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Dietitian

Pūkenga Whakaita Kai (Ngā Tohunga Mātai Kai)

Dietitians provide advice and counselling about diet, food and nutrition to individuals and communities. They also design nutrition programmes to support health and wellbeing.

Pay

Dietitians usually earn

$49K-$100K per year

Source: DHBs/PSA, 'Allied, Public Health and Technical Collective Agreement', 2017.

Job opportunities

Chances of getting a job as a dietitian are poor for those wanting to enter the role, but good for those with experience.

Pay

Pay for dietitians varies depending on experience and where they work.

Dietitians working for a district health board (DHB):

  • start on about $49,000 a year
  • earn about $57,000 with up to two years' experience
  • earn about $66,000 with two to four years' experience
  • can earn up to $90,000 if they work in senior positions.

Dietitians working in private practice earn between $50,000 and $100,000, depending on experience and the number of clients they have.

Source: District Health Boards/Public Service Association, 'Allied, Public Health and Technical Collective Agreement, Expires 30 April 2017', 2017.

(This information is a guide only. Find out more about the sources of our pay information)

What you will do

Dietitians may do some or all of the following:

  • counsel clients about their lifestyle and eating habits
  • plan special diets or provide specialised nutrition support for clients
  • do research and present findings at seminars
  • lecture at universities/polytechnics on the topics of diet and nutrition
  • provide nutritional information to food industry organisations
  • provide nutritional information to sports and fitness centres, and athletes
  • market specialist nutritional products.

Skills and knowledge

Dietitians need to have knowledge of:

  • food and its nutrients, including the nutrients needed for human health
  • how food is digested and absorbed
  • science, including physiology, biochemistry and nutrition
  • how patients may respond to advice and treatment
  • health and nutrition research techniques
  • food preparation techniques
  • different cultures' beliefs and behaviours relating to food
  • public health systems.

Dietitians who are self-employed need to have business and management skills.

Working conditions

Dietitians:

  • work regular business hours, but may work after hours or weekends if they are based in hospitals and private clinics
  • work in hospitals, private practices, food service settings, and in the wider community
  • may travel locally to visit clients in rest homes or their homes.

What's the job really like?

Rochelle Hawkins

Dietitian

An enthusiasm for nutrition and people

For someone who’d always had an interest in food and nutrition, a career as a dietitian seemed an obvious choice. 

But after graduating with a degree in human nutrition and marketing Rochelle Hawkins worked in a catering and hospitality business’s social media team. “I liked marketing but after a year decided I’d rather be working with patients, so applied for my Masters in Dietetics.”

Teamwork helps when dealing with patients

Rochelle now works in a hospital and mainly plans special diets for patients with neurological conditions such as brain injuries and stroke who’ve lost their ability to swallow.

“We have formulas to follow for tube feeding but you still need to know how to manipulate nutrient levels to suit the requirements of different patients.

“It can be quite tough at first being around people with complex conditions. You manage your own caseload so you’re independent, but the team meet up every morning to support each other and share the workload.”

Look for opportunities to expand your skills

Rochelle says finding full-time work can be challenging. “Be prepared to move around, and do part time and maternity leave cover roles until a permanent opportunity comes along.”

She also recommends finding opportunities to broaden your skills. “I’m interested in working in private practice so I’m taking two evening clinics a week in a gym helping clients with weight loss and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).”

Entry requirements

Becoming a dietitian

To become a dietitian you need to complete a:

  • Bachelor of Science majoring in human nutrition, or food science and nutrition
  • two-year Master's degree in dietetics, or nutrition and dietetics.

You also need to be registered with the New Zealand Dietitians Board.

Becoming a nutritionist

There are no specific requirements for becoming a nutritionist. However, if you want to register with the Nutrition Society of New Zealand, it is recommended that you have:

  • a Bachelor of Science from University of Otago, Massey University or Auckland University
  • two to three years of experience in the field of nutrition.

You may still be able to register if you have a different degree that includes relevant science and nutrition courses.

