Updated March 2022
Being a dietitian in Australia and having a job as a dietitian can be incredibly rewarding, as it allows you the opportunity to have a massive positive impact on the lives of others. There are a lot of reasons to become a dietitian and the dietitian profession is a vast one with many opportunities to work in industries you may not have even known were possible.
However with the ever-growing number of dietitians graduating from dietitian courses, it can be difficult to fight through the noise and find a dietitian job that suits you. As with any profession, there will always be parts of the job that you don’t like, but if you make the right choices the great days will far outweigh the hard ones. This article will shed light on the multiple aspects of the dietetics industry, from how to become a dietitian, the differences between a dietitian and a nutritionist, to how much money they earn and what it’s like to be a dietitian across various roles and jobs.
What is a Dietitian?
A dietitian is defined as “A professional who applies the science of food and nutrition to promote health, prevent and treat disease to optimise the health of individuals, groups, communities and populations.”
How to Become a Dietitian in Australia?
To become an Accredited Practising Dietitian (APD) in Australia, you need to complete a minimum of 4-years course at an accredited university. This course could either be a Masters or a Bachelor’s degree. All dietitian courses also involve a minimum of 20-weeks of placement and meet national competency standards. This ensures that students not only have a theoretical knowledge of nutrition, but they are also able to apply it in a practical setting by the completion of their dietitian course.
Dietitians Australia (DA) is the peak body of dietetic professionals in Australia and for somebody to become an APD, they need to be a member of DA. Attaining a qualification in nutrition that isn’t from an accredited dietitian course does not qualify somebody to become a full-member of DA or to be an APD. DA has a list of accredited dietitian courses which can be helpful for choosing which course to study.
What is the difference between a Dietitian and Nutritionist?
All dietitians can work as nutritionists, but not all nutritionists can work as dietitians.
Unlike dietitians, nutritionist do not need to complete an accredited degree. Technically anybody can call themselves a nutritionist even if they don’t have any formal qualifications, since there is no authority that assesses qualifications of nutritionists that are not dietitians. University qualified nutritionists can choose to register with Nutrition Australia, Nutrition Society of Australia or may apply for accreditation through the Dietitians Australia however this is not a requirement. There are even fewer nutrition jobs than there are jobs for dietitians, which is why you will often see nutritionists starting their own nutrition businesses.
There is quite a bit of overlap in the work that dietitians and nutritionists do, however only dietitians are accredited to provide medical nutrition therapy and work in hospitals.
All accredited dietitians are eligible to receive rebates through Medicare, DVA, NDIS and a large range of Health Insurance Funds. There is however, a limited number of health insurance funds that provide rebates for nutritionists who are registered with The Nutrition Society of Australia, without them needing to be a dietitian as well.
APDs also need to be committed to the DA Professional Standards and Code of Conduct. Dietitians are monitored and can lose their accreditation if they do not abide by this code. APD’s are held to a high standard and are required to provide evidence-based advice. They must also complete at least 30 hours of continuing professional development every year to ensure that they stay up to date as new information emerges. This code also means that APD’s are not allowed to use testimonials in their advertising. This can create significant confusion for clients who are looking for a nutrition professional to assist them to reach their goals, when testimonials are one of the most common ways that people choose a certain service.
What is a Dietitian’s Salary?
The first thing to know about dietetics before you understand what a dietitian salary could be, is that it is a very competitive job market. There is a surplus of graduates coming out each year in comparison to the number of jobs available. A lot of positions are not full-time either, so often you will have to work multiple jobs in different locations just to make up full-time hours.
While it is difficult to get a dietitian job, it certainly isn’t impossible. If you are dedicated and put in the effort, you can get to where you want to be. It certainly helps if you know the right people too.
For dietitians who work in hospitals or government funded community health nutrition jobs, the hourly rate is based on an award such as the NSW Health Service Health Professionals Award, Health Practitioners (Queensland Health) Certified Agreement. Another award that is commonly used for dietitians is the Health Practitioner and Support Services Award. For a new grad dietitian with an undergraduate degree working full-time, this comes out to be $952.60 per week, or $25/hour.
The pay increases based on experience and skills, but there is obviously a limit to this. The highest dietitian salary level under this award comes out as $2023.90 per week ($53/hour), but this is for top-level management positions, rather than simply a dietitian job.
For dietitians working privately for a business the pay can vary a lot more based on the owner. It could be a contractor agreement based on a percentage of fees per consults, or other arrangements regarding payments for work performed. It could also be a salary or wage instead. These could be negotiated, but often they are based on the Health Practitioner and Support Services Award as well. Depending on who you work for, you could also be surprised by incentive schemes or random bonuses if you are achieving above and beyond your base role, this is something you will not see in a hospital setting.
Average overall income for dietitians who own their own business is hard to predict. Dietitian jobs and workloads fluctuate massively between businesses. Due to the competitive nature of private practice it can be difficult to get a business to earn a sustainable income, but there are certainly businesses out there that are thriving.
A Day in the Life of a Dietitian – What is it Really Like?
Since there are so many different industries a dietitian can work in, so many different dietitians jobs you can do, we’ll split this up into 4 categories – hospital, corporate, sport and private practice. We’ll have some other dietitians share their experiences in their respective fields.
