Food and health have been intertwined since long before the development of modern medicine. As preventative and integrative care begin to rise in popularity again in the healthcare system, there has been a rise in awareness of nutrition as a valuable component of our health as well. Nutritionists are the health science professionals who study the core contributor to human health and disease—food!
When you earn an online nutrition degree, you're taking the first step toward becoming a nutritionist or dietitian. In this role, you could work at a nursing facility, hospital, clinic, health spa, or rehabilitation center, creating meal plans, educating clients, and promoting healthy eating. You could also work independently or through a private practice to assess and develop nutritional plans for athletes and other patients. Non-healthcare options include working in food inspection and safety for the government or a private agribusiness developing and testing new foods.
THE CAREER PATH
Nutritionists are the experts who use food to promote health and manage disease. Professionals advise and educate individuals and communities on what to eat in order to lead a certain lifestyle or achieve specific goals.
There are a few different types of nutritionists:
- Clinical – These professionals provide direct medical nutritional therapy in hospitals, clinics, private practices, and other institutions.
- Community – These nutritionists work to develop programs and educate the public on topics relate to food, health, and nutrition in settings such as public health clinics, government and nonprofit agencies, and health maintenance organizations.
- Management – These experienced professionals oversee and coordinate food programs in institutions like cafeterias, hospitals, prisons, and schools. They are often responsible for administrative tasks such as budgeting and overseeing staff.
After you've earned a bachelor's or master's degree in nutrition, you must seek additional certification. Most states in the U.S. require dietitians and nutritionists to be licensed, especially if you'd like to accept insurance. You can either pursue licensing with your state (usually via becoming a Certified Nutrition Specialist (CNS)) or earn registered dietitian (RD) status. In many cases, the requirements are quite similar, but some employers do prefer to hire RDs.
To become an RD, you must have a bachelor’s degree. The American Dietetic Association (ADA) is responsible for awarding RD credentials. The ADA requires you to graduate from a college with a curriculum that has been approved by the Commission on Accreditation for Dietetics Education (CADE). You must also complete an internship, which can run six months to a full year. The final certification exam is administered by the Commission on Dietetic Registration (CDR).
To become a CNS, you must have a master’s degree from a regionally accredited school, 1,000 hours of supervised work experience, as well as a passing grade on the certification exam. Certification is through the Board for Certification of Nutrition Specialists (BCNS).
Regardless of work environment or professional role, nutritionists tend to be responsible for tasks including:
- Assessing clients’ nutritional and health needs
- Counseling clients and communities on nutrition issues and healthy eating habits
- Developing meal plans based on client funding and preferences
- Writing reports and documenting client progression
Nutrition is not only rewarding to the community, but professionals can also count on job security and fair compensation. As nutrition joins the rising trend of preventative care, the demand for nutritional professionals is expected to increase by 16% in the coming years. On average, nutritionists make around $59,000 each year.
WHO IS THE IDEAL CANDIDATE?
Nutritionists must be able to actively listen, observe, and have compassion for their clients who may be struggling with any number of ailments. They must also be analytical, and must be able to use problem-solving skills to address the needs of their patients and meet their goals collaboratively. In order to thrive in a career as a nutritionist, you must be able to not just diagnose your clients, but also empower and instruct them to improve their situation.
WHAT SHOULD I LOOK FOR?
Through your nutrition studies, you will learn much about how to fuel your body properly. Your courses will likely contain a heavy dose of science, including anatomy, organic chemistry, and physics. You'll also study food science, metabolism, and current nutrition issues. You'll learn how the right meal plan can help combat various diseases. A practicum—which generally has to be performed locally—will allow you to implement your education.
Programs geared towards aspiring RDs will also focus on medical nutritional counseling and therapy. A master's degree focuses on deeper clinical nutrition therapies. A focus on community nutrition education will focus on intervention strategies and how to organize meal programs for large populations.
Coursework will often cover topics such as:
- Food Science
- Diet and Disease
- Community Health and Nutrition
An online bachelor's in nutrition can cost anywhere between $14,000 to $80,000 and advanced degrees can cost an additional $20,000 to $65,000. The cost of an online nutrition degree does not take into account the additional cost of a licensing exam or program materials. Dietetic internships can cost up to $10,000. Click on any program below to find information on accreditation and total degree cost, including fees.