Career as a Dietitian

Getting a Job as a Dietitian

The good news is that once you've been accepted into a post-college, dietetic internship program, finding your first, second or third job in the real world may seem like a piece of cake.

After all, there are routinely twice as many dietetics graduates than there are internship spots each year in this country. Of course, having the internship experience only makes your full-time job application more attractive; future employers can see that you weren't among the large percentage of your peers (49% in 2013) who were already weeded out by a fierce process. As for that first professional stop in your career, here is everything you need to know, from the elements of your application and the interview questions you might be asked to what cities are in need of your services.

The Application

No employer or position is the same, but most in this field will want to see the following materials as part of your portfolio.

a resume or curriculum vitae that includes contact information, employment and education history, volunteer experience, awards and publications
a copy of a current state license
a copy of certification from the Commission on Dietetic Registration (CDR)
a copy of certifications from the Board for Certification of Nutrition Specialists (if applicable)
membership of a state or regional or special interest association
letters of reference from previous employers and colleagues
documentation of continuing education, any additional certificates or clinical training (clients seen, problems treated, et cetera)

The Interview

Once your portfolio has been pieced together, the next step is preparing for interview questions that you might encounter. We pulled the most salient questions asked of dietitian applicants, according to What would your answers be?

Tell me about one of your success stories.Pretend I am a new client. Counsel me.
How would you deal with a difficult patient?How comfortable are you doing a tube-feed?
How do you deal with multiple deadlines?Can you work with ICU patients?
How many patients are you used to seeing on an average day?

Job Boards for Dietitians

Unless a dietetic internship leads straight into a full-time position, aspiring dietitians must re-start their search for permanent employment after the conclusion of their internships. University career services departments and networking beyond campus can only help. But a good place to start the search is online.

Where to Be a Dietitian

Here at ValuePenguin, we have multiple definitions for the word "place." Where you work can refer to your environment, your city and your state. With that said, here are our best places for dietitians to live and work.

Areas of Practice

With or without further education, dietitians can specialize in one or more of the following practice groups: behavioral health, clinical nutrition, diabetes, integrative and functional medicine, nutrition education, oncology, pediatric, public health, renal, research, schools, sports and weight management, among many others.

Moreover, as the the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics’ 2013 Compensation and Benefits Survey of the Dietetics Profession tells us, 57% of working RDNs operate in the clinical setting, which involves patient care.

The Actual Workplace

About four in five dietitians work full-time, and 11% of them are self-employed. But where exactly do they work? Turns out that the majority work in the clinical healthcare setting.

"Volunteer throughout the school year and summer. The volunteer opportunities are endless. You could volunteer at hospitals -- I used to be a volunteer as a dietary aide in the food department of a hospital -- or in long-term care facilities, doctor’s offices, weight-loss clinics or even soup kitchens. Extra hands-on experience is a wonderful thing to attain when it comes to applying for your dietitian internship, which is a very competitive process. When it comes time to apply, be sure to attend the open houses to show your true dedication and interest."

Temi Dolenc, RDN (Radford University, 2011)

Best Cities

More literally, where should dietitians work? At ValuePenguin, we classify the best cities for professionals as those that score well in metrics that all dietitians care about: number of jobs, median salary, cost of living and location quotient. (That last data point measures the concentration of dietitians in an area as a percentage of all occupations, and then compares that to the national average.) Of the 256 cities reporting enough data, we ranked the top 100. We also asked a handful of dietitians about what it's like to work in their cities.

See Top 100 Cities for Dietitians

Best States

Look to the the Bureau of Labor Statistics' data for advisement on the state level. For every profession, the BLS breaks down the following.

States with Highest Dietitian Employment


States with Highest per Capita Employment


States with Highest Annual Average Salary


Q&A: Veteran RD Lisa Cimperman

Simply saying that Lisa Cimperman is a registered dietitian (RD) wouldn't be a fair description of her actual job. She's not just advising overweight patients on how to cut inches off their waistline. A lot of them are on a ventilator and need to be fed through an IV or a tube that goes through their nose down to their stomach," Cimperman told ValuePenguin. "And that’s the way I explain it to people, particularly without a healthcare background."

Cimperman, officially a clinical dietitian at University Hospitals Case Medical Center in Cleveland, also broke down for us the basics of her career while including the necessary context.

  • You've been in the same place for quite a while, no?

    While I’ve been here for 12 years, going on 13, I’ve actually had a number of different roles here at the hospital. So, when I first started, I worked in outpatient dietetics. Doing something like that, I have patients coming to see me in an office. Typically we were working on weight loss, diets for better heart health, diabetes, kidney failure, et cetera. In outpatient, the major component is educating clients and patients on improving their diet, and potentially improving their diets with an effort to control certain diseases states, like diabetes or renal failure. So I started out doing that. I actually have done some research as well here at the hospital. We did a study on probiotics, and then I transitioned to doing inpatient care, and I’ve covered a number of different medical, surgical floors at this hospital. Now I’ve ended up in this critical care realm, where I’ve been, for the past eight years.

  • Are those transitions natural for a dietician in your space, or did you want to vary your day-to-day from year to year?

    A little bit of both. The career of dietetics is nice in that there are so many different options available. It’s hard to get bored doing this job, because there are so many different areas you can use your skills in. For myself, I have personally always been open to new experiences. I’m the type of person who needs to have a challenge, and I’m always interested in trying new things, I never want my career to be stagnant. So to your point, some of these changes were simply just opportunities that came up and I took advantage of, and others were things that I actively pursued in an effort to advance my own career.

  • Now that you're a part of the critical care team, what is your average workday like?

    Typically, I’ll round up with the ICU team, and this allows me to interact with the physicians and others on the health care team who are also taking care of the patients. It allows me to have direct input into the patient’s care, and handle any problems or issues that may arise on the spot. Communication is really essential in the ICU. We’ve gone to, obviously, computer documentation, but it’s important to note that that face-to-face relationship with both physicians and patients is still the main way that health care should be practiced. Then the rest of my day is focused on seeing patients in the ICU, completing nutrition assessments and providing recommendations for nutrition support. I’m also involved, as I said, in caring for patients who are not in the ICU; they’re just on a regular floor. That may involve educating those patients on their homegoing diets.

  • Generally, are patients and their families amenable to your nutrition instruction?

    I certainly get different reactions to the recommendations that I provide. Overall,most patients are ready to accept the information I have to provide to them, but not everyone is ready to actually act on changing their diet. I am in kind of a unique position, because my patients may have just had open-heart surgery, and sometimes an event like that is really what it takes to motivate individuals to make big changes in their life. It’s that slap in the face that some people might need to actually make changes. With all that said, most people think that dieticians are the food police, and we’re really not. As I’m sure anyone who’s even considering a career in dietetics knows, we’re just really interested in helping individuals have the healthiest diet to live their lives to their fullest potential. And that includes dessert sometimes.

  • How has technology affected your daily routine with patients in recent years?

    I wouldn’t say that the care that I provide to patients has not changed, but certainly the way that I document things has changed significantly. So we went from paper documentation to computer documentation. I would say that in some cases, computer documentation can suck time away from that face-to-face contact. But I think that as we have become more adept at electronic documentation, and as we have adapted to it, I think that it hasn’t had a negative effect on our ability to provide that face-to-face care.

Read the full @VP_Careers Q&A here.

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