Dietitians are health professionals who assist in improving the health of individuals, groups and communities through application of the science of human nutrition.
Dietitians use their expertise in nutrition to promote and improve health and to assist in the prevention and treatment of diseases in individuals and communities.
Typical roles undertaken by a Dietitian include:
- assessing the nutritional needs of individuals and also specific groups of people
- planning appropriate diets and menus to meet the nutritional needs of individuals or specific population groups
- counselling and educating clients on appropriate diets, planning menus and supervising the preparation of food to treat specific diseases and/or to enhance and maintain optimum health
- working collaboratively with medical practitioners, other health professionals and food service providers to ensure that the nutritional needs of individuals and specific groups are met
- planning, evaluating and conducting nutrition intervention/education programs for vulnerable groups to ensure the nutritional needs of different groups are met
- leading and participating in preventative health programs
- developing and implementing food and nutrition policies for government, industry, health institutions and other organisations
- developing resource materials for patients/clients, health professionals, the community, schools and the food industry
- advising the food industry on product development and marketing strategies and providing food and nutrition information to the public
- conducting and evaluating dietary studies and other food and nutrition-related research
- acting as consultants to provide food service/menu assessments, nutrition education, training and counselling, and research support to hospitals, nursing homes and other institutions
Dietitians are health professionals specialising in food and nutrition who have received clinical training to prescribe special diets for medical conditions. Dietitians hold qualifications that allow them to work in the hospital, community or private practice setting. These qualifications generally consist of a three year science degree followed by an 18 month - 2 year Masters degree in nutrition and dietetics or a 4 year undergraduate program with a significant workplace placement in the final year.
All dietitians can call themselves nutritionists if they choose as they have university qualifications in nutrition; however, not all nutritionists could be considered to be dietitians. A dietitian in addition to, or as part of their qualification in human nutrition has undertaken a course of study that included substantial theory and supervised and assessed professional dietetic practice in clinical practice (hospital based), food service management and community nutrition.
Dietitians are eligible for membership of the Dietitians Association of Australia (DAA) and to participate in the Accredited Practising Dietitians (APD) and/or Accredited Nutritionist (AN) program. The titles APD and AN are protected by law. Only qualified practitioners who have met certain requirements can use this title. Please refer to the DAA website for further details on the APD and AN program.
Nutritionists design, coordinate, implement and evaluate a range of population health interventions to improve the wellbeing of individuals, communities and the population as a whole through better food and nutrition.
There are a diverse range of qualifications that can lead to people calling themselves a nutritionist. A nutritionist may have a Bachelor-level degree with majors in nutrition or a postgraduate degree such as Graduate Certificate, Graduate Diploma, Masters Degree or even a PhD specialising in nutrition.
Some people call themselves nutritionists even though they do not have suitable qualifications as there is no legal protection of the title 'nutritionist'. Voluntary registration systems do exist through the Nutrition Society of Australia (NSA) and this will help support the profession and its development into the future.
An Accredited Practising Dietitian (APD) is a trademark protected title developed by the Dietitians Association of Australia (DAA) as a way of recognising professionals who have the qualifications and expertise to provide expert nutrition and dietary advice.
APD's need to meet detailed criteria developed by the Dietitions Association of Australia. These include completion of an accredited dietetics degree, ongoing education to keep up to date with advances in health and food sciences, and a commitment to a Code of Professional Conduct. All APDs can be identified by the APD title and logo, and are listed on a national APD register.
As a general rule, hospitals seek to employ dietitians with APD status. Many dietitians choose to work in non-clinical areas where it is often not essential to have APD status, however maintaining APD status indicates a commitment to participating in ongoing professional development and keeping up to date with current nutrition and health evidence.
To be eligible for consideration for entry into the Master of Dietetics, applicants must hold a three year Bachelor degree or equivalent in a relevant cognate area (for example: science, health sciences, nutrition, food science, exercise science, biomedical science, allied health or nursing) and have successfully completed one full year of study of biochemistry and one full year of dedicated study in human physiology.
Furthermore, applicants are required to have completed at least 4 units (equivalent to 4 Deakin credit points which constitutes the equivalent of a full-time study load for a semester) of nutrition and food science study at either undergraduate or postgraduate study level. The nutrition units need to cover content relating to principles of nutrition, lifespan nutrition and food science. The three relevant Deakin units which cover the prerequisite nutrition content are: HSN201 Principles of Nutrition, HSN202 Lifespan Nutrition and HSN104 The Science of Food (or HSN203 Food Composition). Details of the content of these units are available at www.deakin.edu.au/handbook.
A comprehensive information document on the Master of Dietetics is available here.
For students contemplating undergraduate studies at Deakin University that would also meet the prerequisites for application for the Master of Dietetics, several degree programs are available. With inclusion of appropriate electives, the Bachelor of Food and Nutrition, Bachelor of Health Sciences andBachelor of Exercise and Sport Science all meet the requirements for eligibility for the Master of Dietetics.
For the Bachelor of Food and Nutrition, taking SLE152 (or SBC152) Chemistry of Life, SLE212 (or SBB212) Biochemistry and SLE222 (or SBB222) Biochemical Metabolism as electives would meet all the prerequisites to allow application for the Master of Dietetics as the remaining required content is covered in the core units of the degree.
For the Bachelor of Health Sciences, taking the Nutrition major sequence together with SLE131 (or SBC131) Principles of Chemistry, SLE152 (or SBC152) Chemistry of Life, SLE212 (or SBB212) Biochemistry, SLE222 (or SBB222) Biochemical Metabolism and HSN104 The Science of Food (or HSN203 Food Composition) as electives would meet the prerequisites for the Master of Dietetics.
For the Bachelor of Exercise and Sport Science, taking the same electives as the Bachelor of Health Sciences above together with HSN201 Principles of Nutrition, HSN202 Lifespan Nutrition and one additional nutrition unit would also meet the prerequisites for the Master of Dietetics.
Subject to individual requirements and the need to assess qualifications, graduates of DAA accredited dietetics degrees can normally work in New Zealand, the United Kingdom, Canada and many other countries with the exception of the United States (a program of formalising mutual recognition of qualifications between Australia and USA is ongoing).
There are many opportunities for further study or research depending on your interests. A further qualification can help to enhance your existing skills and allow you to specialise in an area of your choice. Deakin University offers a strong research degree program.
As members of allied health professions, dietitians' salaries are similar to other allied health professionals, e.g. physiotherapists, speech therapists. Starting salary for a graduate varies from state to state, but is around $52,000. In private practice, salaries are determined by the number of clients a dietitian sees and while dietitians are free to set their own fees the median figure is $70 for an initial consultation lasting up to one hour and $40 for follow-up appointments, lasting up to 30 minutes.
Do dietitians need to do further study to practise in different areas e.g. children's nutrition, sports nutrition?
Dietetic courses in Australia prepare dietitians to work in a wide range of practice areas. Many dietitians also have further qualifications or experience in particular areas. Dietitions Association of Australia (DAA) members and Australian Practising Dietitions (APD) make a commitment to practice within their personal expertise and to promote their practice accordingly.
Sports Dietitians for example are fully qualified Dietitians who have completed further education in sports nutrition. Sports Dietitians Australia (SDA) is a professional organisation of Dietitians specialising in the field of sports nutrition.