Since a nutritionist is considered an expert in the field of food and nutrition, most of these individuals have at least a Bachelor’s degree in the field as well as documentation of supervised training. Many states also require licensure or certification.
In order to become a practicing nutritionist, candidates must first obtain a Bachelor’s degree in dietetics, food service systems management, foods and nutrition or a related field. Some of the courses that students can expect to take include biology, nutrition, physiology and chemistry. Earning a degree in these fields takes between one and four years, and there are schools that allow students to participate in classroom learning entirely online. A nutritionist who wishes to work as a professor or researcher must earn a Master’s or Doctorate degree in one of the aforementioned fields of study.
Aside from simple classroom instruction, a future nutritionist will be required to participate in on-the-job training. While some students are required to find, apply for and complete their own internships following graduation from college, some Bachelor’s degree programs include this ‘clinical’ training as part of the core curriculum. States that license or certify nutritionists before they practice require that students obtain a minimum amount of on-the-job training, though this varies from state to state. Students who wish to participate in internships that are not part of their curriculum should make it a point to apply early as these spots are typically filled very quickly.
Individuals who have obtained the degree and the training required may take a certification exam that is provided by the CBNS, or Certification Board for Nutrition Specialists; students who pass the exam will earn the title of CNS, or Certified Nutrition Specialist. The requirements for this title vary from location to location, but candidates are required to have 50 hours of documented ongoing education in the nutrition field, several completed studies and supervised experience. There is also a CNS-S credential, which stands for Certified Nutrition Specialist – Scholar. To earn it, candidates must have a Doctorate degree in either nutrition or a related field of clinical healthcare.
Whether or not a nutritionist must be licensed to practice depends entirely on the state in which the candidate lives and works. There is no national licensure that encompasses all states; individuals who relocate must obtain licensure in their new state before they can practice. For example, in the state of Kentucky, candidates must go through the Board of Licensure and Certification for Dietitians and Nutritionists. Here, individuals must submit 15 continuing education credits per year to gain and maintain their licensure. Conversely, in the state of Indiana, candidates must submit 30 hours of continuing education credits only on even years.
The education and training required to become a nutritionist varies depending on the type of career an individual wants to pursue. While working in a public setting may require a Bachelor’s degree, individuals who want to earn more money will do well to consider earning a Master’s degree and keeping their licensure up to date within their home states.