Two trends are driving the need for more dietitians who are certified as specialists in gerontological nutrition: A large aging population, and an increased awareness that good nutrition can help prevent a wide range of diseases. As of July 2011, only about 400 dietitians in the U.S. have been certified in the geriatric field.
“Working with the elderly is a rewarding job,” says Ruth Frechman, a registered dietitian in Burbank, Calif., and a spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association. “You can make a huge impact on their health” by helping seniors make more nutritious choices, says Frechman, who teaches a “Feeling Fine After 55″ class in her community.
Science is always changing and improving, so people need guidance from someone who has up-to-date information, she says. “In my 10 years of teaching, I find that people want to know” about the latest dietary research.
But being a gerontological dietician can sometimes be a frustrating job, Frechman adds. Elderly people have pretty ingrained eating patterns that they’ve developed over a lifetime. “It’s a challenge getting people to change those [bad] habits.”
An experienced dietitian can pursue additional certification as a Specialist in Gerontological Nutrition if you have maintained your RD status for a minimum of two years with documentation of 2,000 hours of practice experience in the geriatrics field within the past five years. After submitting an application and the fee ($250), you can take the specialty examination, administered by computer in various locations across the country. (The exam is offered twice per year, winter and summer.)
According to Grady Barnhill, director of recertification and professional assessment at the Commission on Dietetic Registration, “Around 28 percent of employers will provide a salary increase or bonus when an employee achieves a credential” such as Specialist in Gerontological Nutrition.
(Note: The American Dietetic Association is officially changing its name to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics in January 2012.)
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