Nutritionists study and interpret a client or patient’s eating habits, and then develop a nutrition plan for the client, with the goal of avoiding illness and disease through dietary changes. As Americans become more health conscious, demand for nutritionists may increase, making this an attractive career choice for many.
So how do you get started on becoming a nutritionist?
- Do your research. This is an important first step no matter what career you are considering. Talk to dieticians and nutritionists in your area. Ask them about the pros and cons of becoming a nutritionist, so that you can decide if this career is right for you. Also ask about the educational path they took to begin their career, and for suggestions of local schools offering strong nutrition programs.
- Get a 4-year degree. There are many accredited nutrition degree programs from which you can choose. These programs generally require knowledge in biology, mathematics, and health, as well as more specific coursework in food science and nutrition topics. Many of these programs require an internship component, which can easily turn a 4-year degree into a 5-year degree, so keep this in mind when planning your career path.
- Get the necessary experience. Most certification programs require supervised experience working under a certified nutritionist. Many accredited nutrition degree programs work this 9-month internship into the coursework. However, if you did not complete an internship, you’ll need to find a supervised work experience of 9 months or 900 hours before becoming certified. This will help you better understand the day-to-day life of a nutritionist, and become better prepared to work in the field yourself.
- Become certified. Nearly every state requires a certificate or license in order to call yourself a nutritionist. Determine the requirements in your state before starting your education program, to be sure that the program will meet your needs. Your school should be able to help you determine the requirements in your state. If you are going to school out of state, or plan to move to a different state after graduation, be sure that you meet the requirements of your new state. In addition to state certification, the Commission on Dietetic Registration of the American Dietetic Association (ADA) awards the Registered Dietitian credential, which can help boost your credibility, to anyone who passes an exam after completing their college coursework and supervised work experience.
- Find a position. Once you are a certified nutritionist, you’ll still need to find somewhere to work. Because nutritionists plan meals and also help individuals formulate dietary plans, good places to look are hospitals, doctors’ offices, hotels, schools, or restaurants. You may also look into how to become a sports nutritionist as your specialty as well.
These steps are fairly straightforward, but they do require dedication, as well as advance planning. Because you must be certified, it is of utmost importance that you follow these steps if this is the career path you wish to choose.