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How to Become a Nutritionist

Nutritionists play an important role in helping patients learn to eat healthy meals, get the proper balance of vitamins and nutrients, and manage health conditions that might be affected by the food they eat. Whether students choose to pursue a career as a clinical nutritionist, community nutritionist, management dietitian or any other specialty within the profession, understanding how to become a nutritionist can be an important step in the process.

Program requirements/prerequisites

Becoming a nutritionist requires earning, at minimum, a bachelor's degree. In order to enter a bachelor's degree program, students must present the admissions office with an official high school transcript, a completed admissions application, and possibly an essay, references, or similar, based on the school's requirements. Most schools require a minimum GPA and minimum test scores. Those who have earned their associate degree in a related field might be able to transfer those credits to a four-year institution in order to complete a bachelor's degree program in nutrition or a related field.

In order to become a nutritionist, students should complete the bachelor's degree program in nutrition or a related field, such as food service systems management, clinical nutrition or dietetics. Courses typically focus on nutrition, chemistry, biology and psychology, and may include classes similar to the following:

  • Food and culture
  • Principles of food science
  • Applied community nutrition
  • Medical nutritional therapy
  • Micronutrients and macronutrients

In some cases, students may choose to continue their education and earn their master's degree or Ph.D. in order to pursue their job prospects to their fullest potential. This is not required, but can be advantageous.

Necessary skills and qualifications

Once a student has graduated from the degree program in nutrition, it's time to earn nutritionist certifications and licenses. Many choose to earn the Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN) credential. In most states, the requirements are the same as licensing: Complete the degree program through an accredited school, receive several hundred hours of supervised training and pass a comprehensive exam. Another option is the Certified Nutrition Specialist (CNS) credential. In order to qualify for this exam, students must complete a master's or doctoral degree in nutrition and earn 1,000 hours of experience.

Nutritionists work with a variety of clients and juggle many menus and recommendations, so they must have impeccable organizational skills and the ability to solve problems quickly as they arise. They must also stay up to date on the latest research and analyze it for information they can use in their own practices. Since they work closely with patients, they must be able to listen effectively, communicate clearly and have compassion for the struggles that others face with their nutrition, food intake, weight gain or loss, and other aspects of health.

Working environment

Nutritionists tend to work in comfortable environments, including offices of physicians, hospitals, cafeterias, schools, nursing homes and outpatient care centers. Most work full-time, and one in every five is self-employed, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Nutritionists might work for clients one-on-one, or they might be contracted to work for a particular institution, such as a hospital system. Those who work directly with clients might have weekend and evening hours.

Sources:

Dietitians and Nutritionists, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/dietitians-and-nutritionists.htm

Nutrition, Bachelor's Degree Programs, University of Nevada Reno, http://www.unr.edu/degrees/nutrition/bs

Nutritionist Schools