Dietician/nutritionist

Dieticians promote a healthy lifestyle in their clients and treat medical conditions by providing impartial nutritional advice and devising eating plans based on the science of nutrition.

They are health professionals qualified to provide practical information to promote healthy eating and help in the treatment of disease. Dieticians 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. They apply knowledge of food, nutrition and other related disciplines such as biochemistry, physiology and social science to promote health, prevent disease and aid in the management of illness.

Dieticians can find employment in areas such as research and education, sports, private practice, policy development, advocacy and the media. However their main employment areas are in hospitals, working in collaboration with doctors, in doctor surgeries and community centres, or within business and industry, working directly with food manufacturers and pharmaceutical companies.

Job description

Work activities

  • Engaging with patients and assessing their needs.
  • Developing diets that patients are able to adopt into their daily lives.
  • Determining appropriate dietary modifications needed to promote health or treat disease and formulate an appropriate treatment plan.
  • Treating patients whose symptoms are triggered or increased by eating particular foods.
  • Working with local community groups to encourage healthy eating, and to improve cooking skills, taking account of different cultural and social attitudes to food and drink.
  • Supporting people who are unable to eat after major surgery or serious injury to ensure they continue to receive the nutrition they need.
  • Helping athletes achieve their sporting goals through good nutritional practices.
  • Maintaining and advancing professional knowledge and keeping up with technical and clinical progress in order to offer clients the best treatment available.
  • Formulating practical dietetics advice and resources by interpreting, translating and evaluating relevant information from a variety of sources.

Work conditions

Travel: can be a regular during the working day especially if working in a community setting.
Working hours: mainly office hours Monday–Friday.
Location: mainly in large towns or cities throughout the country.
Opportunities for self-employment: increasingly more likely as opportunities to do freelance work exists.

Typical employers

  • Public and private hospitals
  • Local clinics and health centres
  • Residential and day care homes
  • Children’s services
  • Prisons
  • Manufacturing industries.

Career development

As clinical experience grows, so too do opportunities to move into more senior posts and to specialise in a particular area such as: diabetes, children’s health, cancer or surgery. Those interested in management may be interested in supervising the planning and preparation of meals in hospitals, prisons, schools, and work based cafeterias. In addition to developing menus, they are also involved in the hiring and training of staff and offer expert advice in budgeting and planning healthy meals, food safety management systems such as HACCP (Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point).

As well as the traditional hospital-based career path, a smaller number of dieticians are employed by food manufacturers, while others move into research and teaching.

Salaries

Republic of Ireland: Starting salaries are in excess of €37,000 for dieticians; the grading structure sees the individual’s salary increase as they move up the profession.

UK: Your career as a dietician would typically start at Agenda for Change Band 5. Specialist and managerial Allied Health Professional roles would attract higher bandings.

Entry requirements and training

Entry requirements

Republic of Ireland: Dietician/clinical nutritionist is one of the 12 designated professionals to be regulated by the Health and Social Care Professionals Council. Once the register is fully established for a profession, only professionals registered with the relevant Registration Board may use the protected professional title.
Northern Ireland: In order to practice in the UK as a dietician, you must be registered with the Health Professions Council. For more information visit: www.hpc-uk.org.

Specific degree subjects required

The following courses are the only undergraduate courses in Ireland that provide a qualification allowing individuals to practice as dieticians. Both Human Nutrition and Dietetics courses are also recognised by the HPC (Health Professionals Council) in the UK.

BSc Human Nutrition and Dietetics
This is a conjoint course between University of Dublin, Trinity College, and the Dublin Institute of Technology.

BSc Hons Dietetics
This course is available in the University of Ulster and is accredited by the Health Professions Council.

Postgraduate study

A pre-entry postgraduate qualification is not a requirement for those holding professionally validated undergraduate degrees.

A small number UK universities including UU, provide accelerated courses at postgraduate level for honours degree graduates who have completed a course which contains an acceptable level of Human Physiology and Biochemistry, enabling them to train to become dieticians; successful completion of which leads to eligibility for registration with the Health Professions Council (HPC).

For practising dieticians opportunities for continuing professional development not only exist but are essential.

Specific entry requirements

Before starting postgraduate dietician courses, students will often be required to undergo police vetting, and will have to provide evidence of having received immunisation against Hepatitis B, BCG, Varicella (Chickenpox), Measles Mumps and Rubella (MMR).

Further, many universities will require you to take the Health Professions Admission Test (HPAT-Ulster); a professionally designed and marked selection test developed to assess aptitude for study in the Allied Health Professions.

Tips for applications

Do your research – talk to a dietician to improve your understanding of the profession.

Skills and qualities

  • Understanding of the nutritional value of food.
  • Awareness of how diet affects health.
  • Strong scientific interest (biology, anatomy and physiology).
  • Evaluation, analysis and decision-making skills.
  • Excellent attention to detail.
  • Initiative and independence and the ability to manage time and resources effectively when undertaking tasks and problem-solving in professional practice.
  • excellent IT and internet research skills.
  • Excellent communication and interpersonal skills, and the ability to translate complex scientific research into plain English, imparting practical health advice to the patient.
  • Patience, tact and empathy to people’s psychological and physical needs.
  • Ability to make decisions quickly and independently as well as work in co-operation with others.
  • Responsible, professional approach, respecting client confidentiality.