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.
Dietitians usually earn
$49K-$100K per year
Source: DHBs/PSA, 'Allied, Public Health and Technical Collective Agreement', 2017.
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.
- 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?
Persuading rather than policing central to the job
"Dietitians are not part of the food police," says Drew McLean. "You can't just dictate to someone – rather you work with them to see the bigger picture, especially when dealing with people from other cultures. Coconut cream, for example, is a cultural choice, so you might bring to their attention and recommend coconut creams that have a lower fat content."
Helping restore quality of life is a highlight
"I find it most rewarding working with oncology patients. You can give back the pleasure of eating to someone with oesophageal cancer by finding food textures that minimise irritation in their throat."
People contact an attractive part of the work
Dietetics was a career Drew considered fairly early on. "The people contact appealed to me." Though on reflection, he says it would be good to have a few more males in the profession, in terms of camaraderie.
Drew also likes keeping up with the latest developments in nutrition. He says there is always new research and development for disease management to learn and apply to your practice.
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.
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.
Dietitians need to be:
- outgoing and motivated
- able to inspire confidence in others
- able to relate to a wide variety of people
- good at communicating
- organised and good at planning.
When you've got a kid with really bad eczema and you're able to identify what they're allergic to and they get better, that's one of the best things – when you find answers.
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.
Dietitians need to be reasonably fit and healthy as they have to act as role models for the people they are advising.
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.
- Nutrition Society of New Zealand website - information on registration
- Dietitians New Zealand website - information on membership
Find out more about training
- Dietitians New Zealand
- (04) 477 4701 - firstname.lastname@example.org - www.dietitians.org.nz
- Nutrition Society of NZ
- 0226545874 - email@example.com - www.nutritionsociety.ac.nz
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
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.
- 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:
- policy or advisory work in the public sector
- private practice
- the food industry
- food service settings such as aged-care facilities
- teaching and research.
- Policy analyst job information
- Public relations professional job information
- Tertiary lecturer job information
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.
Last updated 1 October 2018