How to Become a Nutritionist in 5 Steps
Explore the career requirements for nutritionists. Get the facts about education, salary, licensure requirements and job growth to determine if this is the right career for you. Schools offering Allied Health degrees can also be found in these popular choices.
Career Information at a Glance
Nutritionists focus on diet and nutrition and how those factors influence health, wellness, disease and deficiencies. They then create specialized meal plans that will improve clients' quality of life. The following chart provides an overview about a career as a nutritionist.
|Degree Required||Bachelor's degree or master's degree|
|Required Training||Extensive supervised training|
|Required Field of Study||Foods and nutrition, dietetics, food service systems management, clinical nutrition, or a related area|
|Licensure or Certification||Many states require nutritionists to be licensed; professional certification is available|
|Job Growth (2012-2022)||21% for nutritionists and dietitians*|
|Median Salary (2013)||$55,920 for nutritionists and dietitians*|
Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS)
What is a Nutritionist?
Nutritionists study the science of food and nutrition to better understand their effects on the human body. Their knowledge allows them to focus on the health and wellbeing of patients as they assess their current diets and medical issues. Typically, nutritionists study diseases related to nutrient deficiencies and how to use different nutrients to treat a variety of health issues. They may work with doctors or other healthcare professionals to create specialized meal plans and diet regimens for patients with special nutritional needs.
Step 1: Understand Laws Regulating Practice and Titles
In order to become a nutritionist, you must first understand the laws that regulate professional practice and title usage. According to the Commission on Dietetic Registration (CDR), 46 states regulate nutritionists through registration, certification and licensing requirements. While some states make it illegal to practice without obtaining a license, others allow you to practice but without the title of 'nutritionist' (www.cdrnet.org).
Step 2: Research Educational Requirements
While educational requirements differ between states, you need to complete at least a bachelor's degree. However, graduate degrees are common for nutritionists, so you may want to determine if you'd like to go straight into a master's degree program or gain experience first. Additionally, if you meet their advanced education, supervised experience and examination requirements, you can also obtain voluntary certification through the Certification Board for Nutrition Specialists (CBNS) (cbns.org).
Step 3: Earn a Bachelor's Degree
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), nutritionists need at least a bachelor's degree in nutrition, dietetics, health sciences or a related field in order to practice (www.bls.gov). Common course requirements may include developmental nutrition, public nutrition, sports nutrition, weight management and more. Nutritionists need to complete many hours of supervised training, which often takes place during the bachelor's degree program as an internship; alternately, graduates may complete their supervised training after earning the degree.
Step 4: Get an Advanced Degree to Earn a Recognized Certification
Although it's not required, completing a master's or doctoral degree program will allow you to obtain recognized certification through the CBNS. If you meet CBNS requirements and pass the exam, you earn the title of Certified Nutrition Specialist (CNS). This certification demonstrates to patients and clients that you have received appropriate education and training.
Step 5: Obtain Necessary Registration, Certification or Licensing
Depending on the state in which you choose to practice, you'll likely need to obtain registration, certification or licensing. Because the 46 states with regulations have different requirements, you must determine what you need in order to practice. The CDR provides links to each of the 46 states licensure agencies' contact information online.
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