Nutritionists are basically food and nutrition experts who provide result-based dietary guidance to individuals to improve their overall health and manage weight. A career as a nutritionist is a great option in the US, and of course in all developing countries, as more people are getting conscious about their overall well-being. The changing lifestyle and with too many illnesses surfacing, people are looking for guidance in food and nutrition as a precautionary measure.
Basics of the Profession
Your basic education, experience, and your location will play the primary role in becoming a nutritionist. Most states require formal certifications and licenses in order to start a nutritionist business. Nutritionists are often based in public health or the food industry and work closely with dieticians, nurses, healthcare professionals, and physical trainers. Therefore, even if your state doesn’t require for a license to practice, it is important that you obtain one because most customers prefer hiring professionals that have the credentials.
This blog is created to help aspiring nutritionists to better understand the steps required to become a professional. We will also cover the basics, such as what nutritionists do, what is the difference between dieticians and nutritionist experts, their salary, and alternative careers.
Overview of Nutritionist Career or Job
We learned that nutritionists are food and nutrition experts and they provide recommendation through evidence-based research. They help people, especially patients with different ailments, choose the right things to eat. They also help them plan menus and provide information about food side effects, health benefits, and outcomes of eating certain foods.
Nutritionists start by assessing an individual’s current eating habits and diet, identify their needs, and then educate them on healthy eating habits and plan menu according to their food needs. They also follow-up to ensure the current diet is working, by observing the patient’s progress. They must document each patient’s progress report for future reference.
Nutritionists are also hired by educational groups, fitness centers, corporates and businesses to speak about values of good nutrition and how it can prevent health problems. Nutritionists work closely with people with serious medical issues, such as cardiac problems, diabetic, and people who are undergoing chemotherapy.
Educating people on healthy food and overall well-being is an important and imminent job in today’s society, especially in countries like USA and India where the rate of obesity and cardiac health issues is unimaginable. Your job scope as a nutritionistis vast – you can work in hospitals, have a clinic of your own, work with schools and fitness centers, and provide freelance services in a variety of alternative medicine environment.
Please note that if you want to open your own practice, work at the doctor’s office or a hospital, you will have to become a Registered Dietician (RD). Once you become an RD, you will be legally eligible to help people of your state.
Your qualification and licensure will determine your position in the industry. Depending upon it, you may take part in serious discussions both nationally and internationally about the impact of various foods on health, food trends, and pros and cons of specific foods etc. You may also be appointed for testing specific food allergies and reactions or autoimmune disorders, such as gluten intolerance.
Salary of Nutritionist
You can be a freelance nutritionist and charge per session or hourly fee or work for a fixed salary. Average income a nutritionist can draw is between $50,000 and $90,000 per year depending upon the expertise. Average hourly rate of nutritionists is $30. California in the US, followed by Maryland and Nevada paid the highest to nutritionists in the year 2014 according to the US Bureau of Labour Statistics.
The job opportunities for nutritionists are expected to grow by 21 – 25 percent between 2020 and 2022. The growth rate is much higher than other professions and the increase was attributed to the worldwide concern about rising health issues, such as diabetes and heart diseases, and obesity.
On the other side, life expectancy has also increased. And as people live longer, nutritionists will be hired for geriatric patients to provide them organic, locally grown, and non-genetically modified food choices.
What is the Difference Between Dietician and Nutritionist
Both dieticians and nutritionists assess their client’s health and based on the findings, create diet plans. Both are healthcare professions with expertise in food and diet. However, both professions cannot be interchangeable.
Dieticians’ job is more regulated than that of the nutritionists. While both the professionals can go to any school to study food and nutrition, a dietician has to earn more certifications and licensures to be able to work.
On the other hand, nutritionist tends to have a broader and more general meaning. The title, unlike a doctor, lawyer etc. is not generally protected, which means it can be used by anyone. However, it requires qualification and credentials too. There are nutritionist certification boards that allow nutritionists with qualifications and practical experience to take the certification exam. If the applicant passes the examination, they will become a certified nutrition specialist.
While nutritionists teach clients on general health and nutrition properties, dieticians can help diagnose diseases and eating disorders, and help in meal plan to manage symptoms.
If nutritionists want to become a registered dietician, they have to register at Commission on Dietetic Registration (CDR).
If you really want to work in this field sincerely and become successful, you must get the right credentials.
Three Steps to Become a Nutritionist
Step 1: Earn a Bachelor’s Degree
You must have a bachelor’s degree to be able to pursue a career in food and nutrition. You may want to start with a bachelor’s degree in food science, health, nutrition, or any other associated subject area, such as dietetics or food service system management. Some of the undergraduate programs that can lead to a career in this profession may contain the following major subjects: Food Science, Microbiology, Anatomy, Dietetics, Nutrition, Clinical Nutritional Care, Psychology, Biology, Physics, Chemistry, and Biochemistry.
Your bachelor’s degree will take two to four years to complete. You must simultaneously complete a period of internship.
