Ritika Samaddar, chief, clinical nutrition, Max Healthcare, New Delhi, who started working as a clinical nutritionist in 1995, has seen a marked change in the way people look at nutritionists. “When I had started my career, this was a new field and at that time only a few hospitals had one odd dietician. Hence, dieticians/nutritionists had to struggle to survive and create a niche for themselves, especially, in hospitals where doctors did everything and we just had to follow their recommendation. But now, the scenario has changed. Nutritionists are specialists today and have become an integral part of the medical fraternity,” she says.
Talking about her journey, Samaddar says, “I was always fascinated with hospitals, white coats and doctors who serve and care for the ill and wanted to be one of them. Unfortunately, I could not clear my medical exams. Instead of being depressed, I took a conscious decision to take up nutrition as a career.”
With changing lifestyles and food habits the importance and need of a nutritionist has increased manifold, says Samaddar. “The job of a nutritionist means much more than just handing over diet plans to the patients. A nutritionist has to take inputs from the patient and check his/her medical records, genetic patterns and suggest modifications in his/her diet, if required. Then, the diet plan is handed over to the food and beverage department which is a separate department responsible for the preparation, production and the serving of the food. Last but not the least, we counsel the patients at the time of discharge.”
Busting myths about the profession, Samaddar says, “People think that nutritionists don’t have to deal with emergencies, which is not true. I had a patient who weighed 240 kgs. He was morbidly obese, distressed and couldn’t move around. Had he not started to lose weight immediately, he would have died. After a year, when we discharged him he weighed 160 kgs. This not only changed the quality of his life but helped me in handling such patients -- it was mentally challenging.”
Actual work experience counts. “You have to understand that you are dealing with people who come with a lot of baggage when it comes to food habits. Food is a way of life for most people and to change it would be like changing people’s lifestyles You have to work out a solution and counsel them. To do this, you will need good communication skills,” adds Samaddar.
According to Samaddar a difficulty that one has to overcome in this profession is that the pay packages, particularly in hospitals, are not very good. “Those who want to bring home a bigger salary should try and do an MBA after graduating in nutrition and get into the food industries like Dabur, Pepsico etc. There have been times when people I know have joined this profession but have left midway due to less pay packages. Even I have done this. But soon I realised that working in a hospital and dealing with patients was my forte. It feels nice when a patient comes back saying, ‘thank you for getting our sugar back to normal. This keeps me going,” she says.
Eye on diet
Nutritionists are people with expertise in clinical and nutritional matters and assess the dietary needs of patients
Rs. I take home
Rs. 2lakh- Rs. 20lakh per annum
I love my job because...
My advice helps in recovery of patients, this gives me immense satisfaction
You need to be focused and have the inclination to work in a hospital; care for patients and be sensitive to their needs
All you need to know about a career as a nutritionist
Nutritionists are experts in food science technology, therapeutic diets and public health issues. With changing lifestyles, the demand for trained and qualified nutritionists has increased manifold in different avenues such as research, education, hospitals and fast-moving consumer goods companies. Food companies have nutrition divisions where nutritionists are involved in projects like providing inputs for product innovation, participating in team meetings and driving improvement decisions. The demand for school health nutritionists is increasing, too. Food journalism to review various cuisines is also catching on. Nutritionists can get jobs in gyms and healthcare centres
* Institute of Home Economics and Lady Irwin College, New Delhi; www.ihe-du.com, www.ladyirwin.edu.in
* Mount Carmel College, Bangalore; www.mountcarmelcollegeblr.co.in
* University of Mumbai; www.mu.ac.in
Take up a home science course after Class 10, continue with it in Class 12, and do a BSc home science course. You can follow it up with a master’s in home science with specialisation in food science and nutrition
Skills and traits
* Knowledge on current trends in nutrition, health and wellness
* Technical knowledge about the fundamentals of nutrition, physiology and foods science
* Good interpersonal skills