A registered dietitian or nutritionist career can be a rewarding way to earn a living, and knowing just what to prepare for while you're in your nutritionist degree program can be a big help. Here are a few quick hits on the duties, skills and requirements for a career in nutrition.


Here are a few of the responsibilities that are commonly expected of professionals in registered dietitian and nutritionist careers:

  • Assessing the nutritional and health needs of individual clients and patients
  • Developing meal plans and nutrition schedules that fit clients' budgets and preferences
  • Evaluating the effects of nutrition plans and counseling clients on health eating habits
  • Keeping up with and/or contributing to the body of nutritional science knowledge

Where do nutritionists work?

Your 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. 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

A fairly well-defined career path exists for aspiring nutritionists:

  1. Choose your academic approach (dietetics, foods and nutrition, clinical nutrition, public health nutrition, etc.) and earn a bachelor's degree, either in person or through online courses. Read about the top schools for nutrition degree programs.
  2. Enter into an internship or other supervised professional training program, unless one was included in your nutritionist degree requirements
  3. Determine whether it's necessary to earn a license or other special credential in your state

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. 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

Career outlook and salary for nutritionists

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:

CareerTotal EmploymentAnnual Mean WageProjected Job Growth Rate
Dietitians and Nutritionists64,670$61,21014.1%
2018 Occupational Employment Statistics and 2016-26 Employment Projections, Bureau of Labor Statistics, BLS.gov.

Professional organizations for nutritionists

  • Registered Dietician Nutritionist/Registered Dietician: 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. Dieticians 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.

For additional insight into nutritionist careers, explore this handy visual guide to becoming a nutritionist.

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  • 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