RD Career Path: Cardiovascular Disease
SCAN Career Tip Sheet Series
Cardiovascular diseases include coronary heart disease, stroke, hypertension, and congestive heart failure. Because cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death in the United States and because lifestyle, especially nutrition, is a key component of its prevention and management, it provides a variety of career opportunities for dietitians. Many dietitians with expertise in cardiovascular nutrition work in hospitals, cardiac rehabilitation centers or lipid management centers where they counsel patients. Dietitians in private practice are also likely to see a great number of clients with cardiovascular disease. Others get involved in cardiovascular research at universities or research centers. Cardiovascular dietitians can also find opportunities in the corporate world, working for food or pharmaceutical companies. If cardiovascular nutrition is an area you'd like to pursue, the following tips will help you get started.
Education—focus on the basics:
The knowledge you obtain from physiology, biochemistry, and diet therapy classes provide the foundation for the understanding of cardiovascular nutrition. Research in cardiovascular nutrition is always evolving, however, so you must be prepared to keep abreast of the latest findings. In addition, seek out opportunities to enhance your ability to help others change behavior. Learning about motivational interviewing and strengthening your counseling skills are invaluable in this field.
Strongly consider pursuing additional training in some or all of the following areas to set yourself apart from other dietitians on the same career path:
- Smoking cessation
- Weight management
- Stress management such as yoga or meditation
- Diabetes management
- Exercise prescription
- Preparing delicious, heart healthy food
- Complementary alternative nutrition approaches to cardiovascular disease
Learn how to convince others of the value and efficacy of appropriate nutrition and other lifestyle interventions in the prevention and management of cardiovascular disease. Drug companies spend a phenomenal amount of money to encourage physicians to prescribe their products and to get people to ask their doctors about their products by name. Dietitians who can persuasively demonstrate that nutrition works will go far.
Get hospital experience:
Most positions of special expertise require hospital experience, and a hospital inpatient cardiology unit is an excellent way to gain experience in cardiovascular nutrition. Early in your career you may take exploratory positions before you land your ideal job. An internship can help give you a better understanding of what opportunities exist.
Stay abreast of the most current research related to cardiovascular nutrition and behavior change:
- Keep your SCAN (Sports, Cardiovascular and Wellness Nutritionists) membership current and network daily with colleagues on the Cardiovascular and Wellness electronic mailing list.
- Volunteer with SCAN's Wellness/CV subunit.
- Join other Dietetic Practice Groups related to cardiovascular health and participate in their electronic mailing lists:
- Diabetes Care and Education DPG: involved in patient education, professional education, and research for the management of diabetes mellitus
- Food & Culinary Professionals DPG: promotes food education and culinary skills to enhance the quality of life and health of the public
- Nutrition in Complementary Care DPG: professionals who are interested in the study of alternative and complementary therapies
- Nutrition Education for the Public DPG: involved in the design, implementation, and evaluation of nutrition education programs for target populations
- Weight Management DPG: supports the highest level of professional practice in the prevention and treatment of overweight and obesity throughout the lifecycle.
- Attend conferences that elevate your skills and fill gaps in your knowledge base
- Network with other health professionals involved in cardiovascular disease management
Be a role model:
You will be most effective as a cardiovascular nutrition expert if you eat and exercise appropriately. Maintaining a personal commitment to overall wellness will enhance your credibility.
Selected Professional Resources:
Carson, JS, Burke FM and Hark LA. Cardiovascular Nutrition: Disease Management and Prevention. American Dietetic Association, 2004. ISBN: 0880913452.
National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute
NHLBI’s National Cholesterol Education Program
NHLBI’s Seventh Report of the Joint National Committee on Prevention, Detection, Evaluation, and Treatment of High Blood Pressure (JNC 7) Express
American Heart Association
American Association of Cardiovascular and Pulmonary Rehabilitation
Author: Hilary Warner, MPH, RD, LD, Nutrition Works! Concord, New Hampshire
Originally posted August 2006. Updated July 2011.