A Day in the Life of a Nutritionist

Nutritionists have a healthy regard for food and its life-sustaining properties. They are primarily concerned with the prevention and treatment of illnesses through proper dietary care. Nutritionists evaluate the diets of patients and clients suffering from medical disorders and suggest ways of fighting various health problems by modifying the patient’s intake of certain food items. As one nutritionist puts it, “It’s basically all about balance—the older you get, the more you begin to understand the importance of balance in your life, and your diet is no exception.”Hypertension, diabetes, and obesity are some of the common health problems that nutritionists work to alleviate. Through education and research, they also promote sensible eating habits in communities, schools, hospitals, prisons, clinics, and nursing homes. Like all other health professionals, nutritionists are motivated by a concern to improve people’s quality of life. Food manufacturers, advertisers,marketers, and some enlightened restaurateurs employ nutritionists to organize, develop, analyze, test, and prepare meals that are low in fat and cholesterol and virtually devoid of chemical additives. Nutritionists usually specialize in one of three major areas of practice: clinical, community, or administrative management. Clinical nutritionists service the needs of clients who are institutionalized. They develop, implement, and maintain nutritional programs for individuals in hospitals, nursing homes, retirement communities, day care centers, and prisons. Before proposing or implementing any dietary program, nutritionists must consult with doctors or other health professionals to ensure that medical and dietary needs are optimized. Community nutritionists are an integral part of health clinics, clubs, agencies, and HMOs. They advise individuals and groups on the nutritional practices that will promote good health. They also structure and recommend diet plans for whole families, often including guides to the correct preparation of meals and shopping for the right foods. Meal planning and preparation on a large scale, such as for a school district, requires the careful supervision of administrative or management nutritionists. Their responsibilities include preparing food budgets, purchasing food, ensuring that health and safety codes are strictly observed, maintaining records, and writing reports. Nutritionists often spend the greater part of their workday on their feet. Hot, steamy kitchens also figure prominently in a nutritionist’s career, although many of them end up working in well-lit, properly ventilated environments. But nutritionists must be prepared to work in environments that are not always equipped with modern conveniences or sometimes fall short of prescribed standards. In such work situations, the primary concern of the nutritionist will be to bring the work environment up to standard by enforcing health and safety codes and improving overall production capacity.

Paying Your Dues

A bachelor’s degree with a major in dietetics, food and nutrition, food service systems management, or a related subject is the basic requirement of this profession. Courses in the sciences, such as biology,microbiology, mathematics, statistics, psychology, and sociology are core course requirements.

Present and Future

The study of nutrition dates back at least as far as the eighteenth century, when the French scientist Antoine Lavoisier linked respiration with metabolic function. The employment prospects for dieticians and nutritionists are expected to grow at an average rate through 2012.

Quality of Life

PRESENT AND FUTURE

At this early stage, nutritionists are still learning how thoroughly to evaluate a patient’s or client’s dietary needs. They should understand the absolute importance of communicating clearly and directly with the attending physician or health care professional before developing or recommending any nutrition program. Nutritionists should also be establishing their professional style in dealing with and relating to patients. Their focus is on creating an environment in which the patient feels at ease.

FIVE YEARS OUT

Nutritionists at this stage are now seasoned professionals who perform their duties with minimal or no supervision, cross-reference their information with doctors, are thorough in their research, are accurate in their recommendations, and have a good rapport with their patients. At this stage, individuals seeking a challenge will begin to examine their options for advancement in their current field, weighing them against employment opportunities in other areas.

TEN YEARS OUT

At the 10-year mark, highly experienced nutritionists are ripe for setting up their own private consulting firm. They should have developed a considerable amount of contacts to easily facilitate such a move. 10-year veterans have kept abreast of industry developments through trade journals and other publications, revising and updating their own nutrition programs at every step of the way. They may also write their own books and articles for publication. Academia will require the services of many nutrition veterans as the industry continues to expand at its record fast pace and more universities and colleges begin to offer nutrition and dietetics programs.