Becoming a Nutritionist: Job Description & Salary Information

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A nutritionist earns an average annual salary of $57,000. Is it worth the training and education requirements? Get the truth about job duties and the career outlook to see if becoming a nutritionist is right for you.
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Pros and Cons of Being a Nutritionist

A nutritionist usually works in a consultant capacity to determine the necessary components of a healthy diet and provide guidance by helping customize meal plans that are both enjoyable and meet the nutritional needs of their clients. While a nutritionist is very similar to a dietician, there is a distinct difference. It's important that you consider the positive and negative aspects of this job before making a commitment to this career.

Pros of Being a Nutritionist
Satisfaction in helping people make better eating choices*
Opportunities for self-employment and flexible work schedules*
Good job growth (21% from 2012-2022)*
Allows for creativity when navigating food and diet options with patients**
Higher-than-average wages (median salary of $57,000 in 2014)*

Cons of Being a Nutritionist
Commonly regulated profession*
Knowledge of food, cooking methods and health needs to be accurate (and is constantly evolving)*
Basic and specialized education could require significant financial and time investment*
Additional credentialing is often required*
Advancement usually requires a graduate degree***

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics; **O*Net; ***LiveStrong.com.

Essential Career Info

Nutritionists advise individuals and organizations regarding food intake and diet to curtail particular illnesses and health problems. According to LiveStrong.com, most nutritionists work for academic, public health or community organizations advising people on meal planning, food shopping and the nutritional values of foods. Many nutritionists consult with an individual to suggest the types of foods that should be eaten daily, whether to simply promote healthy living or restrict a diet for medical reasons. They might also help with dietary advice for large groups of people, such as the children at a school or the residents of a retirement home.

Outlook and Salary Information

According to PayScale.com, most nutritionists earn between $30,000 and $70,000 per year as of 2015. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) combines the earnings of nutritionists and dietitians, a similar occupation, reporting an average of $57,000 for both. According to the BLS, nutritionists and dietitians worked primarily in hospitals, though higher average salaries were offered by consulting firms and government agencies. Though the BLS didn't distinguish between the two for job growth, the organization anticipated 14,200 new jobs would be created for these occupations between 2012-2022.

Career Requirements

Education and Licensing

The complex relationship between food and health means knowing and understanding how dietary habits can affect people with medical conditions as well as the general public. The BLS stated that a bachelor's degree is the most common academic preparation for this job, though some states require a master's degree. Many schools offer majors in nutrition, dietetics, public health or food science that can introduce you to the principles of how diet can be used for many reasons, including overall health or to combat the effects of disease. Graduate programs can provide advanced education in disease prevention and treatment, clinical counseling and human physiology.

Most states group nutritionists and dietitians together, regulating the professions through licensing. The qualifications for obtaining a state license varies; however, you'll usually need to meet education requirements, participate in several hours of supervised work and pass a state licensing exam. Some states have reciprocal agreements that allow you to practice or obtain a license if you hold a national credential or have been licensed in another state. The length of time your license is valid varies by state. Some states might not require continuing education to renew your license, but you could need to prove competency through employment.

What Do Employers Look for?

Employers' job postings vary the level of education and certification applicants need. Many employers look for nutritionists who can handle specific age groups or offer bilingual services for clients who have trouble speaking English. Following are some recent job postings from March 2012 that identify some specific preferences and requirements of employers:

  • A Pennsylvania weight loss clinic needed a nutritionist to help with education and meal management. The candidate had to be licensed or a Registered Dietitian (RD) through the Commission on Dietetic Registration.
  • A New York homecare staffing agency sought a bilingual nutritionist to help with medical therapy for obstetric and pediatric clients. Applicants were required to be certified.
  • A California vitamin manufacturer was looking for a nutritionist to consult with the company to see how new products help promote healthy living and eating. Interested consultants would be required to research case studies to see how vitamin and supplement products help people's diets. A master's or doctoral degree was required, and preference was given to applicants with RD certification.

How to Beat the Competition

The BLS stated that employment opportunities might be better if you specialize in a particular ailment or preventive care. For example, you could focus on nutritional management to promote renal or diabetic health.

The BLS also highlighted public education as one of the biggest trends in nutritional health. Curbing childhood and elderly health problems due to bad eating has become a large-scale social problem. Focusing your attention toward cutting-edge ways to teach various age groups or social settings, such as those in community health centers or schools, could help your employment prospects.

Professional Development

The credentials, particularly the Registered Dietitian certification, obtained though the Commission on Dietetic Registration is commonly required or preferred by employers. The organization also offers a Professional Development Portfolio for nutritionists that can provide employers with a guide to your continued education in the field, which the CDR states can benefit you throughout your career. Tracking your growth in knowledge of public health, communication and nutritional research can not only provide a handy resource for proving your continuing education to renew a credential but guide you when listing skills, abilities and achievements on your resume.

Other Careers to Consider

Dietitian

If the job of a nutritionist sounds appealing, but you want to provide something extra in your career, working as a dietitian allows you to focus on a particular area, such as research, clinical nutrition or administration. In this role, you could plan and manage menus for patients, residents or individuals in a number of settings, such as restaurants, schools or for the military. You might also have more of an opportunity to expand your culinary skills or work more closely with patients and physicians. Academic, licensing and certification requirements and job outlook were about the same for both occupations. However, PayScale.com showed a slightly higher salary for these professionals, reporting a range of $31,000-$74,000 for most credentialed dietitians.

Food Service Manager

If you enjoy working with food, but aren't necessarily concerned with nutrition information, you might consider a career in food service management. Food service managers work for restaurants and help with the daily management and operations of the restaurant. This could include finances, but it also covers supervising the kitchen and dining room staff and determining what type of food you want served. The BLS stated that most food service managers worked into the position through experience, though several were seeking a college education in a related field. The salary for these jobs was about on par with nutritionists; the BLS estimated an average of $53,000 for the profession in 2011. However, competition might be fierce, since jobs were anticipated to decrease 3% for food service managers from 2010-2020.

Health Educator

If you have a passion for teaching people and are interested in a broader field than nutrition by itself, you might consider becoming a health educator. Health educators usually need at least a bachelor's degree, and some jobs might require you to earn professional certification, such as the Certified Health Education Specialist credential. You can find work in many of the same settings as a nutritionist; common places of employment include schools and community health centers. You can use this occupation to teach students or various community center members about public health, such as nutrition and good eating habits.

However, health education deals with a lot more than just diet. According to the BLS, a health educator needs to be trained to inform people about the risks of lifestyle choices, such as smoking, and how to incorporate healthy living through exercise, sexual health and medical testing for various illnesses or conditions. Jobs in this field were expected to grow by over 23,000, which was a 37% increase, during the reporting period. In 2011, the BLS estimated the average salary for health educators was about $52,000 annually.

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Kaplan University

  • Master: Nursing/Nurse Administrator
  • Bachelor: Nutrition Science
  • AASBA in Health Club Operations

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George Mason University

  • Master of Science in Health Informatics

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American University

  • Master of Science in Nutrition Education
  • Master of Science in Healthcare Management

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Baker College Online

  • Healthcare Management - MBA (Master's)

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Northcentral University

  • MS - Organizational Leadership: Health Care Administration

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Colorado Technical University

  • Doctor of Management - Health Care Management and Leadership
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  • BS - Business Administration - Health Care Management

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Herzing University

  • MBA Dual Concentration: Healthcare Management and Public Safety Leadership
  • MBA Dual Concentration: Healthcare Management and Project Management

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Colorado State University Global

  • Graduate Specialization - Healthcare Administration

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