A nutritionist may wear many hats, including the ones of counselor, evaluator, motivator, expert, and administrator. They advise, plan, strategize, research, and analyze patient’s eating and exercise habits in order to help them achieve better health, along with preventing disease and illness. Career advice from a nutritionist might encourage a student or prospective nutritionist to be flexible, know the expectations of a nutritionist, earn an education from an accredited program, become certified, and consider many career options within the field of nutrition.
The first thing that an experienced nutritionist would recommend to an aspiring dietitian is to understand the many expectations of the job. Dietitians (or nutritionists) educate patients about how diet and fitness affect general health and aid in disease prevention. They help patients (or clients) develop healthy eating habits, establish physical fitness plans and goals, and teach food preparation methods that help to retain the overall nutritional value of foods. They perform diet assessments and evaluate how patients can become healthier by creating better habits when it comes to diet and nutrition. They work with patients fighting heart disease, diabetes, obesity, and hypertension, among other health problems. They may also work in large institutions to create healthy meal plans and oversee food preparation.
Nutritionists should always earn an education from an accredited school or program that is approved by the American Dietetic Association’s Commission on Accreditation for Dietetics Education. Currently, there are only 281 bachelor’s degree and 22 master’s degree programs in the United States that are approved by the commission. Programs are highly selective and have rigorous admission standards. They are also quite prestigious. Attending an accredited program also ensures a student’s eligibility for federal student financial aid. Programs that are not accredited or recognized through the U.S. Department of Education are not considered eligible for financial aid from the federal government or state entities.
Students are encouraged to do their research and know what to expect from the curriculums offered by accredited nutrition programs. Most programs require that students take several different courses, including psychology, fitness, dietetics, mathematics, economics, computer science, business, sociology, microbiology, institution management, physiology, biochemistry, chemistry, biology, and foods. In addition to classroom instruction, clinical experience is expected in most programs. Hands-on experience provides students with a way to apply the knowledge they gain from their classroom work. The curriculum is also developed in order to prepare students to take the licensing examination administered by the Commission on Dietetic Registration of the American Dietetic Association.
Nutritionists recommend prospective dieticians to consider many different aspects of available career opportunities. Many dieticians provide services to hospitals, schools, prisons, or nursing care facilities by developing food plans. After creating the plan, they also evaluate the program for effectiveness and adjust it to make it better for its constituents.
Some dieticians work with the community by counseling groups and individuals about proper nutrition practices in relationship to disease and illness prevention. They often work for health clinics, home health agencies, or HMO organizations. Some dieticians work as consultants and provide nutrition screenings and meal plans for patients who need to eat healthier or meet certain health goals. Another category of dietician deals with the field of dietary management. Nutritionists who work as managers supervise large-scale operations and programs.
Nutritionists urge prospective dieticians to become registered dieticians credentialed by the American Dietetic Association. In addition to earning an education from an accredited college or program, applicants must pass general guidelines and a national certification examination. Once credentialed as a registered dietician, it’s a good idea to check into the state guidelines for licensure. While some states simply require certification and two do not regulate dieticians and nutritionists at all, most states within the U.S. require dieticians to be licensed. However, many simply defer to the ADA for testing and examination standards.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average salary for registered dieticians and nutritionists in 2009 was $52,150. The number of dieticians was expected to grow by nine percent by the year 2016. Because society is becoming increasingly aware of how impactful and helpful a healthy diet can be, the demand for nutritionists is growing. Also, opportunities for nutritionists who wish to specialize in advanced areas of dietary science are increasing. A couple of promising fields to explore include advanced nutritional science and nutritional immunology. As a nutritionist’s specialty and degree levels increase, so do salaries, in most cases. Additionally, with the growing acceptance of natural and alternative medicine, many nutritionists may want to consider employment with spas and complementary wellness centers.