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Do you have a passion for food and nutrition and want to be a positive force in improving the health of others?
Perhaps you’re the person in your group of friends drinking sparkling mineral water, while everyone else slugs soft drinks.
Or maybe, while most people are lapping up the latest celebrity influencer’s healthy diet advice, you’re trying to sort fact from fiction – and reading about food sustainability in your spare time.
If this sounds like you, a career as a dietitian could be the perfect fit.
But what exactly is a dietitian?
People often make the mistake of interchanging dietitians and nutritionists. However, while they work in the same sphere, their roles are quite different.
Broadly, a career in nutrition can cover everything from how we grow food all the way up to what people eat. A nutritionist uses nutrition and food knowledge to promote healthy societies.
The easiest way to understand the difference between dietitians and nutritionists is to think of dietetics as a specialisation on top of your nutrition studies. Dietitians can work in any of the areas a nutritionist can work, and have the added qualifications to work one-on-one with clients to deliver tailored nutrition management or medical nutrition therapy.
With that covered off, how do you become a dietitian in Australia?
Studying a Master of Dietetics allows you to explore the important relationship between diet and disease. On top of that, if you choose a course that’s accredited by the Dietitians Australia (DA), you’ll be eligible to become a DA member and join the Accredited Practising Dietitian Program once you graduate.
Dr Claire Margerison, Course Director for the Master of Dietetics at Deakin University, says postgrad students come from a range of backgrounds, including chefs who may have been in the workforce for a number of years and then decided to retrain in dietetics.
Others will have completed an undergraduate degree with biochemistry, physiology and nutrition prerequisites, Dr Margerison explains. ‘It could be food, nutrition or health sciences, sport science, nursing, biomedical science.’
The practical placements you’ll undertake during your uni studies are a major aspect of training to become a dietitian. They allow you to not only put theory into practice, but also give you the chance to build networks with established dietitians and learn on-the-job skills that might eventually land you a job.
Dr Margerison says dietetics placements can include a range of experiences, from food service placements, to community health and hospital placements, even placements in your own interest area. Some might be rural or interstate.
For example, Dr Margerison recalls one Deakin student, with an interest in indigenous health, completed a placement at a community outreach program in Alice Springs. Another, she remembers, spent time with the Gold Coast Suns Football Club.
By the time you don your graduation robes, you’ll want to start thinking about getting accredited with the DAA.
If you’re studying an accredited university course, kickstart your membership with the DA by sending through a confirmation of enrolment. It’s that easy to become part of a community of dietitians sharing insights and expertise. As a student, this can open up a world of valuable networking opportunities, and is an easy way to get your name into the industry.
Once you graduate, you’ll need to go through the DA’s Accredited Practising Dietitian Program for credentialing. Accreditation means you’ll be recognised by the Australian Government as a dietitian with the skills and qualifications to deliver expert nutrition and dietary advice.
Deakin’s Dr Paige van der Pligt, a lecturer in nutrition and dietetics, says one of the exciting things about studying dietetics is that it provides a pathway into a wide variety of careers.
‘Dietitians often work in a hospital or a community health centre. They might work as part of a sports club or in private practice across a variety of disciplines,’ she says.
‘They might work in public health or they might pursue a career in research.’
A qualification in dietetics could also see you working in the media or in communications, in food services and management, health promotion or even providing nutrition advice to athletes or professional sports teams.
Dr van der Pligt predicts a number of new jobs will emerge in the field of food sustainability, which looks at the broader concerns around food when it comes to the environment, such as food waste.
‘I expect that will be something that’s of significant influence,’ she says.
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