Career Profile: Dietitian
Cooking a good, balanced meal can be complicated. Some types of food taste good, but they have too much fat or sugar to be healthy, or they contain something else that is bad for people. Planning a nutritious meal can be complicated even more by all of the choices that are available to people. How can anyone know what they should eat? Dietitians can help.
Most people know the basics of nutrition and can plan a reasonably healthy meal. They know, for example, that vegetables are healthy but that ice cream is not. However, what happens when people have trouble eating or need a special diet? Dietitians can help people like that to know what they can eat without harming themselves.
Suppose that a patient in a hospital needed to lose weight before having surgery. A dietitian could help the patient find out what and how much to eat. Dietitians often work in hospitals, clinics, nursing homes and doctors’ offices. They might also work in schools, daycare centres and other places where people need help in finding the right food to eat.
Working as a dietician usually involves working with other people, although parts of the job are solitary. If you work in a hospital, for example, you might start by talking with the patients, their families and the doctors to learn as much as you can before starting on research.
You need to know about allergies, food preferences and restrictions, and anything else that might affect the patients’ ability to follow the diet. Patients who dislike oranges, for example, are unlikely to stay with a diet long if it includes a lot of the fruit. In that case, the dietitian will have to find creative ways of giving patients the nutrition they need.
Besides all of the other knowledge that dietitians need to have, they should also know a lot about how to cook. They might never actually have to prepare meals for the people they are helping, but they should have an idea of what kinds of food work together and how to use foods in unexpected ways. They might need to teach people about how to cook healthy meals, and they should know as much as possible about the best techniques for making food taste good while still keeping as much of the nutrition as possible.
Working with so many different people and diets usually requires knowledge of foods and their benefits. Most dietitians require at least a bachelor’s degree in an area related to food systems management or dietetics. Normally, that takes about four years at a university or college. In many areas of Canada, dietitians also need official government certification to be able to work.
Job prospects for dietitians are limited, but they are likely to improve in the next few years. Depending on where they work, dietitians might earn about $55,000 per year, but that can change with experience and other factors. If you love food and enjoy helping people, the job of dietitian might be right for you.