How To Become A Nutritionist
Eating well and maintaining a healthy lifestyle is very important and therefore there is a constant need for the spread of such knowledge. Nutritionists are important professionals who can contribute the most if they rely on quality education, developing the much needed experience and an understanding of important nutrition issues. This article is aimed at giving guidelines on where to start and develop your career as a nutritionist
Nutritionist at a Glance
Essentially, nutritionists are skilled personnel in food and nutrition, enabling people to making the right nutrition choices. They advise patients and clients on the best eating habits, plan menus etc with the overall goal of maintaining good health.
Most nutritionists focus on developing personalized plans, that is, evaluating individual needs and coming up with specific solutions to nutrition issues.
But, to become a nutritionist, there are important objectives that must be fulfilled including certification and fulfilling relevant state requirements that will enable you to practice. Nutritionists also work with groups, schools, hospitals and other organizations that incorporate nutrition and good health.
Steps to Becoming a Nutritionist
- Attaining a Bachelor’s degree
A good education is the first step to a career as a nutritionist. Ideally, pursuing a Bachelor’s degree in nutrition, health or any other relevant field should be the first step. Most of these undergraduate programs take four years and in most cases, include a supervised internship. Some ideal programs may include:
- Food science.
If you are aspiring to be a nutritionist, it is advisable to undertake the most relevant program such as nutrition and food science.
- Certification and state licensing
After attaining an undergraduate degree, the next step is to acquire relevant certification and fulfill the various state licensure requirements. This is if you want to start gaining the experience right away after pursuing your undergraduate degree.
The requirements differ in most states and an in-depth research of your state’s policies is required. You will need to fulfill a time requirement, pass some exams and other similar goals. This time requirement is usually given number of hours worked while a certain accreditation program administers a proficiency examination.
States such as Georgia, Tennessee and Florida and many others require every nutritionist to be licensed before performing any nutrition counseling. On the other hand, states such as Arizona and Pennsylvania are not opposed to nutritionists operating on their own without a license.
These important credentials will enable you to build a lucrative career as a nutritionist. State policies are meant to ensure professionals have put in the required time and effort into building their careers.
- Optional advanced programs
What’s more, many people also look into pursuing other advanced programs such as master’s and doctorate degrees in the field. These programs may include courses such as nutrition, culinary arts, biology, communication and so on.
These steps, however, depend on the career path you want to take. This means that depending on your goals and specialty you may choose as a nutritionist, you may choose to expand your scope in the field as time goes by.
Bachelor’s and master’s programs must also be accredited by the Accreditation Council for Education in Nutrition and Dietetics (ACEND). You can choose to study accredited programs such as Bachelor of Science in Food and Nutrition, Bachelor of Science in Nutrition Science, Bachelor of Science in Nutrition and Wellness and Bachelor of Science in Dietetics.
Typical coursework in such programs will include courses such as the following in both the Bachelor’s and Master’s programs.
· Introduction to Food Science – how food is prepared and handled
· Research Methods – finding out information about studies in nutrition
|· Nutrition and aging – how to use nutrition in the aging process
· Nutrition counseling – advising patients and clients accordingly about good nutrition
· Nutrition- associated diseases – identifying and preventing diseases brought about nutrition complications
· Nutrition and its relationship to supplementation and fitness
|· Eating Disorders – identifying and preventing eating disorders
· Statistics in public health – collecting and analyzing information on the public’s nutrition practices
Certification and Licensure
Nutritionists who are licensed and registered are often known as registered dietitian nutritionists (RDNs). You can also become a Certified Nutrition Specialist (CNS) which certifies your advanced knowledge in the field.
Being an RDN will give you the experience of working in more industries including hospitals and schools. Being an RDN also enables you to cement a place in private practice since most individual clients want to work with professionals.
Steps to Becoming an RND include:
- Finishing Registered Dietitian education
- Completing the Dietitian Internship (DI)
- Passing the RDN exam
- Obtaining and maintaining an RDN license
Most recently, RDN have grown in number in public health, research and of course the nutrition industry. Other major industries that have the growing need for nutritionists are journalism, sports, business etc. With the wide scope of work for nutritionists, it is important for them to operate only if they are qualified to and hence the need for certification.
Therefore, certification is important for nutritionists in order to grow and diversify their careers. It is also significant since it will contribute to the requirements of obtaining a license. Each state has its own licensing policies and some are stricter than others.
Additionally, requirements for licensing depend on the specialty. Licensing for government programs and health care agencies has special requirements which are also different. Thus, nutritionist training should be in line with the particular state’s requirements to obtain a license for practice.
Job Description / Responsibilities
A nutritionist with the right certification and licensing is well-equipped to take on the job’s obligations. You will be required to work in any setting that your training has prepared you for. Each setting comprises of its own specific obligations but a nutritionist will be required to fulfill the following:
- Interacting with the client and gathering information about their nutrition. You will assess the clients’ needs and work with certain goals in mind. Gathering of information is a vital activity in the job as a nutritionist.
- Advising clients based on relevant information of their nutrition. You will be responsible for deciding what is best for your clients.
- Creating plans and menus as per the clients’ nutritional needs.
- Finding and disseminating information about good nutrition and health practices. The job also includes educating people about nutrition and how to live a healthy life.
Additionally, great nutritionists keep tabs on their clients and adjust plans accordingly.
