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How to become a dietitian

You'll need a degree in Dietetics accredited by the Health and Care Professions Council to become a dietitian in the NHS.

What is an a dietitian?

Dietitians provide practical advice about nutrition and diet using the most up-to-date public health and scientific research on food, fitness, and disease. They help people of all ages make appropriate food and lifestyle choices.

Dietitians are the only qualified healthcare professionals that assess, diagnose, and treat dietary and nutritional problems at an individual and wider public health level.

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

Starting your career as 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

Speak to your guidance teacher about subjects offered at your school.

Work placements and volunteering

You may find it helpful to get some healthcare experience by doing a work placement or volunteering. You’ll get training, increase your knowledge, and learn new skills. This could help you when applying to university, college or a new job with NHSScotland. 

College and university

To become a Dietitian you need to complete a pre-registration degree programme approved by the HCPC.   

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 could 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. 

Pre-registration undergraduate degree programme

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. 

Pre-registration Dietetics postgraduate programmes

If you have an undergraduate degree in a life science subject, you can do a postgraduate diploma or a master's in Dietetics. Postgraduate programmes usually take one to two years. 

You should contact individual universities to find out about specific entry requirements.

Course search

Search for college or university programmes on My World of Work.

Get to know the role

Dietitians understand how different foods affect the body. 

You'll work with people who have diet-related disorders and provide them with practical advice that is evidence-based. 

You could work with people who have: 

  • long-term conditions such as diabetes or kidney failure 
  • learning disabilities 
  • mental health conditions, including eating disorders  
  • digestive system conditions 
  • immune diseases
  • neurological conditions 
  • cancer 

You’ll also help people who need: 

  • to lose weight for health or medical reasons 
  • a special diet, such as vegan, or to manage allergies and intolerances 
  • to put on weight to promote recovery after illness 

You may also train, support, and advise other AHPs, healthcare support workers, and students.

  • motivate people to change their eating habits
  • calculate a person’s food and fluid intake based on their eating habits
  • investigate a patient’s nutritional needs
  • create care plans with advice on how to follow them
  • help patients who need extra support with their feeding
  • accept referrals from other healthcare professionals
  • maintain patient records and write reports
  • health promotion
  • keep up to date with new theories and research  

You'll need these skills:

  • caring for people
  • teamwork
  • communicating
  • problem-solving
  • persuading and motivating people
  • decision-making
  • leadership
  • time management
  • organisation 

Dietitians usually work in a team with other healthcare professionals, including: 

  • doctors
  • nurses
  • psychologists
  • healthcare support workers
  • carers
  • physiotherapists
  • occupational therapists
  • speech and language therapists 

You could work in: 

  • hospitals
  • the community
  • care homes
  • clinics
  • GP practices
  • a person’s home 

Learning and development

During your career, you must undertake Continuing Professional Development (CPD). It will help you to keep your knowledge and skills up to date and continue to meet the HCPC CPD standards for registration.

The British Dietetic Association (BDA) offers a 5-year programme to support your CPD activities. Find out more about CPD for dietitians

Career progression 

Depending on your career interests, you may choose to specialise in a clinical area, such as cancer, gastroenterology or diabetes. You could work with specific groups of people, such as the elderly, children, or those with learning difficulties.  

Within NHSScotland, there is a clearly defined route for career progression. You’ll start your career as a newly qualified dietitian. There are lots of opportunities to process your career in specialist and advanced roles. With experience, you could work at management level with responsibility for a team, department, and budget. 

Self-employment is also an option. It might involve combining freelance work for organisations like the NHS with other activities, such as writing for health publications. 

You may choose to do further training and move into teaching and research. There are also opportunities in sports, health education, public relations, scientific research, and journalism. 

Professional bodies

When you become a qualified dietitian, you must register with the HCPC to work in the NHS. You can also join the British Dietetic Association (BDA).

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