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Nutrition Assistant Duties and Responsibilities
While nutrition assistants can work in a variety of facilities and settings, most job postings that we examined shared several core responsibilities:
Gather Patient Information One of the primary duties of a nutrition assistant is working directly with patients to gather information about their general health and nutritional habits. This can include working with nurses and physicians to obtain vital data such as blood pressure and activity levels, which can inform the patient's caloric needs and identify potential issues that may impact healthcare and outcomes.
Identify Patient Dietary Restrictions Nutrition assistants identify patient dietary restrictions as they perform intake interviews and conduct ongoing dietary and nutrition assessment. This information typically includes information such as allergies and intolerances, but can also include information regarding salt, fat, or sugar intake that may impact patient care.
Collaborate to Plan Meals Nutrition assistants work closely with dieticians and certified nutritionists to plan patient meals throughout the healthcare facility. This can include both general meals for distribution throughout the facility, as well as special meals for gluten-intolerant, diabetic, or otherwise restricted patients. The nutrition assistant assesses meal plans and menus to ensure that they meet each patient's recommended caloric intake every day.
Distribute Meals Many nutrition assistants also play a central role in distributing meals to patients. The nutrition assistant may receive a group of patients' meals from the kitchen and deliver them to each room, making sure that patients on restricted diets receive their correct meals and that every patient is accounted for and fed according to schedule. The nutrition assistant may also answer patient questions regarding meals, ingredients, and nutritional information.
Support Sanitization Processes Nutrition assistants also support sanitization and cleanup processes by collecting used dishes and trays from patient rooms, cleaning them, and discarding unused portions. These sanitation methods help prevent the spread of disease by ensuring that each utensil that comes into contact with patients is thoroughly cleaned and sanitized after each use.
Educate Patients on Nutrition Finally, many nutrition assistants use their knowledge of dietetics and nutrition to help educate patients about proper eating habits and their specific dietary needs. The nutrition assistant may provide written or verbal information to each patient and address any questions. If a patient is leaving the facility, the nutrition assistant may supply them with meal plans and advise on eating and drinking to support recovery and well-being.
Nutrition Assistant Skills and QualificationsNutrition assistants work with dieticians and nutritionists to provide patient support through dietary planning and management. Most workers in this role have an associate's degree and the following skills:
- Nutritional expertise - nutrition assistants should be very familiar with principles of nutrition and dietetics, along with how proper nutrition can support patient outcomes and general well-being
- Attention to detail - this role requires excellent attention to detail to ensure that patients remain healthy and well nourished, and to provide balanced meals that meet their nutritional and health needs
- Bedside manner - nutrition assistants frequently interact directly with patients, so they should have great bedside manner and be able to answer patient questions, build rapport, and create a positive experience
- Organization and time management - time management is key in this role, as nutrition assistants are often responsible for supporting meal preparation and delivery for large patient populations and need to follow strict schedules
- Communication skills - effective communication is key in this role, since nutrition assistants communicate with doctors, nurses, patients, and nutritionists to support patient care activities
Nutrition Assistant Education and TrainingGenerally, nutrition assistants need at least an associate's degree in a related field, such as nutrition or health and wellness. Students who are interested in becoming nutrition assistants can also improve their employment prospects through an internship, which provides hands-on training in the duties associated with this role and can lead directly to employment. Depending on the state and the nutrition assistant's level of responsibility, certification or licensure may be required. There are many opportunities for on-the-job training in this role as nutrition assistants gain expertise and familiarize themselves with the procedures of their facility.
Nutrition Assistant Salary and OutlookAccording to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), dietetic technicians (a category that includes nutrition assistants) earned a median annual wage of $26,500 as of May 2017. The highest-paid ten percent of workers in this role earned more than $45,970, while the lowest-paid earned less than $18,990. While the BLS does not provide employment outlook information specifically for this role, its data does indicate that dietician and nutritionist employment will grow at a faster-than-average rate of 15 percent between 2016 and 2026, which will likely create more nutrition assistant positions as well.
If you're interested in starting a career as a nutrition assistant, we found a number of helpful resources on the web for further reading and information:
National Association of Nutrition Professionals (NANP) - the NANP is a professional and advocacy organization for nutrition professionals. It offers continuing education resources, networking events, and job search assistance.
Nutrition Therapy and Pathophysiology by Marcia Nelms and Kathryn P. Sucher - this book explores the connections between nutrition and disease, and contains evidence-based information on nutrition as an essential part of patient treatment.
"Six Steps to Optimal Nutrition Care" - read this blog post to learn best practices in supporting patient health and well-being through proper nutrition assessment and the development and monitoring of nutrition care plans.
Krause's Food & the Nutrition Care Process by L. Kathleen Mahan and Janice L Raymond - read this book to learn about current dietary guidelines, diagnostic methodologies, and nutrition information for patients at every life stage.
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