Dietitian

A dietitian translates the science of nutrition into everyday information about food, advising people and helping them make informed and practical choices about their food and nutrition. Dietitians assess, diagnose and treat dietary and nutritional problems. They can improve patient lives by offering them advice about diet early in their pathway within primary care, keeping them well, in work and in control of their symptoms.

Dietitians have a huge role to play in primary and community care settings and dietetic care pathways can have a sustainable positive patient impact by promoting good health and preventing disease in individuals and communities.

Dietitians work with individuals and communities with both healthy and sick people.

Dietitians work with people who:

  • have digestive problems
  • want to lose weight
  • need to put on weight after an illness
  • have HIV
  • have an eating disorder
  • want to improve their sports performance
  • have an allergy.

As well as working with other health professionals and nutritionists, Dietitians may supervise the work of dietetic assistants. Dietitians and nutritionists have different roles and training and are regulated by different bodies.

The NHS Careers video below explains what it is like to work as a dietitian.

The skills needed to be a dietitian include:

  • an understanding of science
  • be able to explain complex things simply
  • organisation skills
  • communication skills
  • business skills for freelance work

To practise as a dietitian, you must be registered with the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC). In order to register with the HCPC, you must first successfully complete an approved degree in dietetics. This is usually a BSc (Hons) degree, although there are shortened postgraduate programmes if you already have a relevant first degree. A degree apprenticeship standard in dietetics has also been approved (see below).

Courses are three or four years. If you already have a degree in a life science subject, with an acceptable level of human physiology and biochemistry, you can take a postgraduate Diploma or Masters in dietetics.

Courses are a mixture of theory and practical work. They cover biochemistry, psychology, nutrition, physiology and communication skills. Practical training is in hospital and community settings.

For an undergraduate degree, you need

  • two or three A levels, including chemistry, maths or biology, along with five GCSEs (grades A-C), including English language and maths

or

  • BTEC, HND or HNC which includes science subjects
  • relevant NVQ
  • science-based access course
  • equivalent level Scottish or Irish qualifications

To get onto a postgraduate course you will normally be expected to hold an honours degree which contains an acceptable level of human physiology and biochemistry.

Degree apprenticeship

A degree apprenticeship in dietetics has now been approved and offers an alternative route to registration with the Health and Care Professions Council. There are no nationally set entry requirements for degree apprenticeships – this will be down to the employer offering the apprenticeship – but you will typically need level 3 qualifications as you will be studying at degree level. Apprenticeships will be with employers, with study at university and vacancies will appear on the NHS Jobs website and the Government’s Find an Apprenticeship website.

Once you’ve successfully completed a programme approved by the HCPC, you are then eligible to apply for registration with the HCPC. Once registered as a practitioner, you’ll be required to retain your name on the register by keeping your knowledge and skills up to date and paying an annual retention fee.

Search for university courses in the North West of England leading to career as a Dietitian using the NHS Careers course finder.

The video below produced by Health Education England (HEE) shows the significant health benefits of placing dietetic care early in people’s pathway within primary care, keeping people well, in work and in control of their symptoms.

Dietetic assistants work with dietitians on food and nutrition while assessing, diagnosing and treating dietary and nutritional problems. The dietetic team also inform, teach and advise the public and healthcare professionals about the importance of diet and nutrition in staying fit and healthy.

Dietetic assistants are vital in helping people with their diet and nutrition. They help people by advising them on how their food choices can lead to more fulfilling and healthier lives.

There are no set entry requirements for dietetic assistants. Employers expect good numeracy and literacy and some experience or qualifications in health or social care. Employers may ask for GCSEs in English and maths. Science may also be useful. Employers may ask for an NVQ, BTEC or equivalent qualification in health and social care or healthcare.

Employers often ask for relevant work experience. Even where this is not specified, it would be an advantage if you have worked in health or social care, either in paid employment or voluntary work.

The skills neede to be a dietetic assistant include:

  • an interest in science and food
  • an interest in people and their lifestyles
  • a positive and motivating attitude
  • an understanding approach
  • patience

You’ll also need

  • an understanding of science
  • be able to explain complex things simply
  • organisation skills
  • communication skills

You will receive appropriate training in order to do the job. This includes an introduction to the department, how to use the equipment and the procedures to follow. You may be offered the chance to study for qualifications such as:

  • the NCFE CACHE level 2 Certificate in Healthcare Support Services
  • the NCFE CACHE level 3 Diploma in Healthcare Support

Some dietetic assistants join the British Dietetic Association (BDA) as associate members. The BDA runs courses, conferences and seminars where dietetic assistants can update their skills and network with others doing similar work.

For further information on becoming a Dietetic assistant visit the British Dietetic Association website.