How to Negotiate a Dietitian’s Value and Compensation

By Courtney Lee, MS, RDN, CLT, CFCS 

Author’s Note: On a personal note, working for Dietitians On Demand as a consulting dietitian was the first time I felt wellcompensated for my work. I had been an RD for four years already and had worked in food service, longterm care, and acute care. I made twice my hourly rate (no joke) consulting for DOD than my fulltime acute care lead dietitian job, and I was doing the exact same thing at a nearby facility! I never went back to working a job where I didn’t feel wellcompensated. I encourage you to know your value and lobby for yourself to be appropriately compensated. RDs are rock stars! Work for someone else, a boss or clients, who thinks so too.  

What’s the value of a dietitian? That’s the question we have all asked ourselves at some point and wish there were a straightforward answer. In general, across practice settings, dietitians tend to be undervalued and subsequently undercompensated. There are exceptions to this—nutrition support dietitians working for physician groups, consultant dietitians, food industry dietitians, dietitians working in product sales, dietitians in food service, and corporate food scientists tend to have higher compensation.  

Keep in mind, value and compensation are two different things. You get to define your value, regardless of others, because you know the importance of nutrition care and expertise, wherever you work. Compensation is what others are willing to pay for nutrition expertise. In a profession that tends to be undercompensated, don’t let that skew your view on the value of nutrition to health, wellness, and quality of life.  

So, how do you ask for your compensation to reflect your value? How do you ask for a raise, a starting salary, or price your services? Here are some steps to take as you think through this 

  1. Know your value as the nutrition expert. What’s in your practice area that only you can do? Why is that important? What is nutrition’s role for the people you serve? You need to be really clear on these answers first.  
  2. Practice articulating your value. Make sure you can say it clearly and succinctly so others will understand. Practice saying it out loud.  
  3. Do your research. Be familiar with dietitians’ compensation in your geographic location and practice area, as well as other professionals and clinicians. Know where you fall in the compensation lineup.  
  4. Be bold! Ask for a meeting with your supervisor, ask for the raise. Tell HR what you want your salary to be and why. Set your hourly rate and package prices. Expect questions and some pushback. This is why you’ve practiced articulating your value; it’s time to defend it!  
  5. Stay realistic about what people can and will actually pay. Smaller changes are more acceptable than big ones, at first, but can continue to grow with time. In private practice, know what insurance reimbursement rates are and the price of other nutrition services. Base your pricing on something realistic.  
  6. Look for people who value the results you deliver. People who understand your value will help lift you up and be happy to pay your price. Keep an eye out for open jobs and be ready to transition to a team who values nutrition.  
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 It’s not easy to go against the grain, especially when there are dietitians out there who take low-paying jobs without a fight. But the more we identify our profession’s value and the value of nutrition, the more we can see that value reflected in our compensation. Be comfortable with the compensation you ask for, and work to earn it.  

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Courtney Lee MS, RDN, CLT, CFCS has a virtual private practice specializing in personalized nutrition & anti-inflammatory diets. She loves helping people use nutrition to change their lives and enjoys empowering other RDNs to do the same! www.courtneyleerd.com.

Dietitians On Demand is a nationwide staffing and recruiting company for registered dietitians, specializing in short-term, temporary and permanent-hire positions in acute care, long term care and food service positions. We’re dedicated to dietitians and helping them enhance their practice and excel in the workplace. Check out our job openingsrequest your coverage, or visit our store today!