Nutrition Education in the Community
Assistant Clinical Professor of Nutrition Katie Ferraro, MPH, RD, CDE, explores a variety of industries in which prospective nutrition and dietetics professionals can find rewarding careers.
As a Registered Dietitian and nutrition educator, I get lots of questions from students, but none more than, “What kind of jobs are available in the field of nutrition?” From a big picture standpoint, there is no shortage of opportunity or need for individuals to enter the profession of nutrition and dietetics. Whether they choose to work as educators, practitioners, researchers, or policy makers, the fact that all humans need to eat – and that our food and beverage choices ultimately drive health outcomes – provides a vast array of prospects for enacting improvements and implementing change in the field.
Giving Credit to Nutrition Credentials
The most widely recognized nutrition credential in the United States is the Registered Dietitian (RD) or Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN) credential (RD and RDN can be used interchangeably). Obtaining the RD/RDN credential requires completion of an undergraduate degree from an accredited institution, completion of a 1,200 hour supervised practice dietetic internship from an accredited institution, passage of a national exam and maintenance of at least 75 hours of continuing professional education every 5 year cycle.
Where do Nutrition Professionals Work?
Most professionals in nutrition work in the healthcare setting. Many go into the profession with a desire to help others make positive food choices that can help prevent, manage, or in some cases even cure maladies. The opportunities in the clinical setting may be in the acute, inpatient care side, intensive care unit or in an outpatient setting providing individual nutrition or group counseling on diet and nutrition. Other professionals work in long-term care facilities (nursing homes) or adult day health care centers.
In addition to the healthcare setting, there are many other opportunities for employment in the field of nutrition. This can include the arena of sports nutrition, working with athletes to maximize performance through optional diet. Still others work with college and universities, research or university settings, food and nutrition-relatedbusinesses, doing online nutrition coaching, in private practice or corporate wellness.
If food is more your area of interest versus working directly with people, there are many opportunities in foodservice management.
If food is more your area of interest versus working directly with people, there are many opportunities in foodservice management. Hotels, restaurants, stadiums, school campuses – they all need someone to direct the foodservice program. And being a director of a foodservice program increasingly means that you have to have a solid understanding of nutrition. With the changing landscape of dietary guidelines for foods likes trans fats and sodium, or mandatory posting of calorie counts and other nutrition information on menu boards, foodservice managers need a strong background in nutrition science.
Community and Public Health Nutrition Settings
There are many opportunities for individuals who want to work in the community or public health setting who may not have the RD/RDN credential. Jobs exist in the U.S. Public Health Service (USPHS) Commissioned Corps, the USDA’s Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly known as Food Stamps), public health offices or community clinics. Work in these environments may range from individual counseling to programming, education, and the development of resources for communities.
International Nutrition Work
While there is much work in nutrition to be done at home, there are also many opportunities to work in nutrition abroad. Nutrition professionals can work overseas in development work, being employed in emergency nutrition programs, providing food and support for underserved areas ravaged by famine, natural disaster or disease, or displaced due to geopolitical strife. International agencies such as the World Health Organization (WHO), World Food Programme (WFP), or the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) have temporary and long-term employment options for internationally minded individuals. Some nutrition professionals from the United States may get their start in the development sector by serving as Peace Corps Volunteers. The Peace Corps sends American volunteers for two-year service periods to “tackle the most pressing needs of people around the world.” Many of the underlying problems with healthcare in the developing world can be traced back to malnutrition, and as such, the need for nutrition and health workers in these settings is essential.
With regards to place of employment, the 2013 Compensation and Benefits Survey of the Dietetics Profession indicated that 7 percent of practitioners are self-employed, 30 percent work at a for-profit firm, 38 percent work at a nonprofit organization and 19 percent work for the government. When it comes to RD/RDNs, the most common work environment is an inpatient acute care facility (hospital) with 24 percent of respondents employed there. Twelve percent are employed in an ambulatory or outpatient care facility like a clinic or doctor’s office. This is followed by employment in long-term care, extended care, or assisted living facilities such as a nursing home, at 10 percent. Combined, these top three employment settings encompass almost half of all practicing RDNs.
No matter where you decide you may want to end up working in nutrition, it’s always a good idea to get a general idea of a field by taking an introductory course in that subject matter. Look for an Elementary Nutrition or Introduction to Nutrition Science course that will introduce you to the core elements of the science as well as possible job opportunities. Another great resource for prospective nutrition professionals is the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics website, available at: http://www.eatright.org. Here you can learn all about the profession, requirements for entry level jobs and get some more perspective into the wonderful world of nutrition!