"The demand for registered dietitians is expected to grow because of new opportunities outside the traditional hospital setting" says Olivia B. Wood, associate professor of foods and nutrition at Purdue University and a registered dietitian. "Jobs for dietitians are opening up in industry and other fields."
According to the Occupational Outlook Handbook, compiled by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, more dietetics professionals will be needed to provide nutrition counseling in settings such as nursing homes, community health programs and health clubs. Growing public interest in nutrition and an emphasis on health education also fuel the demand.
The employment of dietitians is expected to grow faster than the average for all occupations through the year 2005. Moderate projections predict total employment for all occupations will grow by 18.5 percent. At the same time, employment of dietitians is projected to grow anywhere from 21 percent to 32 percent. Wood says the demand is primarily for professionals with registered dietitian credentials.
The greatest growth areas include physician's offices, child day-care services and home health-care providers. Factors influencing the need for dietitians in these areas include insurance-reimbursement policies and an aging population.
"People are staying fewer days in hospitals and doing a lot of their recuperating at home," Wood says, "and dietitians can give nutrition instruction and assess nutritional needs in the home. Doctors with patients who have conditions that have nutritional components, say cardiac patients, also hire dietitians for consultations."
Industry is also finding a need for more dietitians, Wood says: "Faced with federal legislation dictating new food-labeling procedures, companies are employing dietitians to translate nutrition guidelines into terms consumers understand."
She also sees new entrepreneurial opportunities in the field. "Dietitians are creating their own career paths," she says. Whether it be working for a health spa or counseling on a cruise ship, dietitians are promoting healthy eating in new ways. That's a big change from 20 or 30 years ago, when counseling in hospitals was the primary objective for registered dietitians. These new avenues may eventually become standard employment areas, Wood says.
"More sports teams are making the services of dietitians a part of their training. Job opportunities outside the norm not only provide interesting opportunities but also can translate into higher salaries."
These new and different job opportunities also create the need for additional job skills. Wood says today's dietitians are finding they need to be more savvy, communicate well, and have a good head for public relations and business.
"Of course, the speculation about future job opportunities for registered dietitians may change depending on the outcome of efforts to pass national health care legislation," she says. "Health care reform is the wild card in the projections. A lot depends on an increased emphasis on wellness in health care practices.
"Despite the uncertainty, even the least optimistic scenarios still predict about a 20 percent increase in the need for dietetic professionals. Basically anywhere there is food or health, there is a potential need for dietitians."
To become a registered dietitian, Purdue students must earn a bachelor of science degree in the School of Consumer and Family Sciences and complete a supervised practice program. That qualifies them to take the national exam for the registered dietitian credential. Some states, but not Indiana, also license dietitians.
Source: Olivia B. Wood, (765) 494-8238
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