Pediatric Nutritionist Career Guide

Overview

A pediatric nutritionist (or dietician) addresses the nutritional needs of infants and children up to the age of eighteen. Infants, children and adolescents go through specific developmental phases of life, so when pediatric nutritionists design dietary plans, they must take into account the phase of development the young people are going through. These specialists are trained to develop a program to fit the specific needs of young people who are going through these various phases, while also taking into account the particular health issues these individuals might be experiencing.

Some of these issues are:

  • Slow growth or development
  • Diabetes
  • Eating disorders
  • Constipation
  • Food allergies
  • Diarrhea
  • Food cravings

Assuming responsibility for something as vital as the nutritional needs of children can be a rewarding and challenging position. This is especially true in cases of high-risk newborns, many of whom are in intensive care units. These newborns have trouble in maintaining the proper body temperature and in fighting off infection and feeding, so a nutritionist can often mean the difference in life or death for these patients.

Educational Requirements

Recommended coursework for studying this field includes nutrition, physiology, biology, food management and chemistry. In most cases, the minimum educational requirement for nutritionists is a bachelor’s degree in nutrition, dietetics or a related major. Some states require nutritionists to hold advanced degrees.

There is usually also a requirement for residency training or an internship, depending upon state law, and this training often takes hundreds of hours to complete. Many states require certification or licensing, and most require continuing education.

For nutritionists who are considering becoming self-employed, courses in management, economics and business are advisable.

Job Duties

A pediatric nutritionist must be able to speak to children of all ages in a friendly and respectful manner, and in a way the children can understand. The nutritionist must be creative and flexible when designing a dietary plan, taking the preferences of the children into consideration. Every child is different, in temperament as well as in nutritional needs, so nutritionists have to adjust their nutritional theories to the reality of their clients’ needs and desires.

It’s also important for a pediatric nutritionist to be able to talk to parents about the parents’ own diets, because children often want to eat the same foods their parents do. It can prove difficult for young people to eat the proper foods while their parents or siblings are eating tempting foods.

Nutritionists must be willing to be part of a team, as they often work with families, nurses, doctors, governmental officials and school counselors. They must also realize that transforming the diets of children needs to be a gradual process, because sudden and drastic changes in diet can prove to be physically and emotionally upsetting to children. Nutritionists must also take into consideration the cost and availability of the food items in their diet plans, as well as potentially unknown food allergies.

Nutritionists must keep up-to-date with research finding on nutrition, and they must be able to apply that research into a practical plan for their patients.

Pediatric nutritionists can often find work in cafeterias, hospitals, wellness centers, clinics, schools or long-term care facilities.

Some of the specific tasks a pediatric nutritionist might have to tackle are:

  • Preparing visual aids and other manuals for teaching nutrition to families and patients
  • Consulting with doctors or other health care personnel about the dietary restrictions of patients
  • Coordinating and developing new menus for independent food service organizations
  • Advising families about preparing food
  • Taking clients to a grocery store to show them how to select proper foods for their diet plan
  • Giving community presentations on nutrition and diet

Career Outlook

According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the employment of nutritionists is expected to rise by 20% from 2010 to 2020, which is above the national average for all occupations. Part of the reason for this is that the public has now been made aware of the importance of proper nutrition, not only as an important part in overcoming illness but as a preventative measure and as a means of promoting general good health.

Salary Prospects

According to the Bureau of Labor website, the 2010 median pay rate for nutritionists was $25.60 per hour or $53,250 per year. The same site says that, in 2010, about 15% of dietitians and nutritionists were self-employed, normally working as either as consultants to individual clients or for a healthcare establishment on a contract basis.

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