What does a dietitian do?
Description: Nutrition and Dietetics Keywords: Career Questions

  • The dietitian plays an indispensable role in the nutritional care process. 
  • The community dietitian renders preventative services. The promotion of healthy nutrition is one of the most important aspects of primary health care.
  • The therapeutic dietitian is a member of the medical team. The dietician determines the nutritional needs of the patient, taking disease, medical treatment and the lifestyle into account, and then prescribes a suitable diet.
  • The administrative dietitian is responsible for the management and administration of food service units and assists in the planning of large-scale food service units.
  • The increased emphasis on sports performance has resulted in the rapid development of sports nutrition.
  • A dietitian could also conduct research aimed at identifying the causes of nutrition-related problems and/or finding solutions to these problems.

Is there work for dietitians?

Job opportunities are in abundance especially in the rural settings. Job openings are not frequently advertised in newspapers and online, but are available from the Association for Dietetics in South Africa (ADSA). The career of dietetics allows dietitians to create their own job opportunities, e.g. private practice, thus a dietitian can be in charge of his/her own career opportunities. 

How do I know if dietetics is for me?

Do you wish to be of service to the community by helping people to develop a healthy eating pattern as part of a healthy lifestyle, thus promoting good health?

Do you have;

  • a sincere interest in people,
  • sound judgement and perseverance,
  • the ability to communicate with people and
  • a strong sense of responsibility?

If you do, you are the ideal candidate for the BSc Dietetics programme.

More information regarding different career focus areas

Private practice – dietitians can consult privately with patients to provide advice and guidance regarding nutrition therapy. There are many areas to focus on depending on what you are passionate about.  You may be interested in focusing on, for example, paediatric issues (children’s health), maternal health, food allergies, eating disorders, sports nutrition, or on medical conditions that require a dietitian’s management such as diabetes, heart disease, intestinal disorders, such as irritable bowel syndrome, and HIV/AIDS. During your studies, you are trained in all of the many different focus areas.

Hospitals – known as therapeutic or clinical dietitians, these practitioners mainly work in hospitals consulting with patients who are referred to them by doctors or other healthcare professionals.  Their role in the health care team is to assess nutritional status and plan individualised nutrition therapy (whether an appropriate special oral diet, tube feed or intravenous feed). Dietitians must also counsel patients to provide them with nutrition knowledge which will enable them to better manage their problems and symptoms. This will improve the patient’s quality of life and is an integral part of recovery or palliative care.

Community – these dietitians may be employed in the public health sector, or by non-government organisations (NGOs) or community-based organisations.  They focus on the promotion, protection and support of breastfeeding; growth monitoring and the prevention and treatment of malnutrition in children; nutrition promotion and education on different nutrition topics; promotion of healthy lifestyles to address non- communicable diseases such as diabetes and hypertension; prevention and treatment of vitamin and mineral deficiencies, such as organising and participating in the national vitamin A campaign; and addressing food insecurity issues.

Institution-based – dietitians can also work in food service management which provides healthy and specialised diets to people living in institutions such as retirement villages, school hostels, welfare care centres, prisons and health care facilities.  Their work includes planning, costing and developing menus; controlling implementing, evaluating and overseeing food service systems; and managing special dietary requirements.

Industry/Corporate – dietitians are involved in the food, retail, healthcare and pharmaceutical industries.  They can provide advice on food-labeling legislation, nutrition regulations and the nutritional analysis of food items; be involved in nutritional product development; share latest developments and trends in nutrition; participate in nutrition-related marketing activities; lead corporate wellness programmes and conduct literature reviews which summarises the latest evidence on a specific topic.

Research/Academia – dietitians employed by educational institutions are involved in continuously providing new evidence-based nutrition information through on-going research. These dietitians are also responsible for teaching and learning activities during the training of new dietitians.

Media/Publishing – dietitans generate expert content which provides nutrition advice, the latest evidenced-based nutrition news and views, commentary on nutrition issues and inspiration for healthy eating. This can be done via, for example, radio / television interviews, articles in newspapers / magazines, and the publication of books.

Is it necessary to complete an Honours degree before I can register for a master's degree?

After completion of the four-year BSc degree as well as the compulsory community service year, students are able to register for their master's degree immediately.


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