Usually, this means specialising in a particular group's dietary and nutritional needs, such as the elderly or those with specific health conditions. Dietitians who choose to specialise may complete extensive further study in their chosen specialism.

Some dietitians also choose to move away from clinical work and use their skills to work in fields such as sales, market research and marketing for food brands, food technology or health promotion.

Salary figures reflect data listed on Indeed Salaries at time of writing. Salaries may vary depending on the hiring organisation and a candidate's experience, academic background and location. Please note that none of the companies mentioned in this article are affiliated with Indeed.

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