– By Susie Burrell
When I became a dietitian, like most, if not all of us, it was not for the money. I, like you, had an interest in health and found applied nutrition interesting and so went on to study nutrition and go on to become a dietitian. It was a few years into my dietetic career that it became apparent that I was going to need to make a lot more coin than I was making working at a hospital part time if I was ever going to be able to afford to buy a house in Sydney that my interest in making money and business success grew. It also shifted my career path to one in which I had a lot more control over my income in order to be able to pursue these financial goals.
Just recently though, I was again reminded that there are many dietitians seriously undervaluing themselves. I was randomly approached by a chiropractor and their corporate health company to give some corporate talks. Why not I thought? I have some extra time at the moment, and a bit of extra money is always great so I met with the chiropractor, confirmed some dates and waited for the confirmation information to be sent through along with the pay rate. I knew the rate would be much less than I am used to charging and it came back at $60 an hour. Now a quick mental calculation quickly revealed that after I had paid my tax and the nanny I would need for this day’s work I would literally be making no money. I would be getting less than a 1/3 per hour of what I would usually charge for labour intensive 1:1 consults, and there would be no added benefits – no super, no tax withdrawn, none of the benefits that come with a lower rate of pay when you are actually employed. The numbers just did not add up and I was actually better to not work at all and hope a TV spot or article came up in which I could earn 3-4 x this amount in a fraction of the time than spend 8hrs of my day on this job. I was reassured that running my own practice is financially the right decision.
What has stuck in my mind ever since that interaction was that when I asked the corporate group for a higher rate of pay, the $80-$100 per hour I would need to make the offer feasible, I was told that if I was paid $80 an hour I would be the hugest paid dietitian in the group. This tells me one thing, there are a whole lot of dietitians out there being paid a lot less than they are worth as clinicians working directly with clients.
Now don’t get me wrong. I understand that at times you need to take what is available to pay the rent. And sometimes you are paid less than what you ideally want because you need the work and / or experience. I too have been there. But the message is that ultimately as a highly trained professional you need to know what you are worth and be constantly working towards getting there in your career. Too often we are told that clients cannot afford our services and that the clinic can only charge Medicare rebates but I call bulls*it. People pay for services they want and respect, and for those who truly cannot afford it there are government services which they can access but for private practitioners who have numerous overheads and are doing the hard yards seeing demanding 1:1 clients in clinic you must work towards being paid appropriate rates.
So if you know that you are being underpaid, or are being paid by another dietitian at an especially low rate, it is time to value yourself. Start by increasing your rates slightly, $10-20 above the GAP, or work smartly by offering group or shorter sessions to make the numbers work for you. Seek out specialists and try and work directly with them for both referrals and billing as clients seeing specialists are used to paying for those services and will respect you as a clinician more. And be strict with how much rent you pay – if GP’s clinics are insisting you pay >10-20% rent, or more than $100 per session and yet push you to charge Medicare only, push back. There are many, many spaces to rent, and some cost a fraction of what dietitians are paying to GP clinics and sports medicine centres.
There is nothing wrong with being a dietitian and wanting to help people, but there is also nothing wrong with wanting your profession to ensure you have a financially viable business. If you do not value what you do, who will? And no one is going to offer to pay you more, you have to ask for it.