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How to Start a Career as a Nutritionist

May 20, 2008 Jennifer Williamson, Distance Columnist | 0 Comments

As a dietitian or nutritionist, you have an important job.  You’ve got to plan meals, prevent illness by promoting healthy eating habits, and counsel your clients on their dietary needs.  Many illnesses are ultimately linked to diet, and as a nutritionist, you’ve got the knowledge to pinpoint and recommend dietary solutions to health problems.  If you want to get started in this crucial career, here are a few tips to get started.

Get a degree

Most employers require nutritionists to have at least a four-year degree, although some positions will require an online Master’s degree or Ph.D.  Majors that are attractive to employers include food and nutrition, dietetics, and food service management.  Most programs in this area include classes on biology, physiology, chemistry, microbiology, foods and nutrition, and even institution management.  Elective classes in psychology, computer science, statistics, and sociology are also useful.

If you think you’ll want professional certification, you should look for a degree program that offers to match you with an internship.  Nutritionist certification requires that applicants go through a supervised internship as well as a certain number of continuing education credits.

You should also look for a program that’s accredited—either by a regional accreditor or by the American Dietetic Association’s Commission on Accreditation for Dietetics Education.  Choosing a degree program without the appropriate accreditation could be a huge waste of time and money, as knowledgeable employers and graduate programs typically won’t accept these degrees.

See Also: Online Degree Programs

Get licensed

The requirements of licensure and certification for nutritionists will vary widely, depending on the state in which you live.  Most states require nutritionists to be licensed before they can practice.  A few require statutory certification—in these states, you can practice as a nutritionist if you’re not certified, but you can’t use certain professional titles.  A tiny number of states require only registration—and unregistered nutritionists can operate as nutritionists, with very few restrictions. 

Get certified

There is professional certification available for nutritionists in the United States, offered by the Commission on Dietetic Registration of the American Dietetic Association.  The Association awards Registered Dietitian status on those who pass their requirements.  To keep the status, nutritionists must complete 75 hours of continuing education classes every five years.  This credential isn’t the same as the statutory certification required in some states; it’s available across the country, and it is not mandated in any state.  However, having the credential can make you more attractive to employers. 

See Also: Online Nutrition Courses

Get a job

Nutritionists work in a variety of industries, including hospitals, hospices and nursing homes; public and private schools; correctional facilities; spas and restaurants; day care facilities; airlines; company cafeterias; and more.  As a dietitian, you can also find work with marketing agencies, food manufacturers, and government agencies that regulate food production companies.  You can work one-on-one with clients as a nutrition counselor, or you can incorporate cooking as a private or restaurant chef.  Finding the right job for you involves a thorough self-assessment of your interests and preferred work environment.

Finding a job as a nutritionist is generally as simple as watching for openings and sending in your resume.  You can also get results by watching job boards; and are all niche job boards that cater exclusively to people looking for careers in this field. It’s also worth checking out more general job boards such as and

As a nutritionist, you have a lot of options.  You can work in a wide variety of organizations, from government and health care facilities to schools, correctional facilities, and even airlines, hotels, and spas.  You can work with children, the elderly, and everyone in between.  You can counsel clients one-on-one, design menus for entire institutions, or plan and cook meals for single families.  Whatever your preferences and your interests, there’s sure to be a niche within this field that’s perfect for you. 

Nutrition is becoming more and more important to the general public, and nutritionists are sure to be in demand in the future.  Choose a good school, research your state’s licensure and certification requirements, and get the certification you need to look appealing to employers, and you’re sure to have a stable career that has a lasting effect on people’s lives.



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