What is a dietitian?

Dietitians give practical advice about food and diet, so people make good lifestyle and food choices. They can support:

  • children and young people
  • adults
  • older people

They are the only regulated healthcare professionals who assess, diagnose, and treat dietary and nutritional problems.

To work in the NHS, dietitians must be registered with the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC).

My name is Leanne and I'm a paediatric dietitian and I work for NHS Greater Glasgow & Clyde.

The main skills I feel I bring to my job are communication and counselling skills. The main reason being, a lot of the patients and families that we see can often find it difficult to accept or make changes to their diet.

So, the main reason I became interested in the profession of dietetics started off when I had a friend at school who had a condition that required her to make changes to her diet. At the same time at school, I was learning about nutrition that stemmed my interest in nutrition and I later applied for a nutrition and dietetics course at university.

My job is very varied. It can consist of ward work, where I see children on the ward. It can also consist of outpatient clinics, which can include a clinic on my own or with other health professionals. And it can also consist of group work, in which I do educational sessions with families, parents, and other health professionals.

My job is extremely rewarding. I would say the most rewarding part is when you see a child's growth and condition improve due to the changes I've helped them to make.

How you can become a dietitian

Choosing subjects at school

To get on a course that could lead to a career as a dietitian, useful subjects include:

  • Biology
  • Human Biology
  • Chemistry
  • Health and Food Technology
  • Maths
  • English

Work placement and volunteering

You may find it helpful to get some experience of working in healthcare by doing a work placement. There may also be opportunities to volunteer. This could help you when applying to university, college, or a new job with NHSScotland.


Foundation Apprenticeship

A Foundation Apprenticeship could be a great way to start your career journey towards becoming a dietitian.

Learn about relevant Foundation Apprenticeships in:

College and university

Most universities accept a wide range of qualifications, giving you the option of applying directly from school or going to college first. At college, you could do an HNC in a science-based subject before applying to university to do an undergraduate programme.

Widening access

Widening participation supports adult learners who want to go to university. If you’re an adult with few or no qualifications, you can get into higher education through the Scottish Wider Access Programme (SWAP). Many universities also provide access programmes to help you get the degree entry qualifications you need.

Dietitian degree

Three universities in Scotland offer undergraduate programmes in Dietetics, approved by the HCPC:

  • Glasgow Caledonian University
  • Queen Margaret University
  • Robert Gordon University

Pre-registration undergraduate programmes take 4 years full-time.

If you already have relevant qualifications and healthcare experience, you can do a postgraduate diploma or a master's in Dietetics. Postgraduate programmes usually take 1-2 years.

For more information on related further and higher education courses, search My World of Work.

What does a dietitian do?

Dietitians understand how different foods affect the body.

You will work with people who have diet-related disorders, providing practical advice, using the most up-to-date public health and scientific research on food health and disease.

You could work with people who have:

  • long term conditions such as diabetes or kidney failure
  • an eating disorder, such as anorexia nervosa or bulimia nervosa
  • food or other allergies

You’ll also help people who need to:

  • lose weight for health or medical reasons
  • put on weight to promote recovery after illness

You may also train, support, and advise your colleagues, healthcare support workers, and students.

What you’ll do

Tasks include:

  • motivating people to change their eating habits
  • helping people to plan diets
  • giving advice to people who need a special diet
  • supporting patients trialing dietary interventions, including exclusion diets or supplementation
  • reviewing, planning, and organising a patient’s nutritional care
  • accepting referrals from other health professionals
  • health promotion

Top skills

You’ll need these skills:

  • caring
  • teamwork
  • communication
  • problem-solving
  • persuading and motivating people
  • leadership

Who you’ll work with

Dietitians work with other healthcare professionals, including:

  • physiotherapists
  • occupational therapists
  • doctors
  • nurses
  • healthcare support workers
  • carers

Working environment

You could work in:

  • hospitals
  • the community
  • health centres

Useful information

To work as a dietitian in NHSScotland, you’ll need to:

Did you know?

There are around 10,000 registered dietitians in the UK and over 800 working in the NHS in Scotland.

Learning and development

During your career, you must undertake Continuing Professional Development (CPD) so you can keep your knowledge and skills up to date and continue to meet the HCPC CPD standards to remain registered.

The British Dietetic Association (BDA) offers a 5-year programme to support your CPD activities. Visit their website to find out more about the BDA Professional Development Toolkit.

Career progression

Through experience and additional training, you could progress to a specialist or advanced dietitian role within the health service.

You could also choose to specialise in a clinical area, such as cancer or diabetes. Or you could work with particular groups, such as the elderly or those with learning difficulties. Teaching and health education are also options.

Professional bodies

When you complete your degree, you'll become registered with the HCPC.

Once you've qualified as a dietitian, you can also join: