I wish I could say I am glad to be back at school, but this case of senior-itis is hitting me hard already. I do love seeing the old trees change, and leaves scatter with the breeze as it makes its way across campus. Fall is my absolute favorite time of year! Getting ready for the holidays, imagining great feasts, and digging out 3 pairs of fur boots from the back of my closet is pure joy. Getting back to the grind however, brings feelings of accomplishment and of lament for what was once a free and open schedule. In my preparations for the upcoming year, I began to think about life after college. I started checking online job websites, like SimplyHired.com and Indeed.com, and noticed the majority of jobs available are in hospitals.
When I was in high school and thought about my future, I envisioned being hands on with food. I would use my knowledge of nutrient interactions to create magnificent meals that nourish people for life. Clients and I would work together celebrating the wonder of a perfectly cooked dinner. And we would marvel at magic remedies made from the earth, helping heal from the inside out. Not knowing what to call this career, I jumped into nutrition. Then college came about and somewhat obscured my vision. More possibilities emerged; manager, writer, government official, counselor, patient advisor, menu planner, consultant, and more.
Back to the present, currently working in a hospital has allowed me to experience a great deal. As a nutrition assistant, I take patient orders and make sure they adhere to dietary restrictions set by a team of health professionals, including RDs. I then deliver and take away their meals. The magnificence and wonder I once envisioned has subsided for some reason. There is no glamour in the black and green uniforms, only a glitz in the eyes of patients who are lucky enough to be on a ‘regular’ diet- which means they can eat whatever they want.
This reality has inspired me to write about various options available in the field of nutrition, because it’s not what I thought, and now I’m trying to make a path for myself. I have talked to a few others in the food and nutrition major who have expressed similar feelings, so I figured it would be helpful to expose what possibilities we have outside of the hospital setting. But remember, with the job market as of today, you will really have to set yourself apart and aggressively go after the position you seek.
- Clinical Registered Dietitian: Most commonly found in hospitals or nursing care facilities providing nutrition therapy to patients. You will work with nurses and doctors to decide nutritional requirements or restrictions based on individual health conditions. The nature of the job consists of visiting patients, then inputting information in patient records electronically. More importantly, I have found salaries reported anywhere from $20,000 to $80,000, with an average of $55,000.
- Counselor/Private practice: May work in a doctor’s office, treatment center (perhaps for disordered eating, etc) or other “out-patient” office. Clients are usually referred to you. Here, you will analyze diets and work with individuals or groups modifying their eating habits to promote health. You will teach general nutrition. Salaries appear to range from $30,000 to $60,000.
- You can customize this area of expertise with alternative medicine, women’s health, diabetes prevention and treatment, and more.
- Consultant: Contracted to work with different organizations such as fitness facilities, sports teams, grocery stores, and more. May hold educational seminars or just provide counseling. Salaries vary greatly depending on location, need, experience, and responsibilities.
- This title grants the most freedom. You can do just about anything as a contracted worker because you are brought on to projects for your expertise. However, job security can be an issue due to employment based on need. You can be a writer, recipe analyst, menu planner, editor, community program planner, or a number of other specialties.
- Food Service RD: Consists of large-scale meal planning. This role is generally a managerial position where you oversee a food department. You will order food and supplies, oversee kitchen staff, review current menus, research new food products and equipment, and more. Careers can be in schools, healthcare facilities, company cafeterias, and prisons. Salaries are a bit higher, with estimates reported from $50,000-$130,000.
- Education and Research: You may choose to become a nutrition teacher or professor. These positions usually require a graduate degree. Although, I did find a position for Adjunct Nutrition Instructor at Le Cordon Bleu in Texas which required a Bachelor’s degree and 2 years occupational experience. Researchers may work for government organizations like NIH, pharmaceutical companies, universities, or medical centers. Salaries can range from $30,000-$100,000.
While you do have the freedom to forge your own path, it takes a lot of work. And while the possibilities are truly endless if you possess a sense of adventure, the truth is that this field is very competitive. Once you find what ignites the fire inside you, stay strong in envisioning your future and making that dream a reality. If I look back at the beginnings of my path, I find that nothing excites me, moves me, calms me, and inspires more than cooking. For you, it might be making discoveries in the lab, genuinely connecting with a patient, or unlocking new worlds to wide-eyed students. This may take you down the street to Pomona Valley Hospital, to a school in Oklahoma, or jet-setting from Washington D.C. to London bumping elbows with politicians.
Although you may not be thinking about life after college just yet, building you future never starts too early. However, don’t let career choices and exam scores consume you completely. Always remember to live life enjoying the little things, like fur boots in the fall!
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