Nutritionists are experts who specialize in the area of food and nutrition. Their duties include helping patients choose the right things to eat, helping them plan menus, and advising them on the health effects of certain foods. Nutritionists are able to access their patients current dietary habits and needs, in order to educate them on healthy eating habits, and follow up to ensure the menus are working, and write reports that document a patient’s progress.
Their duties can also extend to teaching groups of people in businesses or schools about what healthy nutrition is all about and how to prevent certain health issues through proper dieting. People who choose this career usually work with people who have certain medical aliments such as diabetes or those undergoing chemotherapy, in order to help them find the right foods to eat so as to improve their health.
Educating people about the relationship between their health and what they eat is really an important job in today’s world, more so in the United States where obesity has reached an all-time high. Nutritionists can work as self-employed entrepreneurs, as well as in hospital settings, schools and a variety of holistic and alternative medicine environments. Depending on their level of education, nutritionists can be in high demand in food and health-related businesses.
Steps Involved in Becoming a Nutritionist
- Earn a bachelor’s degree in a health-related field
A lot of entry-level nutritionists have a bachelor’s degree in health, nutrition or a related field, such as dietetics or food service system management. Other undergraduate programs that can provide a window to becoming a nutritionist include; Food science, Microbiology, Dietetics, Chemistry, Nutrition, Biochemistry, Clinical nutritional care, Anatomy, Community nutrition, Psychology, Biology et al.
Most bachelor degrees can be completed in about 4 years. During this time, the students may also need to undergo and complete an internship either during their undergraduate program or shortly after graduation.
2. Meet your state’s licensing and certification requirements
Different states in the country have different requirements for obtaining a license and certification. A lot of states require nutritionists to obtain and update special certifications, while some other states will require you to complete an exam in order to prove that they have the required knowledge and skill. You should make sure that you know about your state’s requirements before you go ahead.
The Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN) and Registered Dietitian (RD) credentials is administered by the Commission on Dietetic Registration, and meets the licensing requirement of most states. In order to earn one of these credentials, you need to:
- Graduate from an approved and accredited bachelor’s degree program
- Complete a supervised practice program
- Pass a national examination
- Complete continuing education requirements
Nutritionists who have graduated from a master’s or doctoral degree program and have completed 1,000 hours of experience may earn the Certified Nutrition Specialist (CNS) credential administered by the Certification Board of Nutrition Specialists.
3. Complete an advanced program or degree
This step is optional in the nutritional career path. Some nutritionist will want to take their education further to the masters or the doctorate level. Even though you will not need an additional degree to work as a nutritionist, you can prepare students to work as educators and researchers in the nutrition field. Usually, it will take you about two years of studying full time to get a master’s degree and it often includes the following courses such as Medical nutrition therapy, Probability or Statistics, Molecular biology, Public policy and health issues.
Doctoral programs on the other hand will require students to take graduate-level courses in nutrition, chemistry and biology, perform fieldwork, and complete a dissertation. The curriculum may include the following coursework: Advanced nutrition, Research applications and Nutrition assessment methods
4. Career Outlook for Nutritionists
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the job opportunities for nutritionists are expected to increase by 21 percent between 2012 and 2022. This is even more than the obtainable average in other occupations. This increase can be credited to the increased concern about some health concerns such as obesity and other ailments that revolve around obesity. In addition, as people live longer, there is a need for nutritionists to work with geriatric patients in facilities such as nursing homes. Furthermore, the increasing trend about eating locally grown, organic and non-genetically modified foods have also opened up opportunities for nutritionists who specialize in those areas.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, nutritionists earned a median annual wage of $56,950 in 2014, while the top ten percent of the profession made $79,840 or more. On the average, nutritionists earned an hourly rate of $27.38.