In this weekly feature, the editors of SpringBoard highlight one career in the health care professions–including a basic description, educational requirements, core competencies/key skills needed, and related web sites and professional organizations where you can find more information!
The national Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) is a long-running federal program that provides supplemental foods, nutrition education, and health care referrals for low-income women who are pregnant or have recently given birth, and for infants and young children at risk of poor nutrition. WIC nutritionists determine whether women and children are eligible for the program and provide vouchers for approved foods. The foods WIC supplies were chosen to help meet specific needs in populations at risk of poor nutrition. But WIC nutritionists do more than hand out vouchers. They ask about health problems that could affect nutrition, like food allergies in a child. They check for anemia and monitor children’s growth. They educate women about healthy eating and teach them how to make affordable, nutritious meals. They work to combat child obesity. Some WIC programs encourage exercise, help women obtain car seats, or offer cooking demonstrations. WIC nutritionists have to strike a careful balance between educating women and allowing them to make their own choices, and they have to be sensitive to social and cultural differences. Some clients are eager to learn, while others may be challenging to work with. The job also requires knowledge of program regulations and requirements, which can be quite complex. Some nutritionists have the opportunity to bring additional creativity to the work, such as designing recipes and menu plans or writing a monthly newsletter. A 40-hour workweek is typical, although some programs offer appointments on evenings and weekends.
Education and Certification
Nutritionists and dietitians generally must have at least a bachelor’s degree, with a focus on nutrition or a related subject. Specific requirements for WIC nutritionists vary. Often, they must be registered dietitians (RDs), which requires a bachelor’s degree, certain courses specific to nutrition, hands-on training, and an examination. Details on the RD credential are available from the Commission on Dietetic Registration at www.cdrnet.org. A master’s degree in nutrition is usually required for supervisory work.
Core Competencies and Skills
- Strong communication skills, including both speaking and listening
- Excellent teaching skills
- Flexible thinking, to adapt recommendations to individual clients’ lifestyles and needs
- Understanding of local communities, particularly their cultures and food traditions
- Knowledge of WIC regulations and requirements
- Thorough knowledge of nutritional needs during pregnancy, breastfeeding, and early childhood
Dietitians and nutritionists in general earn salaries ranging from about $30,000 per year to about $70,000, with about half earning above $50,000. These numbers are typical for WIC nutritionists, as well.
WIC programs employ a large number of nutritionists nationwide. There are WIC programs run by health departments, nonprofit organizations, and hospitals and health centers.
WIC is a very large program—serving more than 9 million women, infants, and children—and there are often jobs available. Some which may limit the number of openings, but some also report that job openings can be hard to fill.
For Further Information
- American Dietetic Association (ADA) www.eatright.org
- The Public Health/Community Nutrition Practice Group of the ADA www.phcnpg.org
- American Public Health Association—Food and Nutrition Section www.apha.org/membergroups/sections/aphasections/food
- National WIC Association (NWA) www.nwica.org