Nutritionists


Requirements

Education and Training Requirements

High School

If you want to be a nutritionist, take as many courses as possible in health, biology, chemistry, family and consumer science, and mathematics. If you are not sufficiently prepared in high school, you are likely to struggle with such college courses as mathematics and biochemistry. Communication skills are also important, since nutritionists must interact effectively with clients, employers, and colleagues. Even researchers who spend most of their time in the lab must cooperate with colleagues and write clear, accurate reports on the results of their work. For this reason, nutritionists must be well versed in spoken and written English. Psychology, which generally is taught in college nutrition programs, is an important aspect of the work of many nutritionists. Since nutritionists use computers to conduct research, store information, and perform other tasks, it is a good idea to take as many computer science classes as possible.

Postsecondary Training

Nutritionists complete the same type of undergraduate education as dietitians, including fulfilling the required 900 hours of a supervised internship. They must also complete at minimum a certain number of courses at the master's degree level to be eligible to sit for the clinical nutritionist certification exam. Many actually complete a master's or Ph.D. in nutrition science.

There are a couple of different educational routes you can choose from to become a nutritionist. The first is to complete a bachelor's or master's level Accreditation Council for Education in Nutrition and Dietetics (ACEND)-accredited coordinated program that combines classroom work with at least 1,200 hours of supervised internship experience or experiential practice. Completion of these programs generally takes four to five years. Once you have graduated, you are eligible to take the registration exam. Another option is to get at least your bachelor's degree from an ACEND-accredited program that provides only classroom instruction. After receiving your degree, you then need to get 900 hours of hands-on experience through an ACEND-accredited practice program or internship. These programs take eight to 24 months to complete (depending on whether you are on a full- or part-time schedule). Once you have completed both of these steps, you are eligible to take the registration exam. Those who enter this field typically get degrees in food and nutrition science, dietetics, food service, or other related areas. Course work may include classes in economics, business management, culinary arts, biochemistry, physiology, and food science. If you want to teach, do research, or work in public health, you should get a bachelor's degree and one or more advanced degrees.

Certification

The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics offers online certificates of training in prevention strategies for childhood, adolescent, and adult obesity; food allergies; restaurant menu labeling; leadership development; and other topics. Contact the academy to learn more.

Other Education or Training

Several profession associations provide continuing education opportunities. For example, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics provides workshops, symposia, teleseminars, and online classes on general practice issues, nutrition and disease, and career trends. The American Society for Nutrition offers continuing education opportunities via conference seminars. The International and American Associations of Clinical Nutritionists and the Canadian Society of Nutrition Management also provide continuing education opportunities. Contact these organizations for more information.

Certification, Licensing, and Special Requirements

Certification or Licensing

Most states have laws regulating the practice of nutritionists through licensure, certification, or registration. Visit https://www.cdrnet.org for information on requirements in your state.

The Commission on Dietetic Registration of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND) awards several certification credentials. To receive the registered dietitian nutritionist credential (RND), applicants must have completed ACEND-approved education and training and pass the registration exam. Several specialty certifications, such as board certified specialist in pediatric nutrition and board certified specialist in sports dietetics, are also available through the AND. To maintain their certification credentials, dietitians and nutritionists must also complete continuing education on a regular basis.

The certified clinical nutritionist credential is awarded by the Clinical Nutrition Certification Board of the International and American Associations of Clinical Nutritionists. To receive this designation, nutritionists must have completed a bachelor's degree (which includes certain classes in the sciences and nutrition), completed post-graduate studies in clinical nutrition, finished an internship, and passed a written examination. Recertification is required every five years. Nutritionists may also earn the certified nutrition specialist credential form the Board for Certification of Nutrition Specialists. Applicants must have a master's or doctoral degree, completed 1,000 hours of supervised experience, and pass an exam.

Experience, Skills, and Personality Traits

Aspiring nutritionists must complete an accredited supervised, experiential practice program during college.

Because there are so many technical requirements in the field of nutrition, nutritionists must be detail oriented and able to think analytically. Math and science are a major part of both training and work. Nutritionists must be comfortable making decisions and acting on them. Even those who do not work as consultants have to be disciplined and decisive.

Nutritionists work with a variety of people with different health conditions, concerns, and goals. They must be good listeners and have strong communication skills. They also work with various team members, so having good people skills is important.