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What is a Nutritionist?

Discover what you can do, where you can work, and how much you can earn in this rewarding healthcare field.

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Home » Nutritionist

Nutritionists counsel patients on nutrition issues, from developing healthy eating plans to helping them manage diabetes. Many cover a wide range of dietary issues and needs, while others specialize in areas such as pediatrics, weight management, or nutrition for people with kidney disease.

Obtaining a bachelor’s degree is the typical educational route most aspiring nutritionists follow, although each state sets its own requirements for practice. Salaries vary widely, depending on where you work, where you live, and the specialty you pursue.

How to Become a Nutritionist

  1. Determine the requirements in your area.

    Each state sets its own licensing and certification requirements for nutritionists, so before you pursue a program, find out what’s required by the state in which you want to practice.

  2. Find and qualify for a program that meets those requirements.

    Educational programs in nutrition are offered at schools and universities both in-person and online. Do your research and make sure the program offers a curriculum that interests you, then reach out for more information.

  3. Earn your degree/certificate.

    Nutrition programs range from certificates and associate degrees to bachelor’s and master’s degrees, although most employers will require a bachelor’s.

  4. Gain experience.

    To gain certification as a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist or Certified Nutrition Specialist, you’ll need between 1,000 and 1,200 supervised practice hours.

  5. Consider earning additional specialty certifications.

    These certifications are optional but can help you develop expertise in a particular area of nutrition.

  6. Continue your education.

    Earning a master’s degree in nutrition can position you for leadership and academic roles.

What Do Nutritionists Do?

As a nutritionist, you’ll most often work directly with clients as they seek to recover from a health issue, improve their fitness, or simply learn more about how food and nutrients contribute to a healthy lifestyle. Some job duties common to most nutritionist roles include:

  • Working with clients to set dietary goals
  • Educating clients or groups about food and nutritional choices
  • Creating menus and meal plans
  • Researching or developing recipes

Where Do Nutritionists Work?

Your workplace as a nutritionist will be determined by your professional focus. Some common employers include:

  • Hospitals
  • Physicians’ offices
  • Long-term care facilities or skilled nursing facilities
  • Resorts or health clubs
  • Large private companies
  • Food manufacturing companies

Your options aren’t limited to just these workplaces. If you choose to specialize in holistic health nutrition, for example, you could find work with professionals such as massage therapists or chiropractors, who offer nutritional services to their patients. Large companies that offer on-site meals for employees may also hire nutritionists.

Salary

Like most allied health professions, the salary of a nutritionist can vary greatly depending on where you work, the extent of your education, and your specialty. One factor that plays a large role in the pay you’ll take home is your employer. Many nutritionists work for themselves in private practice, which means they decide how many hours they work, how many associates they employ, and how much they charge their clients. An experienced nutritionist with a solid education, experience in the field, and a loyal client base can earn considerably more than most nutritionists.

Working for yourself means you decide:

  • How many, and what, hours you work
  • How many staff and associates you employ
  • How much you charge your clients

Geography also plays a big role in salary. Some states, particularly those on the West Coast, pay nutritionists quite well. In fact, nine of the 10 top-paying cities or metro areas are in California, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

Job Outlook

The BLS predicts an 11% growth in nutritionist roles from 2020 to 2030. This is faster than the average rate of 8% for all jobs. About 5,900 openings for dietitians and nutritionists are projected each year, on average, over the decade. Many of those openings are expected to result from the need to replace workers who transfer to different occupations or exit the labor force, such as to retire, according to the BLS.

sheila cain

Written and reported by:
Sheila Cain
ASD Writer/Editor