A dietitian assistant is a food-related healthcare worker who works with supervising dieticians to provide meals, snacks or even nutritional instruction to patients, students or residents. These workers are primarily employed in hospitals, nursing homes, schools, universities and prisons. Depending upon the size of the organization, a dietitian assistant either directly supervises cooks and primary food service workers — or assists them in their work — in order to ensure that the meals prepared are within the menu, budget and nutritional requirements established by supervising dietician. At one time, only a high school diploma and some on-the-job training were necessary to become a dietitian assistant. The increasing professionalization of many healthcare careers, however, has now increased the minimum education to enter this career to that of an associate's degree in nutrition, food service, dietitian science or a related field.
As noted above, a minimum of an associate's degree in dietitian science or nutrition is now necessary to enter the field and become a dietitian assistant in the US. The American Dietetic Association recently established this minimum educational preparation. Despite these requirements, a little more than one-third of working dietitian assistants have not completed a high school diploma and approximately the same percentage have only a high school diploma. The remaining dietitian assistants have gone beyond The American Dietetic Association's minimum requirements to become a dietitian assistant and have earned bachelor's degrees in the field. This professional association can provide prospective students with a list of accredited programs for both associate's and bachelor's degrees.
The American Dietetic Association has established another professional goal for individuals who wish to become a dietitian assistant. Although not yet required by most employers, the professional association is lobbying heavily for successful completion of a written examination created and conducted by the Commission on Dietetic Registration (CDR) for individuals who wish to become a dietitian assistant. The uniform adoption of this examination throughout the US would lend a greater degree of professionalism to this career. This positive step, however, might be offset by dietitian assistant demands for higher wages due to the greater educational preparation required for the career.
A final requirement mandated by The American Dietetic Association for individuals who wish to become a dietitian assistant is completion of annual continuing education (CE) units in order to maintain an active registration in the professional organization. Current dietitian assistants who have completed a bachelor's degree in the field and successfully completed a written examination are referred to as "Dietitian Assistants, Registered." These individuals serve as examples of the goals of professional certification for the career of a dietitian assistant.