The role of dietician is important in both rehabilitation and preventative medicine. Entering a dietetics or nutrition training programme requires at least three A-Levels or higher, including chemistry and another science, or equivalent qualifications.

It usually takes four years to study to the level where one can be registered with the Health and Care Professionals Council (HCPC) but two year postgraduate courses are available for people with good, relevant science degrees. All courses of this sort include a 28 week period of practical training. Students taking these courses normally get their fees paid in full and receive a £1000 grant with the option to apply for a substantial bursary if needed.

Day to day activities

The majority of dieticians work in hospitals or clinics. A variety of different roles are available but all involve direct contact with patients. Most dieticians spend some time in general hospital wards developing and checking diet plans for patients and ensuring that they are receiving adequate nutrition. Many also see outpatients by appointment, to provide diet advice.

The job of a dietician hinges on good communication, providing practical nutrition information to other medical professionals and directly to patients. It is also vital to study on an ongoing basis, to keep up with developments in nutritional science and to stay abreast of policy developments concerning nutrition.

Specialisation

Over time, many dieticians choose to specialise. This could involve developing the specific skills needed to work with older people or those with learning difficulties, or it could involve becoming an expert on a particular condition or patient situation. Generalist dieticians need to know the basics regarding all of the following:
  • Weight loss—many patients will need to lose weight for general health reasons whilst for others it will be a requirement for surgery. Patients may need to learn what kinds of foods to avoid, how to count calories, and how to stay hydrated and adequately nourished when eating less.
  • Weight gain—some patients have chronic issues with low weight or need to gain weight after illness. They may need help with calorie counting and eating patterns, and may require prescribed food supplements.
  • Maternity and paediatrics—dieticians specialising in this area focus on the health of mothers and of babies both before and after birth, looking at things like calorie intake, eating patterns and the avoidance of risky foods.
  • Blood sugar control—this work can enable people with diabetes to control their own health issues and, sometimes, to manage without the need for daily insulin injections.
  • Allergies—this can involve identifying allergy-related problems, helping patients work out what they are allergic to and understand how to avoid risky foods and food ingredients.
  • Immunosuppression—transplant patients and those with HIV, leukaemia or other diseases affecting the immune system often need to have special diets planned for them to reduce infection risks.
  • Special diets—patients with serious illnesses may need special diet plans that reduce things like salt or potassium intake according to their needs.
  • A good dietician can really make a difference to patients’ lives and enable them to live much more healthily and happily, making this a really rewarding job.

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