HOSPITAL – EMMA STUBBS FROM BROCCOLI AND BLUEBERRIES.
“I’m a rural hospital dietitian so my role also includes aged care and outpatients, and generally each day is different.
I can tell you that I arrive at work by 8.30, generally drink 2 cups of coffee a day and ideally leave around the 5pm mark. My morning is generally checking emails, triaging new referrals, answering phone calls from the kitchen clarifying people’s meals or supplements, and then it will be off to the wards for a discharge planning meeting with other members of the multidisciplinary team, and to assess and review patients.
My role with inpatients is helping them meet their individual nutrition requirements with appropriate diets and education. Unlike in the city, I don’t have a specific caseload. Whilst gastro and colorectal surgery are my interest areas, I’m currently the jack of all trades and master of none (except maybe bariatric surgery, to a point). My patients may have fractures, liver disease, renal disease, cancer, be post a bowel resection or be newly diagnosed with diabetes, just to name a few. They may require oral nutrition supplements, tube feeding or intravenous feeding, or education.
In between reviewing patients, I may be juggling pre-admission appointments (for patients undergoing bowel or bariatric surgery) with a lunch break, attending malnutrition and food service working group meetings, delivering group programs or running an outpatient clinic. On days when I’m not based in Hamilton, I’ll drive out to a health service approximately 45 minutes away to see outpatients, review residents in the aged care facility and inpatients on their small ward.”
CORPORATE – JOEL FEREN FROM THE NUTRITION GUY
“The practical side of my work excites me. I love to not only explain to people how they can improve their health by changing their diet, but also by showing them exactly how to do it. Working in corporate health affords me these types of opportunities.
I regularly meet with corporate clients in a one-on-one setting or to run cooking classes or to present on topical nutrition related subjects. I get a buzz showcasing how meals can be tweaked in different ways to make it healthier. It’s a delicious way to educate people on how to make particular improvements to their diet.
It’s great to work for organisations that are strongly invested in the health and wellbeing of their employees. Everyone benefits from this arrangement. And, it’s a thrill to be in a position to help facilitate it.”
SPORT– JESSICA SPENDLOVE AND CHLOE MCLEOD FROM HEALTH & PERFORMANCE COLLECTIVE
“The role of a Sports Dietitian can change considerably depending on the space in which you work (club environment, or private practice), what your agreement is (Consultant VS employee), and also the athletes’ you work with and what the sport requires.
When considering the team sports space, the role should extend across nutrition, hydration, supplementation and body composition. When working in team sport, no day is ever the same. The overall tasks and outcomes are centred around fueling, recovery, and optimising the athlete’s health. There is often a large focus on food service delivery which includes the meals/snacks provided at the club and coordinating travel nutrition including hotel menus and post-match meals.
Workloads and commitments can change across the year depending on the season, such as pre-season, in-season or off-season. Time commitments will very rarely be the standard 9am to 5pm, and may include early mornings, late nights or work across the week. Being able to work in a high -pressure, ever-changing work environment is an important trait to have.”
Private practice allows the opportunity to make a dramatic impact on lives over a longer timeframe than other settings. There really aren’t many better feelings than that. A lot of the time your job will entail weight management nutrition as well as chronic disease management.
There are very few private practice dietitian jobs across Australia who have successfully niched themselves so much so that they no longer assist people with weight management. So please don’t think you are going to graduate and then walk into a private practice position where you only see elite athletes or paediatric clients, that can be something you work towards but not something you should expect to happen.
To be able to do that you will need to be able to market yourself effectively. People need to have a strong desire to see you before they will take that step and book in.
Private practice can encompass a whole range of activities. Roles could include working in aged care, medical centre clinics, doing home visits, skype consults or group presentations. Technically Joel Feren, Jess Spendlove and Chloe McLeod could also be classed as “private practice dietitians”, as each has commenced there own businesses and are building a strong reputation for themselves.
There can be a lot of behind the scenes work to create the opportunities that you want, such as meetings with GP’s, networking with other health professionals and working on marketing strategies. There can also be a lot of time spent on improving the service through things like developing resources, products or different techniques to improve the delivery of your nutrition information.
Most people working in private practice full-time are likely travelling between clinics and clients most days, working in several different locations and with many different organisations and teams. This means that the workload is always varied and can make it difficult to balance things. The work is not always guaranteed. At times there could be too much work at an individual location for the time allocated, but other times there might not be enough.
Admin work that isn’t directly to do with seeing clients can also take up a lot of time. This could involve time spent booking in clients, writing GP letters, completing billings (and dealing with these when things go wrong), organising events, and dealing with finances including bookkeeping, super and taxes. This will be part of your job as a dietitian in private practice.
Private practice (and being a dietitian in general) is not for everybody. Not having a consistent income and having to do more work behind the scenes does not sound appealing by itself. That being said, you can certainly earn a good living if you are working for the right organisations, or you are offering something that very few others do. We would always recommend working for someone first.
Trying to find an organisation that knows not only how to give great dietetic service, but also knows how to run and market a business, as well as develop and support their staff will be important to your happiness and success in private practice. If you find that organisation, you may not ever want another job and will constantly grow and move up the chain throughout your career. For some people the opportunity to carve out the role and job you want in private practice, in the way you want, has the potential to provide greater level of satisfaction than other areas of dietetics.
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