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Dietetics: area of practice

Dietitians raise awareness of the importance of diet and nutrition and provide advice to help people with conditions such as food allergies and diabetes.

Graduate dietitians are highly trained healthcare professionals who are experts in the field of diet and nutrition. A dietitian’s work will depend entirely on the needs of their patient but could include:

  • advising on weight management
  • manipulating diet
  • devising a feeding regime if a patient is unable to meet their nutritional needs orally.

This could be due to difficulty swallowing following a stroke or operation, because of food allergies or following a diagnosis of a condition such as diabetes. An acute services dietitian working in a hospital will cover a range of wards as well as outpatient clinics.

As their career progresses and they develop specific knowledge and skills, they will often specialise in a particular area such as paediatrics, oncology or gastroenterology. They often work in hospitals or community-based health teams but there are also opportunities to work in:

  • sports nutrition
  • the food and pharmaceutical industry
  • the media
  • in research
  • government advisory roles
  • on a freelance basis

Dietitians working in the community often focus on health promotion and preventable conditions such as diabetes, obesity and heart disease. Everything a dietitian does is focused around communication, whether trying to change someone’s behaviour or educating patients and the wider healthcare team about the importance of good nutrition.

Working hours are generally good. A nine-to-five working week is the norm, although there may be Saturday clinics to run once in a while and some hospitals will have a dietitian on call at weekends. Hospital-based dietitians will spend most of their time with patients on the wards or running clinics but there will be some paperwork to complete as well as handouts and presentation material to prepare for education sessions.

Skills you'll require

A good understanding of how the body works is essential but dietitians will also need to be excellent communicators with the ability to explain complex things simply, as a lot of the job involves interacting with and educating patients and other healthcare professionals.

Dietitians need to be problem solvers who are able to take into account a patient’s particular needs in order to deliver a treatment plan that will suit the patient and their lifestyle. Other qualities necessary for the role are a responsible, caring and professional attitude and an interest in the importance of diet and food.

Starting out after graduation

In order to work as a dietician in the UK you must complete a BSc, an MSc or a PgDip in dietetics or human nutrition and dietetics. The course should be approved by the Health & Care Professions Council (HCPC), and may also be accredited by the British Dietetic Association.

New starters often decide to join the NHS once they have fully qualified to develop their clinical knowledge. They will be given their own caseload of patients but support is in place in the form of clinical supervision and access to more senior members of the team, who can be approached for support and advice or to discuss a particular case.