A licensed nutritionist should be capable of applying his/her training to any specialty in the field. Therefore, before deciding to specialize, you should be able to comfortably operate in nutrition as a field in general.
Working in the nutrition industry as a nutritionist enables you to explore the many options open to you, depending on your passion.
Pediatric Nutrition Specialist: This specialist can work in hospitals and schools in cafeterias consulting or even for the sole purpose of disseminating important nutrition information to children and their caregivers. Day care centers and nurseries also benefit from the services of this nutritionist specialty.
Sports Nutritionist: This area places a great importance on health in sports and what better way to stay healthy than eating right. Most organizations like schools have sports and athletic programs in which you can provide services. Most sports and athletic organizations require nutritionists in every aspect of their operations.
Holistic Nutritionist: Additionally, a nutritionist can be a holistic nutritionist who uses nutrition to improve health. This specialty relies on the use of holistic wellness to solve nutrition-related issues in clients and patients.
Other than solely being a nutrition specialist, being a nutritionist also means that you can incorporate your experience into other fields such as nursing and home care. This means that being a nutritionist exposes you to a number of specialties that you can comfortably fit according to your training, experience and love for the job.
Nutritionists have similar job descriptions with other professionals which include food scientists and nutritional research. The career options that the field of nutrition offers is varied and it all depends on which path you want to take.
Food Scientist: For the more technical and research oriented students, a career as a food scientist and in the research field would be a great fit. But, students that require more interaction with people would find that being a dietician is more fulfilling.
Child Care: Nutrition and education go hand in hand and thus careers in the child development such as care givers are closely related to being a nutritionist.
Food manufacturing, business and journalism: These are also fields that have related careers to a nutritionist since more and more of these industries require nutrition services.
Food bloggers and writers, journalists, chefs: these are all professionals that are closely related to careers in the nutrition industry. Therefore, making changes to your career as a nutritionist can be more rewarding since there are many directions to take career wise when you are a nutritionist.
Based on the continuing need of better health practices, employment in this particular field will realize a 16% growth in the next ten years.
With the need for good health in almost every aspect of life, there are many places that a nutritionist can work. Nutritionists work in cafeterias and other similar places that heavily feature nutrition. Some cafeterias and restaurants can seek the services of a nutritionist to ensure that their diets are as healthy as possible.
Schools and other institutions also have employed nutritionists. Public health clinics, hospitals and residential care are also some other places that nutritionists can work.
Additionally, many government and non-government organizations also have nutritionists that work on various programs developed by these governing bodies.
Nutritionists are also employed at recreational facilities such as spas and resorts. Here, a nutritionist contributes to the overall good health of the client coupled with the other beneficial services that such places provide.
As an RND you may also work for individual clients who may require your services for long time care. Thus, this is also a lucrative place of employment in which many licensed nutritionists have molded their careers.
Thus, depending on the place of employment, a nutritionist may be needed full time or provide services to the place every once in a while.
Accreditation Council for Education in Nutrition and Dietetics (ACEND) – This is an online governing body for students and other aspiring nutritionists where you can get the relevant credentials in order to kick start your career as a nutritionist. ACEND certifies qualified candidates based on their training, an examination and hours worked.
Clinical Nutrition Certification Board (CNCB) – Also certifies professionals in the clinical nutrition field. It is also non-profit and provides training and examination to aspiring nutrition professionals.
Commission on Dietetic Registration (CDR) – This is credentialing body that sets standards for registered dietitians and nutritionists. It serves as the credentialing body for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
Standards of Professional Practice for Dietetics Professionals – Outlines the standards that professionals in the nutritional field should adhere to. These standards enable students and candidates to self evaluate and determine the skill set and education required.
Code of Ethics for the Profession of Dietetics – This code applies to all practitioners in dietetics and includes elements such as integrity and honesty.
Institute for Credentialing Excellence (ICE) – This association provides membership for training, networking and education for different causes. It is responsible for accrediting various certifications. Essentially, it develops standards for various regulatory bodies.
Council on Licensure, Enforcement and Regulation (CLEAR) – This is an organization that ensures that other credentialing bodies have the right standards and practices. Some bodies that are regulated by CLEAR include the CDR.
Nutritionists and other health care professionals are required to possess a more diverse set of skills and qualities. After fulfilling the education and licensing requirements, a nutritionist must have certain personal qualities.
First and foremost, nutritionists must be able to develop analytical and creative-thinking skills that will enable them to solve problems presented to them. Clients have diverse needs and it is up to the nutritionist to determine which solutions are the best for each client.
A nutritionist should be able to identify the uniqueness of each situation and apply their training. In the process, such a professional should also consider learning as a continuous process. He/she should be able to discover and utilize new trends in nutrition and apply them to promoting good health.
Also, a nutritionist is obliged to use his/her critical thinking to explore the relationship between the various elements that nutrition affects. A nutritionist should know how to use nutrition to improve both the physical and mental health of a client.
Another important thing that this professional must have is great communication skills. You will have to interact with people every day in order to understand a problem and a good nutritionist should listen and speak well.
Furthermore, every nutritionist should employ some organizational skills to some extent. You will be required to create nutrition plans and menus a lot of times and you should be able to relay to the client your effortless quality of organization.
Other than these skills, other characteristics that apply to other professionals are also needed in a nutritionist’s career. This includes being able to work in a team, interacting with clients and patients’ families and ethical behavior.
These qualities will ensure the growth of a great career and also allow any professional to gain a deeper understanding of their career choice and what it entails.