In many cases the words “nutritionist” and “dietitian” are used interchangeably. A dietitian can also be called a “registered dietitian,” (RD) because you become registered when you pass the certification.
To call oneself a “nutritionist,” however, there’s no regulation to the title. That means that the qualifications of people using that job title can vary greatly. Some alternative doctors, such as chiropractors, acupuncturists or naturopaths, who have additional training in the use of food and nutritional supplements for restoring health, will call themselves nutritionists to distinguish that additional training. Other professionals calling themselves nutritionists are personal trainers with some knowledge or experience with fitness diets. Some people who may be more appropriately be called health coaches, call themselves nutritionists.
That means if you sign up for courses to become a “nutritionist,” you will need to also verify the resource, ensuring it is reputable, trustworthy, and will fulfill the educational requirements you want to be able to work where you choose.
For most jobs, you will need to obtain that nutritional certification.
Nutritionist Job Requirements
While pursuing your training and education to become a nutritionist, it’s good to have an idea of the setting or population you would like to work with, since needs may vary greatly. Some of the environments which need nutritionists include:
- Large facilities with uniform meal plans – Schools, hospitals, penitentiaries, or senior living facilities are examples of some of the large facilities which need at least one nutritionist to assist with their planning. These positions are generally called food services nutritionists. Having a nutritionist on staff helps ensure quality of life and improved health for the populations they serve. Some schools also have nutritionists educate young people about healthy eating.
- Populations with specific medical needs – Hospitals employ nutritionists in other roles as well, as do clinics and private practices which serve patients with dietary needs. Such positions are generally called clinical nutritionists and they have specialized training in assisting populations with hypertension, diabetes, celiac disease, or any condition where there may be a dietary aspect to self-care and maintenance. Working as a clinical nutritionist may include group classes and support services, and/or one-on-one counseling.
- Clients wanting to maximize health – Athletic facilities and training clubs, spas, or alternative medicine practices often employ nutritionists or sports nutritionists to help athletes maximize performance, clients detox with food in a healthy and natural way, or nutritional healing to take place. The needs and requirements of such facilities can differ widely.
Due to the wide variety of needs, the nutritionist salary can also vary widely. The US Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that in 2016 nutritionists and dietitians had a median pay of $28.33 per hour, or $58,920 per year. They also report that jobs for nutritionists are growing at about 14%, which is faster than national average.
How to Become a Nutritionist
Most jobs will want you to have the registered dietitian certification, which has specific educational and certification requirements. It requires that you:
- Complete a bachelor’s degree in an accredited program.
- Complete the required internship/apprenticeship, which are generally paid and usually 6-12 months in length.
- Become certified as a registered dietician by completing the certification exam.
If one has completed a bachelor’s degree in a related field (such as biology, health sciences, or nutrition), or if one wishes to obtain a higher degree, it is also possible to go back to school to get a master’s degree in dietetics, then become certified and work as an RD.
Accredited programs come in many forms, at community colleges, state or private schools, classroom-only, online, or combined classroom/online formats, on a full-time or a part-time basis. If your goal is to become a nutritionist, an accredited program can work with you to look at your prior education and experience and determine what will be needed to complete the educational steps to work in this interesting and rewarding field.
Start in a New Direction
The United States is looking at two major health situations, which nutritionists can specifically help address: a national obesity problem and an aging population. Nutritionists can help improve health and quality of life for millions of Americans.
There’s never been a better time to start in a new direction!