Hospitals, skilled nursing facilities and schools need dietary aides to help make sure patients and students are being provided with nutritious meals based on any dietary restrictions or allergies. A dietary aide works under the supervision of a licensed dietician to monitor and record food intake of hospital patients and others on restrictive diets. Individuals who enjoy working with both people and food may find a career as a dietary aide to be a good fit.
A dietary aide must have good reading and math skills as he or she will have to read recipes and multiply ingredients to make meals for large numbers of people. They also must be able to measure calories, fat grams, and carbohydrates in order to work effectively with people struggling with food-related health issues. An aide working to help patients and others stay on a diet must be knowledgeable about proper nutrition as well as about how food impacts overall health and health issues. Since a dietary aide tends to have more direct daily communication with patients than their superiors, it is important for the aide to take notice and immediately report any possible adverse effects caused by food.
Although more education than a high school diploma is not usually required to become a dietary aide, there are some schools that offer college courses and 2-year degrees in majors related to the field. Individuals who already possess the skills necessary to be effective dietary aides may benefit further from pursuing an Associate’s degree in a nutrition related major. Tuition and book costs for a degree in dietary management typically run between $4,000 and $9,000 per year depending on the school. It is possible for people with some education beyond high school to earn better salaries, but there is no guarantee of higher pay.
Certification and Continuing Education
Depending on the state and the particular facility, there may be some certification requirements. The American National Standards Institute accredits certification programs for workers who handle food like dietary aides. Most courses only take one day to complete and may cost between $9 and $15. Some employers cover the cost of the course and allow employees to take the course during work hours. Most employers require employees to keep their certifications up-to-date as the courses usually cover important changes in federal and state law that pertain to the job.
On the Job Training
Many dietary aides who have only high school diplomas receive training on the job. Every facility is different and every patient is unique; therefore on-the-job-training specific to a facility and its patient population is always an important part of the education process. It is important for a dietary aide to have a cheerful disposition along with an ability to practice tolerance when dealing with difficult patients who may be in pain, depressed, angry or otherwise unhappy with their health conditions. An empathetic aide may be the bright spot in an otherwise sad day for many patients.
Schools, Scholarships and Grants
Sanford Brown is a well-known career/vocational school that offers education for dietary and nutrition majors and has multiple locations in 18 states. The school offers a number of grants and scholarships including the Military Yellow Ribbon Grant which is for students who qualify for post 9/11 veteran’s benefits. The school also offers the Workforce Development Scholarship Program which is targeted toward people who already work for healthcare providers and wish to further their education.
Finding a Job
The best places to look for jobs in dietary-related fields is to check hospitals, nursing homes and rehabilitation centers. Students who are nearing graduation from a 2-year college program may find resources in the career center or job placement department at their school. While still in college or even while in high school, it may be helpful to look for an internship or even volunteer program at a hospital in order to get a foot in the door that may lead to a future job.
Salary and Career Outlook
Since a job as a dietary aide does not require a college degree, salaries tend to be low. Individuals desiring to make more money may want to consider finishing college and becoming a licensed dietician. Typically, entry level positions as aides to dieticians earn minimum wage or a little more. Aides with 20 years or more experience may make as much as $13.50 an hour. Jobs in this field are not expected to increase significantly over the next decade. A student who is in college studying to become a licensed dietician may benefit from a part-time position as an aide for the purpose of gaining practical experience and earning money to help pay for school and associated expenses.
A career as a dietary aide is an excellent starting point for a young person wishing to work in a hospital or other healthcare environment where food and nutrition are important. It may also be a good option for a mother desiring to work part-time while children are in school in order to generate additional income for the household.