Certification and Licensing: What It Takes to Earn Nutritionist Credentials
As a nutritionist, you will take countless steps to help your clients navigate their way through the confusing and often conflicting information that’s out there about food. But your first step to starting a career should be getting the education you need to understand the science behind food and how it affects our health. You’ll also want to consider earning a professional certification. Having these credentials can set you up for better job opportunities by meeting certain guidelines and requirements—and that means giving potential clients and employers greater confidence in your knowledge and dedication to the field.
There is a wide range of certifications available, each requiring a different degree of work to earn them. Keep in mind that even if you have a certification, it may not necessarily be enough to meet any licensing requirements in your state. While certification is an optional credential that verifies your knowledge and experience, licensing is what governs the legal use of particular titles and what kinds of activities a professional is allowed to perform.
It’s important to first clarify that a certificate and certification aren’t the same things. Certificates are earned from a program involving a class or series of courses, and can sometimes be completed in as little as a few weeks. Certificate programs are often designed for those who have already earned a degree and want to gain a deeper knowledge of a particular subtopic. In the field of nutrition, these could be specializations such as sports nutrition, weight management, or nutrition for children or the elderly. Depending on the coursework, earning a certificate might help you meet certain requirements for certification.
Certification, on the other hand, is a credential given by a regulated professional organization that verifies you’ve completed a certain level of education, gained a designated amount of professional experience, and have passed a specific exam. What’s more, certifications with the highest requirements often align with the prerequisites for licensing. Many states require a licensing exam offered by a selected certifying agency, meaning you can pursue licensing and certification through that organization at the same time.
Certifications are optional credentials (unlike licensing, which is needed in many states) but can give you greater authority as you begin your career.
To make things more complicated, some companies offering certifications may really just be offering certificate programs. To sort through the credentials, we’ve outlined the most common nutritionist certifications, starting with those that have the least requirements and leading up to those that are the most difficult to earn but offer more prestigious titles and can open the door to top job prospects.
State Requirements for Nutritionist Licensing or Certification
Roughly half of all U.S. states have some sort of regulations regarding the legal practice and use of the titles of “nutritionist” or “dietitian/nutritionist.” While the majority of these offer the dual-title license, others require separate credentials specifically for nutritionists. Typically, in these cases, these nutritionists have a more limited scope of practice and are not allowed to provide medical nutrition therapy to diagnosis, alleviate, and reverse conditions or disease.
What’s more, because of the more medical-based focus of dietitians, many states only put regulations on the use of that title, meaning that anyone can promote themselves as a nutritionist regardless of their education or experience. Three states—Arizona, Michigan, and New Jersey—have no regulations for either role whatsoever.
Click on the states below to learn about the various nutrition licensing laws, including prerequisites, internships, and/or professional experience.
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