A nutritionist is a qualified expert trained in the field of nutrition whose expertise will vary depending on the specialty that they have chosen. Some nutritionists work in a public health setting or clinical research environment while some become educators and others choose to work with animals, athletes, or food manufacturers. There are a number of different career paths that one might choose as a nutritionist and the educational requirements often vary by geography. Different countries have specific licensing and certification requirements and in the United States, the requirements to become a nutritionist vary by state.
Generally speaking, someone wanting to become a nutritionist would need a four-year degree from an accredited nutrition degree program. These programs will likely require coursework heavy in the sciences such as biology, chemistry, food science, nutrition, and physiology. It is also suggested that students take related courses in statistics, mathematics, psychology, and sociology. Along with the required coursework, many programs will require supervised practical experience completed during an internship or apprenticeship. It is also possible to enroll in an accredited graduate program and earn a master’s degree in an appropriate field of study to become a nutritionist.
After obtaining a degree, an aspiring nutritionist would need to become certified or licensed in the country or state where they plan to practice. This often requires passing examinations and completing a number of supervised hours of experience. It is best to determine what these requirements will be before starting a degree program because some programs will incorporate internships that can help meet these required hours. Along with local certification and licensing, it may also be helpful to earn a national credential such as the American Dietetic Association (ADA) Registered Dietician credential by meeting specific academic requirements and passing a registered exam.
Jobs for licensed and certified nutritionists can be found in a variety of settings. Often hospitals, nursing facilities, hotels, restaurants, school districts, and public health departments hire nutritionists to plan and organize meals and implement nutrition programs. Some individuals choose to become a nutritionist in a private practice or as a consultant working with a specific segment of the population. Food service companies and manufacturers also hire nutritionists to develop and evaluate food products and programs.
It is also possible to continue with postgraduate studies in the nutrition sciences and to become a nutritionist working in a research or teaching position in the academic, public, or private sector. Some universities offer Ph.D. programs in areas of nutrition science that will prepare students for these types of positions. Requirements and coursework vary by educational institution, but many require students to prepare a doctoral dissertation.