Step 2: Find Your Licensure and Certification Requirement
The laws and regulations completely differ from country to country. Many states require nutritionists to obtain special certifications, while others just require completion of certain exams. In the US alone, there are 30 states that require license and 15 states that require certification, while the rest 4 do not have any licensure requirements. Make sure you research your state’s requirement and laws before applying.
If you live in the US, however, the Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN) and Registered Dietician (RD) credentials, both administered by the Commission on Dietetic Registration meet the state requirements in most states. However, to qualify for the two credentials, you must:
- Be graduated from an accredited UG degree program
- Complete supervised practical session
- Pass an exam
- Complete internship during or immediately after a bachelor’s training
Step 3: Qualifications for CNCB Requirements
The Clinical Nutrition Certification Board requires subject knowledge and classes of at least three hours for each of the following subjects: Chemistry, Biochemistry, Biology, Human Biology, Microbiology, Psychology, and Anatomy. You must also choose elective subjects from the following: Introduction to Nutrition, Nutrition and Disease, Nutrition Assessment, Nutrition Counselling Strategies, Nutrition II, Nutrition and Supplementation, Herbology, and Nutrition and Aging.
You have to submit your college mark sheets, merit certificate, and credential review application to the CNCB. After this, the board will review your submitted documents and give a credential approval. Once you obtain the approval, complete the PGSCN course, and clear the CCN examination.
PGSCN is an online curriculum that is four courses long. Each course is 14 hours in length. This is a costly educational program but worth everything.
Once you have finished your courseware and submitted all your paperwork, you will become eligible to take the CCN examination. It is a 3-hour long paper, which you must take at a facility center. However, you will find the study guides online.
Step 4: Complete an Advanced Degree
To become an eligible candidate for Certified Nutrition Specialist (CNS), a credential authored by the Certification Board of Nutrition Specialists, you must complete a master’s degree or pursue a doctorate degree program. This is because both the degrees let you gain 1000 hours of practical session experience.
Although an advanced degree is normally not mandatory for nutritionists, they will help you to gain knowledge to work as researchers and educators. You will take an additional two years to complete a master’s degree. Some of the subjects that are covered in the master’s degree include Probability and statistics, Public policy and health issues, and Molecular biology.
You can furthermore pursue doctorate program and become a great scholar. Finishing a doctorate program will open ways to many job and growth opportunities. Your pay structure will also be higher than what most others receive. However, to pursue a doctorate degree, your graduation subjects must include nutrition, biology, and chemistry; you must have performed some kind of fieldwork and must complete a dissertation. Your Ph.D. subjects will include Nutrition assessments methods, Advanced Nutrition, and Research application.
Step 5: Apply for State License and Consider Specializing
You must find out what documents are needed for the license application. The procedure isthe same in most states. Once you have the relevant documents, you should get it notarized and submit it along with a license fee. You will find the details of the requirements on your state’s Commission on Dieticians and Nutritionists website. However, you have to obtain a fresh practice license if you decide to move to another state. Your existing license will not qualify you.
Specialists always get extra attention. Just like cardiologist, neurologist, and gynecologist, a nutritionist can also specialize in a particular area or topic. You could get specialized in geriatric care, infants, babies, and children care, pregnancy care, and care for special health condition or illnesses, such as GERD, Diabetes, etc.
Career Options in the Field of Nutrition and Dietetics
As your level of expertise and experience increases, you will find more career options opening for you, apart from the traditional role of dietician or nutritionist. Nutrition is a vast and powerful area of study. The more you explore, the better opportunities you will find.
You can explore and consider the following alternate career options for nutritionists and dieticians if you think the current work is not for you:
- Nutrition and Health Educator: Your role would be teaching people about lifestyle and behavior changes that boost health and promote a better standard of living. You will develop new strategies and implement new nutrition plans to improve the health of individuals and communities.
You can also work as a researcher in educational institutions about various foods, and help them develop better content for studying.
- Community Health Worker: You will either be associated with the government or work along various private organizations. Your work will be collecting health-related data through analytics and surveys, and discuss health concerns with members of specific demography or community.
- Registered Nurse: Also referred to as RNs, Registered Nurses provide special care to ailing patients by administering good and nutritional food habits. You will educate patients about various health conditions, talk about their health, and provide them and their family moral and emotional support. In order to provide dietary and lifestyle advice, you may have to specialize in health and wellness.
- Rehab Counsellors: You will be associated with different rehabilitation centers, including rescue centers, centers for mental and emotional disability, and other types that help individuals fight different conditions, such as alcohol addiction, drugs, HIV positive etc. You will guide and provide counseling to members of the centers to live independently fighting their cause. You will also work with other supporters to overcome or manage social, personal, psychological effects of disabilities.
- Researcher and Inspector: You can work along with government regulatory agencies or other food and nutrition public sectors as food research and analyst to ensure that food manufacturers, especially that manufacture processed foods, provide correct nutritional claims, such as kcal, dietary fibers, carbs, protein, sugar, sodium, vitamin, fats etc., on their packaging labels and otherwise.
Hope our article helped you in more ways than you had expected. For more information and answers, please send your questions in the comments below.