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Industry Spotlight: Dietitian Careers

nicsnutritionIf you are interested in nutrition and diet then a career as a Dietitian could be for you. Those working in dietetics specialise in interpreting nutrition science and helping patients to overcome health issues with healthy eating and lifestyle choices. But with so many areas to work in, what does a career as a Dietitian actually involve? And what kind of experience do you need on your CV to apply for jobs?

Jobulo talk to Nichola Whitehead, a Specialist Dietitian, to find out more about the job and to gain some CV advice.

Tell Us About Your Career Background

I worked in a variety of industries before I became a Dietitian. Before university I worked as a Waitress and during university I worked in a bar and I believe in jobs like that because they can really teach you a lot of people skills. Working before university helped me to learn how to deal with people, build confidence and I also learned a lot of transferable skills. During sixth form I knew I liked PE, sport and human biology so I then went to university to study Sport and Exercise Science. In my second year I went to see a careers advisor who asked me what I was interested in and nutrition has always been a keen interest of mine. I wanted to turn my passion into a job so during my second year at university I shadowed a Dietitian and then went on to gain a post graduate diploma in dietetics. I worked for Carnegie Weight Management (now More Life) as a lifestyle leader whilst studying and it was fantastic experience working with Professor Paul Gately – I think this really helped me to secure my first job! It fuelled my desire to work in the industry and I decided that I wanted to work for the NHS. There is a lot of career progression and opportunities within the NHS. I always thought hospitals were about sick people but once you work in the industry you know it’s about making people better, which is something I am really proud to be a a part of. I now specialise in Bariatrics, Diabesity & Maternal Obesity.

What is The Difference Between a Dietitian and a Nutritionist?

The title ‘Dietitian’ is regulated, meaning not everyone can call themselves one. The title ‘Nutritionist’ isn’t regulated however you can guarantee that registered Nutritionists have gone through an approved nutrition course. Dietitians can work as a Nutritionist but a Nutritionist can’t work as a Dietitian.

What Qualifications Are Needed to Become a Dietitian?

There are two routes you can go down to become a Dietitian. The first is a four year qualification in nutrition and dietetics or you can do a two year post graduate diploma – but you have to show certain modules in your previous degree like anatomy and biochemistry. The courses are very selective so one of the key tips I can give about going to university is to spend time shadowing someone in the industry. This will show you are passionate about the industry but also will help you to decide whether it’s the right career choice for you. I think a lot of people think nutrition can be glamorous because of the way it can be portrayed in the media, but it’s not always glamorous! Which is why gaining experience for yourself before you commit to it as a career is a good idea.

Are There a Variety of Fields You Can Work in within this Industry?

Yes. Gastroenterology (liver disease, coeliac disease, irritable bowel disease (IBD) etc.), Cancer, Stroke, as well as heart disease, metabolics, renal, weight management, bariatrics, diabetes, peadiatrics and general including IBS, healthy eating etc.

Where Can You Find a Job as a Dietitian?

As well as the NHS, you can work for a variety of organisations as soon as you have qualified. Some supermarkets hire Nutritionists as do repping companies. You can work in research and for companies who take part in road shows. You can work in education and teach seminars and lectures. And of course you can go freelance and build up your own client base.

What is an Average Day at Work Like?

Obviously it depends where you work and the days are quite varied. But a typical day for me could start with developing a new diet sheet for a patient. Then I may facilitate a two hour weight loss group session with patients in the community and go on to deliver an education session with a Diabetes Nurse. I could also be working in clinic or with a GP to discuss patient medication. It’s different most days.

What’s the Best Part of the Job?

Seeing people coming through a patient journey makes me really happy. I run 12 week groups with patients and my favourite week is week 12 because patient feedback is so rewarding. It can be amazing to see someone who started off fairly unhappy, become happy and be able to treat their condition with food and lifestyle changes. The entire aim of the job is to help people (not tell them) to make informed decisions and to see it work for people can give you a great sense of achievement.

What’s the Hardest Part of the Job?

Working with people who aren’t ready for change. Someone may be referred to me for weight loss advice but it may not be a priority for them so sometimes it can be difficult to translate dietary information.

If Someone Was Looking to Get Into This Industry, What Career Advice Would You Give Them?

I would say contact your local hospital and try to spend a day shadowing to find out more about the job. Then if you feel you want to pursue it as a career, contact your university and ask what credentials they need. Then you can work towards gaining entry into education and completing your qualifications. I also think gaining work experience in any job is essential because it shows you have commitment and that you are reliable. Any kind of experience, whether it’s voluntary or paid, is good to add to your CV.

In Your Opinion, What Makes a CV Stand Out When Applying for a Job in this Industry?

I think extras on your CV can be really crucial. I took an evening course at college to gain an extra qualification in teaching to show that I am willing to take part in patient education so I think showing you have multiple layers can be good. I also think it’s crucial to keep an eye on the industry, sign up to journals and to know what’s going on in other countries. Staying ahead of the game is important when it comes to applying for jobs. But even if you have a hot CV, the job interview stage is crucial so working on your interview skills is important. If you apply for a job, ensure you read the job application and if they ask you to complete something specific ensure you prepare for it. I think you need to be persistent in most industries and that is certainly true for this one. I had to apply for my job a few times before I was offered it so don’t feel disheartened if you don’t get the first job you apply for – keep trying and if you want something just go for it!

For more information about becoming a Dietitian, check out Nic’s website: Nics Nutrition and follow on twitter:@nicsnutrition