How to Become a Nutritionist
Nutritionists are interested in food and its connections to overall well-being. Those who seek a nutritionist career can look forward to working with others to explain how certain foods and a balanced diet can foster good health.
Dietitian vs Nutritionist: What's the Difference?
Are they different occupations? Yes, but they are related. Knowing the difference between a nutritionist and a registered dietitian can help you determine which career path to follow.
- An expert adviser when it comes to food and nutrition, a registered dietitian (RD) is a nationally recognized profession with certification. They are certified by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND).
- A nutritionist is not nationally recognized, but individual states sometimes require nutritionists to be licensed. If you're lucky enough to land an internship in a clinical or medical setting, the difference might be clearer when you talk to peers who might have one of those job titles.
The new designation Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RND) was introduced to convey certification that focuses on a broader concept of wellness as well as treatment of conditions.
What Do Nutritionists and Registered Dietitians Do?
Although the difference in certification between a registered dietitian career and a nutritionist is distinct, the responsibilities of the two careers have overlap. In fact, as you learn how to become a nutritionist or registered dietitian, you'll notice that many of the daily activities are the same. Additionally, many nutritionists or RDs work in medical or clinical settings, but many also work in home and different types of care settings or at institutions, like a university.
Some of the daily activities of each job include:
- Answering nutritional questions and assessing health needs
- Developing individualized meal plans based on the patient's individual needs or health goals
- Monitoring the progress of clients and adjusting meal plans as needed, can ideally supervise if needed
- Advocating and promotion of the importance of proper nutrition and exercise to individuals and communities
- Studying the latest information on proper eating habits, disease prevention and diagnosis, plus healthy living practices
Nutritionists or registered dietitians might be strong analytical thinkers and have strong organizational and communication skills. Nutritionists should feel comfortable to supervise people, work independently and with a team, and work with all types of people. It might be in your favor if you've had an interest in dietetics, food science, or clinical nutrition in general.
Where Do Nutritionists Work?
After earning your degree from a nutrition school, your new career in nutrition might take you to any number of different work settings, from creating meal plans for medical patients or helping set governmental policy to running your own business from home. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, here's a list of some of the top-employing industries for graduates of nutritionist degree programs:
- State, local and private hospitals
- Outpatient care centers
- Nursing and residential care facilities
- Local government agencies
- Federal government, executive branch
- Special food services
How to Become a Nutritionist or Registered Dietitian
If you're interested in working as an RD or an RDN, you'll likely want to start with a clear nutritionist education path, including going to a nutrition school. The following are some of the steps you may have to take in order to become a nutritionist:
- Choose your academic approach (dietetics, foods and nutrition, clinical nutrition, public health nutrition, etc.) and earn a bachelor's degree at an accredited nutrition school, either in person or through online courses. Read about the top schools for nutrition degree programs.
- Enter into an internship or other supervised professional training program, unless one was included in your nutritionist degree requirements. Consider a dietetic internship program.
- Earn the RD or RDN credential.
- Determine whether it's necessary to earn a state license or other special credential in your state in order to start your nutritionist career.
Exams and Licensing for Nutritionists and RDs
Dietitian and nutritionist licensing standards vary from state to state, so check with authorities in your state to find out what it takes to earn special recognition and whether it is required for your desired nutritionist career. Credentials such as Registered Dietitian (RD) and Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN) may be preferred or required by individual employers but not regulated at the state level.
Internships for nutritionists and registered dietitians can vary in length, but most programs last between 9 and 12 months. Some internship programs can also be completed through online courses, making it possible to finish your nutritionist degree program entirely online.
Important Skills and Abilities for Nutritionists
- Active listening, or giving your full, engaged attention to someone when speaking, is a necessary component of co-creating meal plans with patients and clients
- Monitoring the performance of the plans and policies you create, as well as your own performance, can help you deliver the highest possible quality of work
- Oral expression skills provide an effective means by which you can communicate the importance of proper nutrition to clients and patients
- Problem sensitivity — the ability to tell when something has gone wrong or is likely to go wrong — makes it possible to avert potential issues before they arise
- Deductive reasoning allows you to derive sensible conclusions by applying general nutritional rules and concepts to specific personal circumstances
Nutritionist Salary and Career Outlook
As with any career, pay and job growth for nutritionists could vary by experience, educational level, and location, among other factors. Here's a general idea of what to expect for a nutritionist salary and job outlook in the coming years:
|Career||Total Employment||Annual Mean Wage||Projected Job Growth Rate|
|Dietitians and Nutritionists||67,670||$62,330||11.2%|
Professional Certifying Organizations for Nutritionists
Earning one or more certifications from professional industry organizations can demonstrate an extra level of expertise in your field. They may also have a positive impact on your nutritionist salary.
- Registered Dietitian Nutritionist/Registered Dietitian: These national certifications through the Commission on Dietetic Registration are required by many states for employment. States that don't require this certification often have the same certification qualifications, the BLS notes. Dietitians and nutritionists must complete 75 continuing education credits every five years to maintain their certification.
- Certified Nutrition Specialist: Offered by the Board for Certification of Nutrition Specialists, this certification demonstrates advanced competence in clinical nutrition.
- Specialty certifications: There are many different specialty certifications offered through the Commission on Dietetic Registration, including pediatric nutrition, oncology nutrition, sports dietetics, renal nutrition and obesity and weight management.
- Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, accessed July 31, 2018: Dietitians and Nutritionists, Occupational Outlook Handbook, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/Healthcare/Dietitians-and-nutritionists.htm; Dietitians and Nutritionists, Occupational Employment and Wages, 2017, https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes291031.htm;
- Nutritionists, Occupational Information Network, accessed July 31, 2018, https://www.onetonline.org/link/summary/15-1134.00
- Registered Dietitian (RD) or Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN) Certification, Commission on Dietetic Registration, accessed July 31, 2018, https://www.cdrnet.org/certifications/registered-dietitian-rd-certification
- Nutritionist, Licensed Nutritionist, and Registered Dietitian Requirements By State, NurtritionED.org, accessed July 31, 2018, https://www.nutritioned.org/state-requirements.html
- Dietetic Internships, Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, accessed July 31, 2018, https://www.eatrightpro.org/acend/accredited-programs/dietetic-internships
- Adult Obesity Facts, Centers for Disease Control, http://www.cdc.gov/obesity/data/adult.html, Accessed August 2017
- Occupational Employment and Wages: Dietitians and Nutritionists, Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Employment Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, May 2016, on the internet at https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes291031.htm Accessed August 2017