How to become a nutritionist

Article Sources
  • 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
  • Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2016-17 Edition, Dietitians and Nutritionists, on the Internet at https://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/dietitians-and-nutritionists.htm Accessed August 2017
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Interested in becoming a nutritionist or registered dietitian? According to a 2015 report by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), 36.5 percent of Americans are classified as obese, which highlights a need for those interested in a nutritionist career. While the job of  nutritionists and dietitians isn't to simply wave a magic wand to solve this problem, nor is obesity all they focus on, these professionals can help people learn how to make smarter food choices or change unhealthy eating habits.

Because of a growing interest in nutrition and food's role in health and wellness, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicts that through 2024, nutritionists and dietitians should see 16 percent growth in their job opportunities nationwide. That's well above the average for all careers combined.

Here's information to consider in the quest to become a nutritionist or registered dietitian. If you find you're interested in things like food science, dietetics, or jobs centered around nutrition, becoming a nutritionist might be for you. To get a roll on your nutritionist schooling, read on, and when you're done be sure to check out the best colleges for nutrition degree programs.

What is the difference between a nutritionist and a registered dietitian?

Knowing the answer to this question could help you in your career path to becoming a nutritionist or dietitian. 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). It can be hard to understand the difference between a nutritionist and a registered dietitian: 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. Learn more about a nutritionist career and related clinical or professional occupations. 

What exactly 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. 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 clincial nutrition in general. 

What is a typical dietitian or nutritionist salary?

According to the BLS, the mean annual wage for nutritionists and RDs in the U.S. was $59,670 in 2016. At the same time, the top five states for average annual salaries for nutritionists are:

  • California: $71,430
  • Maryland: $67,440
  • Oregon: $67,040
  • Hawaii: $66,870
  • New Jersey: $66,540

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported in 2016 that some dietitians or nutritionist salaries are more than $80,000 annually. As with many careers, extra education like licensure, certification, credentials or a degree can boost what you make. It may not hurt to have an internship or two -- especially in a medical or clinical setting -- under your belt, either. 

Where do nutritionists earn the most money? 

This can vary state to state so be sure to refer to the visual below for detail. Some of the top-paying places to work or industries nutritionists or dietitians can work for include outpatient care centers, hospitals, nursing or other medical care facilities, and the government. 

On a national scale, government-employed nutritionists can earn upwards of $50,000 while the BLS reports outpatient care centers are the higher paying option, with a 2016 salary closer to $65,000. Again, a nutritionist salary varies with education and work experience. Credentials and degrees can certainly boost chances of making a fair salary.  

What are dietitian or nutritionist educational requirements?

If you're interested in working as an RD or an RDN, you'll likely want to start with a clear nutritionist education path. The following are some of the steps you may have to take in order to become a nutritionist:

  1. Earn a bachelor's degree in clinical nutrition, food service systems management, dietetics, foods and nutrition, or a related field
  2. Pass a competency exam
  3. Complete a Dietetic Internship Program
  4. Earn the RD or RDN credential
  5. Earn a state license or other applicable licensure

Whether working toward your degree at a university or from a community college, consider internships and other professional opportunities that might show up along the way of earning your degree. While a bachelor’s degree is often a minimum nutritionist education requirement for many RD and RDN careers, dietitians and nutritionists may find additional advanced degrees helpful.

You can consult the visual below to easily reference what nutritionists and registered dietitians do, where they work, and how they help people live healthier lives. 

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How to Become a Nutritionist
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