What is a Nutritionist?
In this fast-paced, fast food world we live in, nutritionists play a vital role in keeping the population healthy. With their guidance and expertise, individuals and groups learn to improve their eating habits and instill healthy behaviors into everyday life. Nutritionists are needed across all areas of the health care industry, from hospitals to home health agencies, but their role is integral at food manufacturers, cafeterias and gyms.
Working as a nutritionist can be incredibly rewarding as you watch patients and clients improve their quality of life and feel better. If food, with a side of healthy living, is your passion, consider the degrees, skills and traits that are necessary to work as a nutritionist.
What You Can Do with a Nutritionist Degree
With the public awareness of the importance of nutrition to our well-being and development growing daily, many careers have emerged that support and utilize the fundamentals of the nutrition field. Once you have earned your degree you might consider working in any of the following sectors:
- Clinical nutritionists work in clinical settings, such as hospitals, long-term health care facilities and in outpatient clinics.
- Nutrition management workers oversee healthy choices and diets on menus for hospitals, businesses, schools and spas.
- Public health nutritionists work in federal and state agencies and help educate the public about the importance of healthy eating. They help facilitate meals programs and advise on holistic lifestyle programs to encourage exercise combined with good nutrition.
- Teaching is a huge factor in spreading the word about the importance of good nutrition. Nutritionists may teach in schools—from elementary to college level—businesses, culinary schools, and help create curriculum for state boards of education.
- Nutrition consultants work mainly in private practice and provide their services to hospitals, healthcare facilities, gyms, educational institutions and private clients. They may also work as journalists and writers for cookbooks, educational programs and publications.
A Brief History of Nutrition
Nutrition has been a concern to humans and societies for centuries. It is not a new concept. Since Hippocrates, food has been considered a “medicine” with which to heal the body and mind and to help prevent illness. As time progressed, we’ve understood the importance of balance in our diets and the health value in the nutrients and vitamins that food contains.
The Public Health Service began to use the services of dietitians after World War I and became involved in monitoring the national health care system and even moved into the private sector. Consequently, associations such as the American Dietetic Association emerged and began to “register” individuals interested in nutrition who had met strict educational standards and requirements and passed a national exam.
Through the 1950s and the advent of frozen food and canned goods, nutritionists continued to solidify their place in society and in informing federal regulations.
Now, nutritionists work everywhere—in schools, hospitals and in research in order to aid and educate the public on the importance of eating well.
EDUCATION AND CAREER
What You’ll Study
As a nutrition student, you’ll study nutrition science, which will help prepare you to make a difference in others’ lives. Your 4-year bachelor’s degree program will give you the basics and help you begin to find your specialty within this vast field. Some of your curriculum may include these types of classes:
- Introduction to Food
- Today’s Nutrition
- S. Nutrition Policy
- Neighborhood Nutrition
- Food and Culinary Science
- Food Safety
- Health and Disease
- Diet in Health and Disease
Once you’ve earned a bachelor’s degree you may be interested in pinpointing your area of focus and interest and earn a master’s degree, which can prepare you to work as an administrator or expert in the following areas:
- Healthcare Administration
- Health Informatics
- Health Information Management
- Public Health
- Health Education
What You’ll Do
Nutritionists and dietitians are experts in the field of food and nutrition to promote health and manage disease. More, you’ll advise all ages and classes of people on how to eat in order to lead a healthy lifestyle and help them change patterns that have hindered them from achieving this goal. Both roles perform some of the same tasks in their job, but the following list illustrates a typical nutritionist role. You can read more about dietitians here.
- Meet with patients and assess their nutritional needs
- Guide and counsel patients on healthy habits and proper nutrition
- Create meal plans based on nutritional needs and costs
- Advocate for healthy habits and nutrition by speaking to groups
- Work with medical teams to determine a patient’s needs
- Monitor food service to ensure it meets necessary standards
- Educate others, such as senior citizens, on foods to eat and stay away from
Salaries for Nutritionist
Annual Median Salary
Dietitians and Nutritionists
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual salary for dietitians and nutritionists is $59,410. The highest 10 percent of the profession earned over $83,070 a year.
The BLS says salaries vary depending upon where you decide to work. The top industries for nutritionists as far as pay, were as follows:
- Outpatient healthcare facilities – $65,650
- Hospitals – $60,210
- Nursing homes and residential care facilities – $57,020
- Government agencies – $57,910
There’s also good news for nutritionists as far as job growth for the field. As interest increases and more and more businesses and places focus upon its importance, there will be a 15 percent employment increase through 2026. This is primarily because the role of food and nutrition in promoting health and wellness has increased, and its value as a preventative health plan in medical settings has become the norm.
In addition to a nutritionist degree, you’ll also need to possess certain skills and personality traits to succeed.
- A self-starter
You should have…
- Good decision-making skills
- Ability to maintain relationships
- Excellent communication skills
- A passion for health
- An interest in helping others
- Great attention to detail
- An analytic personality
How to Get Started
To begin your journey toward a nutritionist career you’ll need to first earn your bachelor’s degree from an accredited college or university. Your degree should be in nutritional science and will focus upon food and health but will also include classes in psychology, chemistry and biology.
Once you have a bachelor’s degree you may decide to progress and earn an advanced degree. No matter what path you choose however, you’ll need several hundred hours of supervised training, such as a clinical internship, following graduation.
Your next step will be to become licensed, as most states require nutritionists and dietitians to be licensed in order to practice. Other states may need you to register or earn certification in order to use a particular title with your name. Licensing generally includes earning your bachelor’s degree and passing a rigorous exam.
There are professional credentials you may earn as well, specifically the Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN) credential, which is administered by the Commission on Dietetic Registration. Nutritionists may earn the Certified Nutrition Specialist (CNS) credential to show your capability and advanced knowledge in the field. In order to earn the CNS you’ll need your master’s degree, 1,000 hours of experience and pass an exam administered by the Board for Certification of Nutrition Specialists.
But the first step is researching accredited schools who can help you get started. Use our guide to learn what you’ll need to do and find schools in your area or online.