Clinical Nutritionist Careers: Job Description & Salary Info

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Get the truth about a clinical nutritionist salary, education requirements and career prospects. Read the job description and see the pros and cons of becoming a clinical nutritionist.
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Pros and Cons of Becoming a Clinical Nutritionist

If you like to work with people and you're interested in healthy eating, you may want to consider a career in the fast-growing field of clinical nutrition. Consider the following pros and cons of a career in clinical nutrition to see if it's the right field for you.

Pros of a Clinical Nutritionist Career
Above-average salary (median annual wage of around $56,950 as of May 2014)*
Faster-than-average job growth (21% growth from 2012-2022)*
Opportunities for self-employment*
Satisfaction of helping patients maintain a healthy nutritional status*
May choose to specialize (helping patients with kidney issues, cancer, diabetes, etc.)*

Cons of a Clinical Nutritionist Career
Must hold at least a bachelor's degree*
Most states require licensing*
May have difficulties working with sick patients who have no appetite*
Continuing education may be required to keep up with changes in the field*

Source: *The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Essential Career Info

Job Description

Clinical nutritionists, also known as dieticians, work in hospitals or long-term care facilities. They provide patients with customized meal plans, nutritional advice and programs based on their medical and nutritional needs. You can also choose to specialize in working with patients who have specific health needs and issues, such as diabetes. As a clinical nutritionist, you must work with patients and their families to create meal plans that address their dietary needs, such as weight gain or loss, food allergies, diabetes, digestive issues and others. You're responsible for helping patients attain their nutritional goals by providing them with affordable, palatable meal ideas.

Salary Info and Career Outlook

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), dietitians and nutritionists earned a median annual salary of around $56,950 as of May 2014, and the top 10% earned more than $79,840. The BLS predicted that jobs for dietitians and nutritionists would increase by 21% from 2012-2022, which is faster than the average for all occupations. The number of jobs in this field is expected to increase as the public puts greater emphasis on proper nutrition to maintain good health.

What Are the Requirements?

In order to become a clinical nutritionist, you must complete a bachelor's degree in nutrition or dietetics, according to the BLS. Most programs require you to complete an internship or another form of supervised training in order to graduate. Most states require you to take and pass a licensing exam that may lead to the Registered Dietician (RD) credential. You must have excellent communication skills because you'll typically be working with patients and their families, medical professionals and others.

What Do Employers Look for?

The main requirements for clinical nutritionists are a bachelor's degree and licensing or certification. Many employers also looked for individuals with work or internship experience. Here are some job postings found in April 2012:

  • A New York hospital advertised for a clinical nutritionist with an RD credential or one who is credential eligible and at least one year of experience working in acute care. Applicants must visit and assess patients, evaluate their nutritional status, record patients' dietary information and communicate with the dining services department.
  • An Alabama healthcare organization placed an ad for a clinical nutritionist or registered dietitian. Preferred candidates have at least one year of experience working in a hospital, clinic or another healthcare institution.
  • An Illinois hospital looked for a clinical nutritionist who is registered, licensed or eligible for licensing to work part-time. Individuals are responsible for assessing patients' nutritional status, consulting with medical professionals to create nutritional plans and educating individuals and groups on dietary and nutritional subjects.

How to Maximize Your Skills

According to the BLS, the medical field increasingly recognizes the link between proper nutrition and good health. You must stay up-to-date with changes to dietary guidelines and consider the special dietary needs for patients with certain medical conditions. You can also stand out by obtaining certification in a specialty. The Commission on Dietetic Registration (CDR) offers certification in several different areas, such as gerontological nutrition, pediatric nutrition, renal nutrition and oncology nutrition. You must complete a certain amount of work experience in your chosen area and pass an exam.

Other Careers to Consider

Health Educator

If you're not interested in focusing strictly on dietary intake and developing meal plans, but would enjoy educating individuals on health and wellness in general, you might consider a career as a health educator. You may work in hospitals, schools, or other organizations, educating individuals or groups about managing health conditions, directing them to resources and teaching various health and wellness programs. According to the BLS, you must hold at least a bachelor's degree in health education, and many positions require the Certified Health Education Specialists (CHES) credential. The BLS predicted that this career would grow by 37% from 2010-2020, and the median annual salary for these workers was around $48,000 as of 2011.


If you like cooking and working with food, but you'd rather not work in a clinical setting, consider a career as a chef or head cook. These workers are responsible for running the kitchen, supervising other cooks and maintaining quality and safety standards. According to the BLS, you can become a chef by obtaining work experience or by earning a certificate or degree in culinary arts or food service management. The BLS predicted that there would be little to no change in employment for this field from 2010-2020, but skilled and experienced workers may find work at high-end restaurants. Chefs and head cooks earned a median annual salary of around $42,000 as of 2011, according to the BLS.

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