Nutritionists work closely with individuals and groups to share their knowledge about nutrition and dietetics. They are an essential part of the healthcare system and work independently as consultants and specialists.
To become a nutritionist, you should consider your educational path and the type of nutrition work you are interested in. Below is a guide for how to become a nutritionist, including step-by-step advice, career information, and more.
What is a Nutritionist?
A nutritionist is a trained expert in nutrition, nutritional counseling, and dietetics. Nutritionists use biology and genetics to understand how certain foods affect the body. They work in a variety of settings including hospitals, clinics, schools, community organizations, and government agencies.
What Does a Nutritionist Do?
Nutritionists are subject matter experts wherever they are. They work with other professionals to advise clients and students, all to improve and optimize individual nutrition and public health.
Promote Better Nutrition
Nutritionists who work in community organizations and government agencies focus on educating the public about good nutrition. They may work with specific groups of people that need to learn about specific aspects of nutrition. For example, pregnant women and athletes must consider specific diets to optimize their nutrition.
Assess Client Needs
Nutritionists who are consulting clients focus on identifying and evaluating their nutritional needs. Depending on the situation, a nutritionist will advise clients about their nutritional habits and dietary restrictions.
Develop and Evaluate Meal and Dietary Plans
After assessing clients, nutritionists use their expert knowledge to develop dietary plans. They share these plans with their clients and advise them on how to best implement the plans. Then, they monitor and evaluate if the dietary plan is improving their client’s nutritional health.
Essential Nutritionist Skills
Nutritionists work closely with clients to assess their needs. This means nutritionists should be excellent active listeners. As counselors, they should also have strong verbal communication skills so that they can communicate nutritional advice clearly and accurately. Public speaking skills are also a plus since nutritionists often talk to groups about good nutritional practice.
Again, nutritionists spend a lot of one-on-one time with clients in counseling settings. Without strong interpersonal skills, a nutritionist’s expert knowledge may not go very far. Clients need to feel comfortable in a nutritional counseling setting.
Research, Monitoring, and Evaluation
Nutritionists may run into cases that they are not able to diagnose or plan for right away. They may need to do some research before coming up with a plan. After implementing nutritional plans, nutritionists need to understand best practices for monitoring and evaluating.
Nutritionist Salaries and Job Outlook
Nutritionist pay varies depending on the work setting. For example, clinical nutritionists and dietitians may earn more than community dietitians. According to the Bureau for Labor Statistics, nutritionists make a median annual salary of $61,270.
The job outlook in this field is particularly exciting. Nutritionists are among the few professions with a much faster than average job growth rate. Again according to the BLS, nutritionist job openings are expected to increase at a rate of 11 percent between 2018 and 2028.
As doctors and scientists continue to recognize the significant role nutrition takes in preventing and treating certain diseases, the demand for nutritionists and dietitians will only continue to increase.
How Long Does it Take to Become a Nutritionist?
It can take anywhere between four to seven years to become a nutritionist. The time depends on the kind of degrees you pursue. Though you can start an entry-level job in nutrition with a bachelor’s degree programs in nutrition, health services, or a related field, many nutrition-related jobs require a master’s degree in nutrition and dietetics.
A bachelor’s degree takes four years of full-time study to complete while a Master’s Degree in Nutrition can take between four and six semesters to complete.
How to Become a Nutritionist: A Step by Step Guide
Here are the most important steps you should think about taking if you want to pursue a career as a nutritionist, including getting an education in nutrition.
Step 1: Get a Bachelor’s Degree
It’s important to complete a bachelor of science degree if you want to become a nutritionist. If you don’t pursue an accredited program in nutrition specifically, you can also get your degree in food science, nutritional science, dietetics, psychology, and the hard sciences. If you major in something else, remember to check the science requirements for getting your credentials to become a registered dietitian nutritionist.
Step 2: Complete an Internship or Training Program
Bachelor’s degrees in nutrition or dietetics will include a built-in dietetic internship program during the degree or right after. If you get your bachelor’s in something else, you will need to pursue your master’s in nutrition and/or dietetics to complete an internship program.
Step 3: Take your Exams and Get your RD Credential
You have to take the Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN) exam to become a licensed nutritionist. The Commission on Dietetic Registration administers the exam and awards credentials to those who meet the requirements. Aspiring RDN’s must be successful in the exam, hold a bachelor’s degree, and complete an approved internship program in the field.
Step 4: Get a Master’s Degree
You can find nutrition programs at the graduate level all over the country, including programs that incorporate public health. A Master of Science in Nutrition and Dietetics is not an entry-level requirement, but it does make you much more competitive.
Should you become a Nutritionist in 2020?
With a faster-than-average job growth rate, the nutrition field is a good option if you’re looking to make a career change. Consider this guide as you continue with your research.
FAQs About Becoming a Nutritionist
You only need a bachelor’s degree. You need to complete an internship program and then take your Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN) exam. To advance in the field, it is highly recommended that students pursue a Master of Science in Nutrition and Dietetics.
The main difference is that dietitians are licensed to work with patients, like eating disorder patients, premature newborns, and others in clinical settings.
If you have a bachelor’s degree in a different field but you want to shift your career to nutrition, you can earn a certificate in nutrition online in 18 to 20 months. These certificates will prepare you to take a licensure exam.