August 27, 2009
Registered dietitians enjoy a solid hiring outlook in health-conscious Puget Sound
Special to NWjobs
Yo-yo dieting. Binge eating. Food allergy reactions. High cholesterol. Kerry Neville has seen them all.
As a Puget Sound-area registered dietitian, Neville knows that designing meals for optimum health can be a challenge, but her job is to make sure patients eat as if their lives depend on it. Because they do.
In fact, improved dietary habits and a growing focus on disease prevention are feeding the health care hiring need for more nutrition specialists like Neville. Across the country, employment of dietitians and nutritionists is expected to increase 9 percent between 2006 and 2016, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Closer to home, the hiring outlook for dietitians is even stronger. Employment is projected to grow by 17.9 percent by 2016 in the greater King County area, with nearly 36 new openings added each year, according to the Washington state Employment Security Department.
By nature, at least one publication reports, Seattle deserves some of the credit by making this area a healthy place to live. Last year, Cooking Light magazine ranked the city No. 1 on its list for U.S. metropolitan areas which “best provide the resources people need to live healthful lives.
“An abundance of fresh local foods, walker-friendly streets, and inclusive attitudes helps make Seattle America's best city for healthy living,” the publication reported. Portland ranked No. 2.
To make healthy living available for all, dietitians have four-year and master’s degrees in health-based programs that offer career choices with a wide range of options, says Neville.
“This is a really exciting time” to be entering or enjoying a career in dietetics, believes Doris Piccinin, faculty leader in dietetics at Kenmore’s Bastyr University. With the University of Washington and Seattle Pacific University, the Kenmore school of science-based natural medicine is one of the state’s three colleges offering four-year or advanced degrees in this field.
With that degree, labor figures show national median annual earnings for dietitians were $46,980 in May 2006, the most recent numbers available. Most earned between $38,430 and $57,090. In the Puget Sound region, the average hourly wage was $27.54 in March 2008, the state’s most current figures available.
“I think one of the most important points to make in talking about careers in nutrition is that anyone can call themselves a nutritionist, but a registered dietitian has the education, skills and training in nutrition,” says Neville.
Often, Piccinin says, dietitians are drawn to the field by “family health conditions. They saw first-hand the importance of nutrition when someone in their family was dealing with Lyme disease, or an autoimmune disorder or cancer. They realize how important it is to maintain your health throughout life, not just at the end.”
Nearly half of all registered dietitians work in counseling and treatment in hospitals, where they may be part of critical-care medical teams who help with feedings through tubes and veins. Others, says Shoreline Community College instructor and registered dietitian Alison Leahy, are “encouraging and inspiring” counselors who take pride in helping heart attack and diabetes patients make “small baby steps” toward healthier living.
The field also draws professionals to residential care facilities, schools, prisons, community health programs and home health care agencies.
Even other employment opportunities are arising from an increase in food sensitivities, according to Cynthia Kupper, executive director of the national Gluten Intolerance Group, based in Auburn.
“It opens the doors to more dietitians in specialty areas and the nonprofit sector,” Kupper says. Increasingly, she says, dietitians write cookbooks and consult with patients who face allergy and food sensitivity challenges.
“There are so many different avenues” of employment for dietitians, echoes Leahy.
Some Shoreline students who completed the nutrition and dietetic technology program offered there before cutbacks placed it on hiatus went on to earn degrees and are now “working on nutrient analysis” where they “do labeling on just about every food that it out there.”
“It’s a career that allows you to help people make some life-changing eating habits and make them very doable for lifelong health,” says Leahy.
This article was originally published in March 2009.
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