A nutritionist helps people plan and implement healthy diets based on their specific needs and conditions. He or she may work in a number of different settings, such as a hospital, health clinic, correctional facility, university, or research institution. Many nutritionists choose to open private practices, offering their services to a wide range of individuals and companies. A person who wishes to get started in a nutritionist career must typically receive at least a bachelor's degree from an accredited university, fulfill any necessary licensing requirements in his or her location, and work as an intern for a certain period of time.
A high school student who wants to eventually obtain a nutritionist career can prepare by taking advanced courses in anatomy, physiology, biology, and health. Students gain a basic understanding of the internal human body, the processes by which food is digested, and the impacts eating certain foods can have on a person's overall health. Near the end of high school, most hopeful nutritionists apply to four-year universities with strong science departments.
College undergraduates usually major in nutrition or dietetics, where they take several different courses related to food science and human health. Prospective nutritionists receive both classroom and laboratory instruction, where they learn about different research techniques and clinical procedures related to nutrition. Students often enroll in business management and communications courses as well, to learn about the administrative and customer service aspects of their potential careers.
A bachelor's degree is usually sufficient to obtain a nutritionist career, though some people pursue advanced degrees to further their understanding of nutrition principles and to increase their chances of gaining employment. In addition to classroom and laboratory studies, master's degree and PhD programs often allow students to conduct independent research. Students may be required to write thesis papers or dissertations based on their findings before receiving their degrees.
A graduate may be required to take a written licensing exam administered by his or her state or country before starting a nutritionist career. Most exams cover topics studied in college, such as human physiology and general health, as well as food safety, occupational health, and ethics. Some locations and employers require new nutritionists to complete supervised internships, which may last as long as two years, before practicing independently. A professional may choose to obtain additional certification as a registered dietitian to improve his or her credentials, though certification is not always needed for employment. Once all education, licensing, and internship requirements have been met, a person can finally begin a challenging and rewarding nutritionist career.