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Dietitians

 

Would you like to know more about what it’s like to have a career as a dietitian? Watch this video with Professor Kevin Whelan, a dietitian and professor of dietetics, to discover what it’s like to work in this area.

What do dietitians do?

“Dietitians are the only qualified health professionals that assess, diagnose and treat diet and nutrition problems at an individual and wider public health level.

Uniquely, dietitians use the most up-to-date public health and scientific research on food, health and disease, which they translate into practical guidance to enable people to make appropriate lifestyle and food choices.” British Dietetic Association

Dietitians work alongside other healthcare professionals in a wide range of different settings, including hospitals, community settings, schools or policy advisory positions. In all their roles, they aim to improve people’s health through assessing, modifying and monitoring their diet.

The role of a dietitian in a hospital is very varied, but some typical responsibilities might include:

  • Visiting patients on different wards to assess their nutritional status using techniques such as measuring their body weight, muscle mass, looking at blood results and interviewing them.
  • Comparing the results to their calculated requirements to see what needs modifying in their diet.
  • Reviewing patients they had seen previously to assess whether their health has improved. This includes checking frequently on patients who are being fed through artificial feeding tubes into their stomach or veins.
  • Advising doctors and nurses and other health professionals on the best nutrition management strategies for their patients.

What’s most exciting about the role of the dietitian is that it’s so varied. You not only have to understand biomedical science but also human behaviour – why people choose to eat what they’re eating.'

Professor Kevin Whelan, Dietitian, King’s College London

Qualifications 

There are two main ways to qualify as a dietitian. After studying biology and chemistry at school – or in an Access or Foundation course at college – you can study a four-year university degree (Nutrition & Dietetics BSc).

Alternatively, if you already have an undergraduate degree in a science discipline involving biochemistry, physiology or nutrition, you can study a postgraduate diploma or master’s degree (Dietetics MSc, PG Dip).

Either route will make you eligible to apply for registration with the Health and Care Professions Council as a Registered Dietitian.

Dietitians need to have a critical understanding of biomedical sciences and nutritional science. They also need to have a good understanding of food, so dietetics students are often “foodies” or people who enjoy healthy cooking at home. They also need to be excellent communicators and caring people who want to make sure their dietary interventions improve their patients’ quality of life.

Career opportunities

As a dietitian working in a hospital you would normally start by seeing a variety of patients with conditions such diabetes, high cholesterol levels or obesity. As you progress in your career, you may choose to specialise in a particular area, such as paediatrics, gastroenterology, stroke or complex metabolic disorders.

If you don’t want to work in a hospital, you can work in a variety of different environments to promote health, such as local councils, charities or in universities, participating in education and research.

Top tip

Visit the website of the British Dietetic Association, which is the national body to promote the science and practice of dietetics. Here you’ll find lots of useful information about the role of dietitians as well as advice on how to get started.

You could also try familiarising yourself with some of the government campaigns to promote healthy eating, such as the Five a Day campaign or Change for Life. This will give you an idea of some of the benefits of healthy eating promoted by dietitians to see whether this is something you could be passionate about.

Find out more

 


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