Nutritionists are food experts who help people understand how to eat healthy foods, form diet plans and menus, and manage their nutrition in order to be healthier. In order to begin working with clients, nutritionists must complete the proper education, then they must earn certification or licensing.
At the minimum, nutritionists must earn a bachelor's degree from an accredited college or university. This degree can be in nutrition or in a closely related field, such as the following:
- Food service systems management
- Food and nutrition
- Nutrition and dietetics
- Clinical nutrition
These degree programs focus heavily on courses that include biology, nutrition, anatomy and physiology, and chemistry.
Many nutritionists choose to earn advanced degrees. Earning a master's degree or doctorate may open the door for further certifications, and that may in turn lead to more job opportunities. In addition to the educational requirement, most certifications require a minimum amount of supervised work.
The most common certifications include the Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN) and the Certified Nutrition Specialist (CNS).
- Requirements for the RDN include a minimum of a bachelor's degree and completion of a dietetic internship program. In some cases, the internship can be completed through a coordinate program, which is accredited through the Accreditation Council for Education in Nutrition and Dietetics (ACEND).
- Requirements for the CNS include a master's degree or doctorate, as well as completion of 1,000 hours of experience in order to qualify for the CNS examination. The Certification Board for Nutrition Specialists administers the credential.
Additional certifications are available for those who want to work in a specific area of nutrition. For instance, the pediatric certification might be helpful for those who intend to work in schools, while the sports nutrition credential might be suitable for those who work with athletes. Among the most common specialty credentials are those in pediatric, renal, sports and gerontological nutrition. In most cases, credentials must be kept current with continuing education.
Benefits of this certification
Most states require licensing or certification of nutritionists or dietitians. Fortunately, most states have requirements for licensing that are the same as the requirements for RDN certification, so applicants should be able to prepare for both. Some states require only registration and certification, in which case either the RDN or CNS will likely suffice. Regardless of state requirements, some employers prefer or require a minimum of the RDN certification in order to consider an applicant at hiring time.
Earning certification proves knowledge, experience and expertise in the nutrition field, and that can bode very well for those who are seeking positions as a nutritionist. Earning additional certifications in a specialty field can bolster potential employment or salary opportunities even further.
Description of Degrees/Credentials, American Nutrition Association, http://americannutritionassociation.org/toolsandresources/descriptiondegreescredentials
Dietitians and Nutritionists, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/dietitians-and-nutritionists.htm#tab-4
Student Center, Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, http://www.eatright.org/BecomeanRDorDTR/content.aspx?id=8142