Nutritionists can become associate members of Dietitians New Zealand if they have a science degree in human nutrition approved by Dietitians New Zealand, or have gained considerable work or research experience in nutrition or dietetics. 

The Vulnerable Children Act 2014 means that if you have certain serious convictions, you can’t be employed in a role where you are responsible for, or work alone with, children. 

Secondary education

To enter tertiary training you need to have NCEA Level 3. Useful subjects include biology, chemistry, maths, home economics (food and nutrition), and health education.

Personal requirements

Dietitians need to be:

  • outgoing and motivated
  • able to inspire confidence in others
  • patient
  • able to relate to a wide variety of people
  • good at communicating
  • organised and good at planning.

You have to be adaptable because you can’t always plan everything - there can be interruptions like doctors needing to take patients away for tests.

Rochelle Hawkins

Dietitian

Useful experience

Useful experience for dietitians includes:

  • work in a hospital kitchen or restaurant
  • food preparation work
  • teaching or staff management experience
  • working with people of different ages and cultural backgrounds.

Physical requirements

Dietitians need to be reasonably fit and healthy as they have to act as role models for the people they are advising.

Registration

Dietitians need to be registered with the New Zealand Dietitians Board.

Nutritionists who meet specific criteria, such as having relevant work experience, may:

  • register with the Nutrition Society of New Zealand
  • become associate members of Dietitians New Zealand.

Find out more about training

Dietitians New Zealand
(04) 477 4701 - admin@dietitians.org.nz - www.dietitians.org.nz
Nutrition Society of NZ
0226545874 - info@nutritionsociety.ac.nz - www.nutritionsociety.ac.nz
Check out related courses

What are the chances of getting a job?

Not enough jobs for graduating dietitians

Chances of getting a job are good for experienced dietitians.

However, opportunities for graduates are scarce due to limited government funding for new dietitian positions in district health boards. 

You can increase your chances of getting work by:

  • joining Dietitians New Zealand and attending their branch meetings, conferences and professional development workshops. This gives you opportunities to network with senior dietitians, and businesses that employ dietitians
  • using your clinical placement to work with a senior dietitian in an area of interest (such as diabetes). They'll be more likely to remember you when a vacancy arises
  • volunteering at district health boards or with Dietitians New Zealand to help run professional development workshops, or produce newsletters
  • approaching private businesses, such as Fonterra or Foodstuffs, that employ dietitians.  

Some graduates choose to use their knowledge in other job areas such as:

  • policy development
  • research
  • education
  • communications. 

According to the New Zealand Dietitians Board, 701 people were registered as dietitians in 2018.  

Types of employers varied

Dietitians may be employed by:

  • district health boards
  • primary health organisations 
  • government organisations such as the Ministry of Health or New Zealand Food Safety 
  • non-governmental organisations such as the Heart Foundation or Cancer Society
  • universities and polytechnics
  • commercial or industrial organisations.

Dietitians may also work in private practice or be self-employed.

Sources

  • Linge, C, chief executive officer, Dietitians New Zealand, careers.govt.nz interview, June 2018.
  • New Zealand Dietitians Board, 'Newsletter to Practitioners', April 2018, (www.dietitiansboard.org.nz).

(This information is a guide only. Find out more about the sources of our job opportunities information)

Progression and specialisations

Dietitians may progress into:

Dietitians may specialise in one of the following roles:

Clinical Dietitian
Clinical dietitians work in an area of dietetics such as allergies, irritable bowel syndrome or paediatrics.
Food Industry Dietitian
Food industry dietitians help companies to reformulate foods, and package and market foods so that healthy foods are available for purchase.
Food Service Dietitian
Food service dietitians work in kitchens at hospitals, rest homes, boarding schools or hostels. They are often employed by large catering companies to assist with menu planning for people with different dietary needs.
Public Health Dietitian
Public health dietitians promote public health by developing and implementing community nutrition programmes, and advising on food and nutrition guidelines. They may also work with retailers and manufacturers to improve access to healthy food options.
Dietitian talking about healthy food choices with a diabetic patient

A dietitian advises a diabetic patient on good health and nutrition

Last updated 17 July 2019