Nutritionists & Dietitians: An Overview
Nutritionist-World.com hopes to serve as an information portal for individuals interested in learning more about nutrition, those seeking education through a nutritionist or dietitian degree program and for those currently practicing in the field of nutrition or dietetics.
Nutritionists and dietitians are projected to experience a faster-than-average growth of employment opportunities from 2010 to 2020 (at 20 percent), according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS.gov/ooh, 2012). Continuing nutrition science research, as well as an aging baby-boom population in the U.S. and around the world, has created an increasing demand for specialists in the field of nutrition. Employment is expected to rise in a variety of environments including hospitals, long- and short-term-care facilities, community support agencies and consulting companies.
Nutritionist-World's goal is to provide a step-by-step process for those looking to pursue a nutrition or dietitian degree or certification for the first time, or for those who want to take their career to the next level with a graduate degree in nutrition. It also provides information for nutritionists and dietitians looking to update or complete their credentials in another state.
Registered dietitians (RDs) and nutritionists are integral parts of today's health care and food industries. Dietitians and nutritionists can create specialized diets for individuals or groups to promote healthy lifestyles, curb consumption or increase vitamin intake. They can also prescribe diets for individuals suffering from food allergies or recovering from medical operations. Nutritionists and dietitians are also health care educators, creating programs based around healthy eating and active living for schools, companies and communities.
Nutrition and dietitian degree programs, from introductory to terminal, coalesce around courses in physiology, biology, chemistry and pharmacology, along with extensive hands-on experience in the field. While the title of "Registered Dietitian" is legally protected and owned by the Commission on Dietetic Registration (CDR), the credentialing agency of the American Dietetic Association (ADA), employment as a nonregistered dietetic or nutritionist does not necessarily require a specific degree in nutrition or dietetics.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, many nutritionists and dietitians have earned a degree in nutrition science or dietetics, but employment is available for individuals with a degree a related field. O*Net Online reports (onet.gov, 2012) that 32 percent of practicing dietitians and nutritionists surveyed responded that a bachelor's degree was required for employment and 60 percent said a master's degree in nutritional science was required.
Although receiving an associate degree in nutrition and dietetics may afford one the opportunity to work in the field under a RD, the requirements for credentialing, and as with many states, licensure, include earning at least a bachelor's degree and taking the required didactic coursework. For someone who already has a bachelor's degree, earning an additional associate degree may be one way to accumulate the required courses. It is strongly recommended, however, that you check with the CDR first to verify that additional schooling will not be required.
If an associate nutrition degree program is not a viable option, completing a master's degree program in nutrition may end up being more cost-effective and applicable than earning a second bachelor's degree. A Master of Science or Master of Public Health degree programs, which are the graduate options for nutritionists and dietitians, may often be completed in two to three years with the required prerequisites.
According to the CDR, there are over 80,000 board-certified dietitians throughout the U.S. The BLS reports that, as of May 2011, the median annual wage of dietitians and nutritionists was $54,470, nationally, with the bottom ten percent earning $34,300 and the top ten percent earning $76,400 during the same period (BLS.gov/oes, 2012).
As many states require the RD credential for licensure, failure to obtain the credential can be considered a barrier to employment. Additionally, the BLS reports that many employers also require dietitians and nutritionists to be credentialed. For more information on state specific requirements, please visit the state-specific information guide on licensure requirements.