Dietitian Degree & Career Guide
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What You Can Earn in the Dietetics Field
Because dietitians must use the principles of nutrition and diet to treat medical conditions and promote well-being, studying to be one can be a rigorous process. You’ll have to complete a college education (a bachelor’s degree for now, and starting in 2024, a master’s) and internship hours, and then meet state and professional credential requirements. The investment can be big, but so can the payoff. Whether you’re just entering the field or earning an advanced degree or specialty certification, find out what dietitians typically earn and what factors can impact how much you can make in this profession.
RDNs who do not see patients/clients typically earn more than those who do.
So what exactly can you expect when it comes to what you might make as a dietitian?
Our guide aims to give you a better understanding, but keep in mind that, as with any profession, the money you earn is dependent on factors such as where you live, your area of practice, your level of education, and how long you’ve been in the field.
How Do Dietitians’ Salaries Compare?
The city and state where you work plays a big part in what you could earn due in large part to the cost of living. Unsurprisingly, states on the West and East coasts report some of the highest salaries.
Use the widget below to find the annual salary for the state in which you plan to work, and see how dietitian careers stack up.
Median Salary: $63,090
Top 10%: $90,000
Projected job growth: 8%
|State||Median Salary||Bottom 10%||Top 10%|
|District of Columbia||$72,020||$49,290||$102,590|
Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) 2020 median salary; projected job growth through 2029. Actual salaries vary depending on location, level of education, years of experience, work environment, and other factors. Salaries may differ even more for those who are self-employed or work part time.
Where are Dietitians Most in Demand?
According to the BLS, the states with the highest number of dietitian jobs include:
California | Texas | New York | Pennsylvania | Florida
These five states represent the top five most populous states in 2019, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, which likely contributes to this ranking. Salaries are typically based on local demand for services and the availability of qualified dietitians to meet that demand. Geographic areas that have higher concentrations of people are most likely to have more people dealing with obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and chronic diseases associated with aging, all of whom benefit from the services provided by dietitians.
How Dietitian Salaries Vary by Specialty
Different variables, especially the type of work you do, will affect your earning power as a dietitian.
According to the Academy’s survey, the particular work environment in which you practice is another factor to consider when determining salary. “The 2019 survey shows that RDNs who do not see patients/clients earn more than those who do,” the report states, “but that is primarily attributable to the fact that they have other characteristics that correlate with higher wages. For example, being faculty members or consultants, being involved in management and supervisory functions, and having budget authority.”
What’s Your Highest Earning Potential?
Variables such as advanced education and specialization certifications can help you increase your earnings no matter where you live.
It Depends on Your Level of Education
While state licensure and certification laws vary, you’ll have to complete a bachelor’s degree (there are online options for this as well) and other requirements regarding experience and practice hours to qualify for Registered Dietitian (RD) or Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN) credentials.
Dietitians who pass the credentialing exam can use either the RD or RDN designation and work in positions as dietitians. Dietitians who work in the profession without earning the RD or RDN designation can’t call themselves dietitians or qualify for positions with this role and requirements.
However, effective January 1, 2024, all incoming dietitians will have to hold a master’s degree or doctorate to sit for the national certification exam. While the change won’t affect dietitians who have already earned their RDN credential before that date, it could mean that current dietitians whose highest level of education is a bachelor’s degree could eventually have a disadvantage as dietitians with advanced degrees become the norm.
Certifications Make a Difference
In addition to educating yourself to provide more comprehensive professional service, specialty certifications allow you to focus your practice on specific conditions or patient demographic groups. Having proof of specialization can help you qualify for higher-paying positions and can also justify pricing your services above the norm if you’re self-employed.
You can enhance your professional credentials with specialty board certifications indicate that you’ve demonstrated expertise in a given area of specialization. Board-certified specialists are credentialed by the Commission on Dietetic Registration (CDR), which serves as the credentialing agency for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. The CDR offers specialty Board Certification as a Specialist in Gerontological Nutrition (CSG), Pediatric Nutrition (CSP), Pediatric Critical Care Nutrition (CSPCC), Oncology Nutrition (CSO), Renal Nutrition (CSR), Obesity and Weight Management (CSOWM), and Sports Dietetics (CSSD).
You can also earn specialty certification as a Certified Diabetes Educator (CDE) from the Certification Board for Diabetes Care and Education (CBDCE). CDE certification equips you to work with patients and families to help them manage self-care skills for their condition.
Having proof of specialization can help you qualify for higher-paying positions and can also justify pricing your services above the norm if you’re self-employed.
While specializations can increase your earning potential, some concentrations may offer a bigger payout. According to PayScale.com dietitians can earn the highest increases over average salaries with specializations that included oncology (13%), renal (11%), eating disorders (4%), and diabetes education (3%).
For example, results from the 2018 Salary Survey of the Collegiate and Professional Sports Dietitians Association demonstrate how progressively increasing responsibility and experience can also enhance salary averages. According to the survey, the average salary for a sports/performance dietitian was about $63,000, while dietitian coordinators earned $66,625 and directors earned $82,447. Sports dietitians with less than one year of experience earned $56,215, while those who had worked between three and five years in the industry averaged $65,083, and sports dietitians with over seven years of experience averaged close to $100,000 in this specialized field.
You can also get a realistic perspective of the job market for dietitians by exploring professional career guides and current job postings in the food and nutrition industry provided by professional associations like the Academy.
What Can You Charge Per Hour in Private Practice?
Just like salaries, hourly rates for dietitians in private practice vary by location and area of expertise. As the Academy indicated, roles in which dietitians don’t provide direct patient services can offer higher salaries. As a result, you may be able to charge a higher rate as a consultant than as a personal dietitian. Since many health insurance companies cover nutrition services provided by dietitians, your hourly rates may be subject to limits set by patients’ health insurance policies.
According to the website Thumbtack, an online service that matches consumers with local professionals, the national average hourly rate for a nutritionist ranges between $90 and $150. Rates vary by region and area of specialization, so it’s up to each dietitian to determine local competitive rates. Of course, having specialty certifications or specializations may allow you to demand a higher rate for service. Dietitian organizations and other professional dietitian resources offer valuable information regarding the science of setting a professional rate structure.
Important Considerations for Working Independently
Many dietitians choose to work in private practice because of the freedom and flexibility they gain in choosing when, where, and with whom to work. While working in private practice has its benefits, it’s not for everyone.
As a dietitian in private practice, you’ll have to handle the same challenges that face most entrepreneurs. To succeed, you’ll need a sound business plan that accounts for marketing, scheduling, bookkeeping, and filing insurance claims. You’ll also need a meeting space or be willing to meet people in their homes. In addition, you’ll have to cover the costs of your own professional liability insurance, personal health insurance, and continuing education. But for the freedom and flexibility, it can be worth it for many people.