Do you want to branch outside of conventional dietetics but don’t want to start your own business? If so, you may want to consider contract work.
What Is Contract Work?
By definition, a contract position—also known as an independent contractor or a 1099 employee—is an agreement between two parties who exchange a service. A contract dietitian can work with a variety of industries to provide nutrition-related expertise, services, or products. The options for contract work are endless, and these positions are flexible, usually pay well, and can help broaden your skill set outside of clinical dietetics.
The following are some key characteristics of contract work:
- You’ll have a flexible schedule.
- You’ll have self-employed status. As a contractor, the government considers you self-employed and you’ll need to pay quarterly federal and state taxes.
- Either party can change or cancel the contract at any time.
- Typically, you’ll have no medical benefits, paid time off, or sick days.
- The contract may be a short- or long-term commitment.
Who Should Become a Contract RD?
The ideal candidate for contract work is someone looking for part-time, flexible work; contracts that last for only a few weeks or months; and/or a side hustle on nights/weekends or other time off.
To work as a contractor, you need a unique skill set, but these skills may not have to be RD specific. Likely, you have skills that will benefit you in other industries.
Flexibility: Contracts are completed within the agreed-upon time frame between the two entities. Often, you can make your own schedule and work at your own pace as long as the project is completed by the deadline.
Higher paying: Contract positions tend to be higher paying, usually to compensate for the lack of benefits.
Side income: Being an independent contractor may be a nice way to earn some extra spending money. It’s similar to PRN-style work, but you may find a broader reach of opportunities outside of the clinical realm with contract work.
Hones new skills: Many dietitians contract with companies in other industries. You may consider options such as a group fitness instructor, a natural make-up consultant, or another wellness-based position.
Tax benefit: While keeping track of personal revenue and paying your own taxes can feel scary at first, it comes with a nice benefit … tax write-offs! When you’re self-employed, many resources you need to complete the contract are tax-deductible. This could range from office equipment to cell phone bills to vehicle expenses. Check with an accountant to properly organize the tax write-offs you may have.
Higher risk: Being a contractor means you’re legally the sole responsible party for the work you do; the organization you contract with doesn’t assume responsibility for you as an employee.
Personal tax responsibility: While this doesn’t have to be a drawback, many dietitians never seek out unconventional work because of the change in tax requirements. While there’s certainly a learning curve, self-employed taxes also can be used to your advantage through tax write-offs and retirement savings benefits.
Less stable income: As mentioned, either party can terminate contracts. This can happen if the company has a budget cut or decides to revise its contract at some point.
How to Become a Contract Dietitian
Check job boards. I’ve found several contract positions posted in my area on Indeed. Indeed and other job posting sites such as Monster and ZipRecruiter also often feature government positions and remote jobs.
Get active on LinkedIn. Use your social network to connect with brands and marketing departments and find new opportunities.
Use Link. This platform—built exclusively for RDs and previously known as The RD Link—enables you to connect with food brands directly.
Reach out to start-up companies. They’re often open to new ideas and may not yet have a dietitian on staff.
Try Dietitians on Demand. This is a short-term contract and travel agency for RDs that frequently offers medical benefits.
Just ask. Pitch the marketing or PR person of the organization you want to work with.
Examples of RD Contract Jobs
The following examples of contract work currently are held by dietitians in the industry—proof that you can do it too!
Celebrity chef: Contract with brands or organizations for commercials, spokesperson work, or event hosting as a culinary dietitian.
Benefit: Builds your expertise by being a media dietitian.
Freelance writer: Hone your writing skills by working with a publication.
Benefit: Builds credibility by appearing in the media. Leverage your published work to get more writing gigs.
Fruit Street Lifestyle Coach: Dietitians and diabetes educators are preferred for the Lifestyle Coach role at Fruit Street, a company that delivers the Diabetes Prevention Program through insurance benefits for participants.
Benefit: You easily can pick up a class or two in the evenings or on the weekends.
Grocery store tours: Contract directly with your local grocery store or a wellness facility to provide grocery store tours.
Benefit: This can be a great option for after normal business hours.
Health coach: Trade in counseling for coaching as a health coach.
Benefit: Remote and virtual options often are preferred.
Long term care menu auditor: Use your food service skills to conduct menu audits and help facilities prepare for state inspections.
Benefit: This is often consistent work where you can count on being needed once per quarter or on a similar schedule.
Long term care short term/travel contracts: If you have a chunk of time to spare, many travel contracts offer highly competitive pay and benefits for a short period of time. Contracts can vary in hours of work per week and amount of travel.
Benefit: Short-term contracts are flexible and noncommittal.
Media spokesperson: If you don’t have your own platform, you can leverage your expertise to write blog or social media posts for brands.
Benefit: Connect with brands and build your media expertise.
Pharmaceuticals: There are many ways to work with pharmaceutical companies including providing CEU webinars, conducting insulin pump trainings, or working with tube feeding and other specialty formulas.
Benefit: Pharmaceutical companies often pay competitively and offer ongoing contracts.
Recipe developer: Work with brands to bring nutrition expertise to their campaigns by providing RD-approved recipes.
Benefit: Leverage your work to continue working with brands and food companies.
Research reviews: Evaluate the latest research and help translate it into plain-language text.
Benefit: Stay up to date with current research on your own time.
Virtual assistant: Get your feet wet in private practice by working a handful of hours each week for another dietitian’s business. This work often includes drafting e-mails, social media posts, creating images, answering FAQs, etc. However, understand that being a virtual assistant is a commitment. You need to understand the people you work for and the business model they use.
Benefit: You get to learn the behind-the-scenes effort it takes to run a business and can work on your own time.
Please note that the purpose of this blog post is to showcase the many options available to dietitians outside the traditional scope. For legal concerns, contact a trusted lawyer or financial professional. The best resources I’ve found for contract work include the following:
- IRS FAQs on employee vs contractor: irs.gov/faqs/small-business-self-employed-other-business/form-1099-nec-independent-contractors/form-1099-nec-independent-contractors-1
- QuickBooks Self-Employed to keep up with finances and tax responsibility: quickbooks.intuit.com/self-employed
- America’s SBDC for small business mentorship (free and taxpayer funded): americassbdc.org
— Caroline Thomason, RD, CDCES, is a dietitian in private practice, certified diabetes care and education specialist, freelance writer, and contract dietitian with several companies. She can be found at carolinethomason.com.