In This Article
Becoming a clinical nutritionist (Careers, education and salary)
What is a clinical nutritionist?
A clinical nutritionist evaluates how a person’s nutrition and diet can impact health, help prevent disease, or help to relieve chronic illness symptoms. Amber Dixon, Dietitian and CEO of Elderly Assist, Inc., explains that clinical nutritionists provide individualized nutrition plans, monitor a patient’s progress and then make adjustments to those plans as needed.
What does a clinical nutritionist do?
Clinical nutritionists help patients improve their health by making strategic diet changes. They may work to help prevent diet-related disease or manage the symptoms of a condition the patient already has, such as PCOS, and they recommend nutrition strategies to help patients meet their individual goals. Nutritionists may recommend specific meal plans to improve a patient’s or family’s nutrition and food choices.
Clinical nutritionists may use laboratory tests to help evaluate diets and recommend nutrition changes
They may work as part of a patient’s medical team to provide the patient with comprehensive healthcare.
Clinical nutritionists may diagnose and treat diseases that affect the intake, absorption and metabolism of food in patients
They promote good health through education and prevention of diet-related disease
Who is the job right for?
If you want to become a clinical nutritionist, it’s important to have a passion for the work that you will be doing. People who truly enjoy learning about nutrition and helping others are the most likely to be successful in this career.
“People who truly enjoy learning about nutrition and helping others are the most likely to be successful in this career.”
Clinical nutritionists should be strong communicators and should enjoy engaging with people. They need both written and verbal communication skills, and active listening talents are also essential to successfully working with people. If you have compassion, empathy and patience, you will likely be able to develop an important rapport with your patients, which allows you to better understand their challenges and help them find solutions.
While it’s important for a nutritionist to enjoy engaging with people, nutritionists need a scientific, methodical approach to their work, too. It’s ideal if you enjoy math and have strong math skills, since math plays a key role in calculating nutrient and caloric intake and establishing other metrics that will help you to help your patients. A genuine interest in science and a thorough understanding of biology are also important.
Clinical nutritionists planning to open their own practice will need an entrepreneurial mindset. Organization skills, marketing knowledge and a driven, committed nature are all important in operating your own business.
What education is needed?
Your path to becoming a clinical nutritionist starts with an undergraduate degree, wich can be earned either in a trditional setting or online bachelor’s program. While you don’t need an undergraduate degree specifically in nutrition, a degree in a related field, like biology or health science, may also be helpful.
Next, you will need to earn your master’s degree in clinical nutrition or a closely related field. Master’s degree programs in nutrition may require you to have completed a certain number of courses in a field like biosciences before beginning your graduate degree.
Certificate in clinical nutrition
To become a clinical nutritionist, you will usually have to earn the Certified Nutrition Specialty (CNS) credential. CNS certification requires that you complete 1,000 hours of supervised practice experience and pass the Board for Certification of Nutrition Specialists examination offered by the American Nutrition Association. The exam is offered twice a year in June and December and you must apply to take it two months prior to the actual exam date.
Don’t forget to become licensed if your state requires it
Depending on the state where you will live and practice, you may also need to become licensed to work as a clinical nutritionist. The American Nutrition Association maintains a database of state laws about required licenses for nutritionists and dietitians.
Many states allow any individual to perform individualized nutrition counseling, while states like North Dakota, Georgia and Florida require that nutritionists be licensed in order to practice.
Clinical nutritionist salary
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) 2022 Occupational Employment Statistics, dietitians and nutritionists earned a median annual wage of $66,450. While the BLS doesn’t differentiate between dietitian and nutritionist salaries, it does sort median annual salaries based on the location where dietitians and nutritionists work:
And here are the median annual salaries by state:
Median Salary: $66,450
Projected job growth: 6.6%
10th Percentile: $44,140
25th Percentile: $56,490
75th Percentile: $80,430
90th Percentile: $95,130
Projected job growth: 6.6%
|State||Median Salary||Bottom 10%||Top 10%|
|District of Columbia||$85,380||$63,980||$103,010|
Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) 2022 median salary; projected job growth through 2032. Actual salaries vary depending on location, level of education, years of experience, work environment, and other factors. Salaries may differ even more for those who are self-employed or work part time.
Job growth for clinical nutritionists
Clinical nutrition is a promising career, and the BLS predicts that nutritionist employment will grow by 6.6% through 2032, which is about as fast as the job growth for all occupations.
The increased interest and awareness of the role that nutrition can play in promoting wellness and the importance of controlling illness means that we are likely to see more nutritionist career opportunities in the coming years.
“Getting started as a nutritionist involves education and building a strong foundation in nutrition science, gaining experience in the field and obtaining the necessary certifications and licenses,” says Dixon. “Networking with other professionals in the field can also be helpful in finding job opportunities and advancing your career.”
Online job boards tend to feature many clinical nutritionist jobs. If you completed nutritionist internships, consider reaching out to your internship supervisors, who may be aware of upcoming job vacancies. Depending on your career goals, you might decide to open your own nutritionist private practice, allowing you to start marketing to potential clients.
Published: June 27, 2023