The Nutritionist's Career Path
Career opportunities for nutritionists in today's job market are increasingly diverse, mainly due to the rise of public health initiatives and increased interest in health and wellbeing across the UK. An experienced nutritionist can play an important role in defining government health policy. However, many work in other sectors, such as the food industry or the media, specialising in areas ranging from nutrition science to sports and exercise nutrition.
The key focus of a nutritionist is to guide and provide evidence-based information about the effects of food and nutrition on health and wellbeing, using up-to-date research and scientific knowledge.
Responsibilities vary depending on the area of focus. Generally, nutritionists collaborate closely with dieticians and public health professionals, like pharmacists or general practitioners (GPs).
They can also be involved in nutritional research, educating peers in the health sector about recent findings, advocating healthy living to sections of society or even be involved in targeted campaigns to make healthy food more accessible.
Unlike dieticians, however, nutritionists do not advise individuals directly, or at least, not without being supervised by a dietician or health professional. A nutritionist's main preoccupation is to promote and develop informed research on food and nutrition.
The capacity to explain complex information to a range of people, particularly those outside of the scientific community is an essential skill for a nutritionist as is the ability to engage and encourage people to follow nutritional plans.
Nutritionists generally have a passion for healthy eating and living, reinforced by in-depth scientific understanding of how food, lifestyle and environment impact the body.
It's also critical for a nutritionist to understand the trends and areas needing improvement within their specialist industries. For example, a public health nutritionist might analyse the inequalities in nutrition within a community and apply their research to address poor health amongst the disadvantaged.
Strong analytical skills are also important, given the role's requirement to regularly produce and evaluate research and reports.
Salary and Working Pattern:
Generally, a nutritionist's salary ranges between £21,000 and £28,000 per year. Earning potential is subject to several factors, including academic qualifications, professional experience and training, as well as the specific industry in which the nutritionist works. Within the food industry, for example, a well-trained nutritionist with substantial experience could earn up to £50,000 per year.
Working patterns depend on the location and sector in which the nutritionist works; in the NHS, for example, full-time usually means 37.5 hours per week although both part-time and flexible working are available options. The job location is also determined by the nutritionist's area of specialism. Hospitals, GP surgeries and local health clinics are all places that a nutritionist can be found.
Nutritionists in the UK are generally expected to have a degree or post-graduate qualification in nutrition or public health nutrition approved by the Association for Nutrition (AfN), which is the body that regulates nutritionists.
On graduation, they can register with the AfN as an Associate Nutritionist. Following three years professional experience they are entitled to apply as a Registered Nutritionist. Those without an AfN-approved qualification are expected to have at least seven years professional experience.
Competition to secure an entry position as a nutritionist is fierce, so it helps to gain experience working in the health sector in order to demonstrate an interest in health and nutrition. The types of entry positions within the health sector vary, however somebody interested in developing their experience may consider working as a dietetic assistant.
Professional nutritionists are also expected to continually further their knowledge by engaging in professional training in order to keep their knowledge accurate.