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Nutritionist Careers

Nutritionists and dietitians create meal plans and educate their clients about general nutrition. They use industry-related software and rely on their nutritionist training and expertise. They stay up-to-date through research on the latest discoveries in nutritional science and explain their findings to individuals and groups. Many dietitian and nutritionist jobs are found in hospitals, although these professionals are also employed in nursing homes, outpatient care centers, doctors' offices, government agencies and non-profit organizations.

Depending on the environment, nutritionists might work with doctors, nurses and other healthcare professionals to help their patients achieve their goals. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that around 15 percent of nutritionists and dietitians were self-employed in 2010, and approximately 20 percent worked part time (bls.gov, 2012). Because nutritionists serve as healthy role models to their clients, they should be dedicated to living healthy lifestyles. In addition, these professionals are often exposed to contagious illnesses, and a healthy lifestyle could be a tool for fighting off germs. For those who enjoy helping others and possess patience and a positive outlook, the job of nutritionist or dietitian can be highly rewarding.

How to Become a Nutritionist

Most individuals in the field have earned a bachelor's degree and have undergone nutritionist training and licensure, reports the BLS (bls.gov, 2012). For individuals interested in becoming nutritionists or dietitians, the following steps can help:

  1. Earn a high school diploma or the equivalent.
  2. Gain a bachelor's degree in dietetics, nutrition, food services management or related field, with courses such as nutrition, chemistry, biology and physiology.
  3. Complete several hundred hours of supervised training, usually through an internship. Some colleges include this training in their dietetics programs.
  4. Obtain a license as needed. Nutritionists must be licensed in most states, according to the BLS (bls.gov, 2012). Regulations vary by state, so it's important to conduct research on local requirements.
  5. Choose to pursue credentials such as Registered Dietitian (RD), and complete ongoing continuing education as needed.

Post-Education Requirements: Certifications and/or State Licensing

The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics reports that as of 2013 most states regulate the practice of dietetics. Different states have their own policies on the licensing, certification or registration of nutritionists and/or dietitians.

The Registered Dietitian (RD) credential, administered by the Commission on Dietetic Registration, is one avenue toward licensure. An RD must complete requirements including a bachelor's degree, a supervised internship, a national examination administered by the commission and continuing education hours to maintain licensure. The BLS notes that even when the RD designation is not required, many employers prefer it (bls.gov, 2012).

Nutritionist Specialties

Individuals who wish to specialize in one area of dietetics can take coursework to gain more experience in those areas, for example:

  • Clinical dietitians offer nutrition services in hospitals and other medical facilities. Some clinical dietitians further specialize by type of medical condition, such as kidney problems.
  • Management dietitians deal with large-scale meal planning and business aspects of food service in settings such as hospitals or cafeterias.
  • Community dietitians educate people about nutrition and may focus on particular segments of the public. They work for public health clinics, government and non-profit agencies and other organizations.

The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics also notes that some RDs gain certification in medical specialties such as diabetes or pediatric education.

Nutritionist Job Growth and Average Salary

The nation's increased interest in healthy eating habits -- including the medical field's focus on preventive healthcare -- should lead to demand for nutritionists and dietitians. The aging U.S. population, which has contributed to increased instances of diabetes and other medical issues, could also contribute to job growth. The BLS expects employment of nutritionists to rise by 20 percent between 2010 and 2020, which is faster than the average occupational growth forecast. BLS.gov reports that the median annual nutritionist salary in the U.S. was $55,240 in 2012, with the lowest 10 percent earning below $34,500 and the highest 10 percent earning higher than $77,590. Nutritionist salary figures depend on a number of factors, including location, education and experience (bls.gov/oes, 2013).

List of Related Careers

Studies in dietetics or nutrition can help pave the road for individuals interested in careers outside of traditional dietitian or nutritionist jobs. Some of these career paths may require additional training or experience, as in the following options:

  • Health Educators: Develop campaigns and training materials to teach the public how to make healthy lifestyle decisions. A bachelor's degree is required to work in this occupation.
  • Fitness Trainers: Help people become fitter and healthier, providing individual training sessions and group exercise classes. Most people in this field are certified in one or more areas of fitness, such as yoga or Pilates.
  • Registered Nurses: RNs provide patient care and health education, and they may refer to nutritional research when working with patients with conditions such as diabetes or gastroenterological disorders. This career requires formal training in nursing as well as a license.

Links to Sources and Associations

Websites such as the following offer more information on nutritionist-related careers:

Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics

Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Employment and Wages, Dietitians and Nutritionists, 2013

Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Dietitians and Nutritionists, 2012

Commission on Dietetic Registration

Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics