Nutritionist & Dietitian Overview: Education & Job Outlook

The complete guide to nutrition and dietitian programs, certification, careers and advancement opportunities.
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Dietitian & Nutritionist Career Facts

Nutritionist Overview

Focus on personal health is not a new concept in the last hundred years but still increasing obesity and unhealthy lifestyles are contributing to preventable diseases like Diabetes and heart disease in epidemic proportions.

The nutrition industry however, is relatively new and got its modern jumpstart in 1994 when the U.S. Congress passed the Dietary and Supplement Health and Education Act and defined what the science-based facts can be said of ingredients in food products and supplements without prior Food and Drug Administration (FDA) review.

The nutrition and dietary specialists became more mainstream after this Act was passed and national associations such as the Commission on Dietetic Registration (CDR) set education requirements and certifications to be considered a professional Nutritionist or Dietician.

Most states regulate certifications and education requirements for both Nutritionist and Dietician with a Dietician having stricter standards.

Global wellness is a $4 trillion industry and the Nutrition segment is $675 billion and growing. The Bureau of Labor (BLS) predicts 8,000 new Nutritionist jobs by 2028 growing at 11% making it a much faster than average growth market.

A certified Nutritionist typically requires a 4-year degree and many states require you to be licensed. According to the BLS, the average wage for a Nutritionist is $60,370 annually.

The main function of Nutritionist is to advise people on eating specific foods and nutrition to promote health and manage disease.

Dietician vs. Nutritionist

Both of these professions are considered to be nutrition experts and have some type of training on dietary supplements and the effect of diets on your health.

Many people mistakenly use these terms interchangeably, but they have different roles and are regulated by states differently. Anyone can technically call themselves a Nutritionist and it is not always a regulated term like Dietician.

Generally, a Dietician has more education requirements. A Nutritionist is an expert in the use of food and nutrition to promote health and manage diseases and a Dietician provides medical nutrition therapy.

Every Dietician can be a Nutritionist but not every nutritionist is a dietician.

Dieticians

A Dietician is considered an expert trained in the science of human nutrition and the regulation of a diet. The designation received after obtaining the proper education and passing a registration exam is Registered Dietician or Registered Dietician Nutritionist (RD or RDN).

The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND) standards require a Dietician to successfully complete the following in order to obtain a certification:

  • Attend AND accredited university and obtain a bachelor’s degree in Education in Nutrition and Dietetics
  • A minimum of 1,200 supervised hours at an accredited foodservice operation, healthcare facility (Hospital, Clinics), a University, or a community agency
  • Obtain a passing grade on a national exam administered by the Commission on Dietetic Registration

Nutritionists

Many countries define Nutritionist differently but in the United States, the title Nutritionist can be applied to anyone that offers advice on nutrition and their impact on health and is generally not regulated by the government.

In 47 states, you cannot practice MEDICAL nutrition therapy unless licensed. The Council of Holistic Health Educators (CHHE) has more research on Nutritionist laws by state. Most Nutritionist earn a bachelor’s degree and is not required to have the Nutritionist label, but the degree is required to obtain a certification and legally practice as a medical Nutritionist.

State regulations can be very confusing, and each state has some variation on how they govern the Dietary and Nutrition Industry. Some are very rigid on license requirements, and some have much less restrictions on practicing nutrition.

If you take the time to get your formal education and training and pass a certification exam, 47 states have title protection meaning an untrained person who works in the nutrition industry cannot legally claim they are a registered Dietician.

Licensing or Licensure

A person who has met the criteria set by their state to practice as Nutritionist or Dietician their title is protected by the law. Some states that license the practice of dietetics and nutrition also include a practice exclusivity clause, which limits the ability of unlicensed individuals to provide services within a particular nutrition area defined by the state (see chart below).

States with these provisions are considered stricter in protecting consumers from getting advice from anyone who labels themselves a Nutritionist.

State Certification

This state designation certifies that individual meets the requirements to hold the title in the nutrition and dietary practice such as a Registered Dietician (RD) or Registered Dietician Nutritionist (RDN) among others.

A person with a state certification is held to certain standards but does not necessarily mean persons without the certification can’t practice nutrition. In other words, although certified state holders may officially call themselves dietitians, nutritionists or use other titles as specified in the statute, uncertified individuals can still practice the regulated profession but can’t use the certified title such as RD or RDN.

State registration is considered a step below the states that require licensing so consumers should be aware of the difference.

Nutritionist License Requirement by State

The table below shows a ‘Yes’ in states where a license is required to practice as a titled Nutritionist and a ‘No’ in states where a license is not required. It should be noted that in states that do not require a license, unlicensed nutritionists must operate within a limited scope.

State License Required? State License Required?
Alabama
Yes
Nebraska
No
Alaska
No
Nevada
No
Arizona
No
New Hampshire
No
Arkansas
No
New Jersey
No
California
No
New Mexico
No
Colorado
No
New York
No
Connecticut
No
North Carolina
No
Delaware
No
North Dakota
Yes
Florida
Yes
Ohio
Yes
Georgia
Yes
Oklahoma
No
Hawaii
No
Oregon
No
Idaho
No
Pennsylvania
No
Illinois
Yes
Rhode Island
Yes
Indiana
No
South Carolina
No
Iowa
Yes
South Dakota
Yes
Kansas
Yes
Tennessee
Yes
Kentucky
No
Texas
No
Louisiana
no
Utah
No
Maine
No
Vermont
No
Maryland
No
Virginia
No
Massachusetts
No
Washington
No
Michigan
No
West Virginia
No
Minnesota
No
Wisconsin
No
Mississippi
Yes
Wyoming
Yes
Missouri
Yes
District of Columbia (D.C.)
No
Montana
Yes
State License Required?
Alabama
Yes
Alaska
No
Arizona
No
Arkansas
No
California
No
Colorado
No
Connecticut
No
Delaware
No
Florida
Yes
Georgia
Yes
Hawaii
No
Idaho
No
Illinois
Yes
Indiana
No
Iowa
Yes
Kansas
Yes
Kentucky
No
Louisiana
No
Maine
No
Maryland
No
Massachusetts
No
Michigan
No
Minnesota
No
Mississippi
Yes
Missouri
Yes
Montana
Yes
Nebraska
No
Nevada
No
New Hampshire
No
New Jersey
No
New Mexico
No
New York
No
North Carolina
No
North Dakota
Yes
Ohio
Yes
Oklahoma
No
Oregon
No
Pennsylvania
No
Rhode Island
Yes
South Carolina
No
South Dakota
Yes
Tennessee
Yes
Texas
No
Utah
No
Vermont
No
Virginia
No
Washington
No
West Virginia
No
Wisconsin
No
Wyoming
Yes
District of Columbia (D.C.)
No

As you can see, most states do not require nutritionists to have a license in order to gain employment. However, unlicensed nutritionists must practice within a limited scope while licensed nutritionists will have additional authorization and responsibility.

Dietician Title Protection by State

If you take the time to get your formal education and training and pass a certification exam, 47 states have title protection meaning an untrained person who works in the nutrition industry cannot legally claim they are registered Dietician.

“Practice Exclusive” are considered the strictest form of title protection of a licensed dietician. “Title Protected” are states that can prosecute if someone practices and falsely advertises a certification, protecting those who are in fact titled/licensed.

State Practice Exclusive? Title Protected?
Alabama
Yes
Yes
Alaska
No
Yes
Arizona
No
None
Arkansas
Yes
Yes
California
No
Yes
Colorado
No
Yes
Connecticut
No
Yes
Delaware
Yes
Yes
Florida
Yes
Yes
Georgia
Yes
Yes
Hawaii
No
Yes
Idaho
No
Yes
Illinois
Yes
Yes
Indiana
No
Yes
Iowa
Yes
Yes
Kansas
Yes
Yes
Kentucky
Yes
Yes
Louisiana
Yes
Yes
Maine
Yes
Yes
Maryland
Yes
Yes
Massachusetts
No
Yes
Michigan
No
None
Minnesota
Yes
Yes
Mississippi
Yes
Yes
Missouri
Yes
Yes
Montana
Yes
Yes
Nebraska
Yes
Yes
Nevada
Yes
Yes
New Hampshire
No
Yes
New Jersey
No
None
New Mexico
Yes
Yes
New York
No
Yes
North Carolina
Yes
Yes
North Dakota
Yes
Yes
Ohio
Yes
Yes
Oklahoma
No
Yes
Oregon
No
Yes
Pennsylvania
No
Yes
Rhode Island
Yes
Yes
South Carolina
Yes
Yes
South Dakota
Yes
Yes
Tennessee
Yes
Yes
Texas
No
Yes
Utah
No
Yes
Vermont
No
Yes
Virginia
No
Yes
Washington
No
Yes
West Virginia
No
Yes
Wisconsin
No
Yes
Wyoming
No
Yes
District of Columbia (D.C.)
Yes
Yes

Disclaimer: This individual state information does not constitute legal advice. This is an interpretation of language of state statutes and regulations and cannot substitute for legal counsel. Many states have legislation pending so make sure you check with your state on the latest regulations.

Steps to Becoming a Nutritionist

Each state has their own regulatory branch, typically the Department of Health for that state, that regulates the profession at the state level. To become a certified Nutritionist or Dietician (RD or RDN), you must successfully complete:

  • Bachelor’s degree in clinical nutrition, food service systems management, dietetics, foods and nutrition, or a related field by an accredited college
  • A Dietetic Internship Program
  • Earn the RD or RDN or other credentials by passing and exam administered by the Commission on Dietetic Registration (CDR)
  • Earn a state license or other applicable licensure

Registration requirements for these Allied healthcare professionals often are different depending on the state.

Tuition costs will vary at different universities depending on factors such as living in state or out of state, public or private school and how long it takes you to finish.

After earning your degree, a Dietetic Internship (DI) is required to become an RD or RDN. DI programs are usually competitive, and it is important to maintain a high GPA in order to qualify. An RD requires up to 1,200 hours of supervised practice and you should start investigating internships your junior year and apply the last semester of your senior year.

Several Nutritionist Credentials exist with varying levels of education and expertise required. Adding a certification will strongly enhance your marketability in obtaining a Nutritionist career.

Certified Nutritional Consultant (CNC)
Obtain a Certified Nutritional Consultant after passing an open-book exam administered by the American Association of Nutritional Consultants (AANC).

Certified Nutritionist (CN)
Certified Nutritionist designation can be obtained by:

  • Earning a two-year associate degree program or an on-line program consisting of six classes
  • Passing an exam taken by accredited association 

Certified Clinical Nutritionist (CCN)
Obtain a Certified Clinical Nutritionist through the Clinical Nutrition Certification Board (CNBC) by:

  • Earning a bachelor’s or master’s degree from an accredited university
  • Completing a 900-hour internship
  • 56 postgraduate hours in clinical nutrition studies
  • Passing the test given by the CNCB
  • Complete 40 continuing education hours every two years to maintain certification
  • Passing a recertification test every five years

Certified Nutrition Specialist (CNS)
Nutritionists use the legally protected title of CNS regulated by the Certification Board for Nutrition Specialists (BCNS) by completing:

  • Obtaining a master’s or doctoral degree in nutrition from an accredited university
  • Earning at least 1,000 hours in a supervised internship
  • Passing the exam administered by the Certification Board for Nutrition Specialists
  • Finishing 75 continuing education credits every five years in order to maintain certification

Board Certified in Holistic Nutrition (BCHN)

This specialized offering by the National Association of Nutrition Professionals (NANP) is for those who have earned an education in holistic nutrition ranging and meet the following:

  • Complete of studies in holistic nutrition from a NANP approved nutrition program or provide documentation of an occupational certification, degree or diploma that meets the NANP’s educational standards
  • Professional membership in the NANP
  • Finish 500 hours of professional experience in holistic nutrition

If interested in learning how to become a professional in the Nutrition field, you should always familiarize yourself with the details of your state’s requirements.

Nutritionist Education: Degrees and Programs

Most colleges and universities offer a degree program certified by the Accreditation Council for Nutrition and Dietetics (ACEND). See our “Find Schools” link for programs.

A typical school curriculum is 120 credit hours of school and are required to maintain a GPA of 2.75 or above. If you are seeking post graduate internships your GPA should be much higher to be competitive in the internship and job market.

Tuition costs will vary at different universities depending on factors such as living in state or out of state, public or private school and how long it takes you to finish. One sample state college estimated taking 15 hours for 2 semesters including tuition, books, supplies, room and board, transportation, and other miscellaneous fees would be about $23,500 and a non-resident about $38,000 for the same two semesters. On average, private college tuitions will be much higher.

Effective January 1, 2024 to be eligible to take the CDR credentialing exam to become a Registered Dietician, you must have a minimum of a master’s degree and complete hours under supervision (internship) from an accredited ACEND nutrition practice.

Knowledge required to become a Registered Dietician Nutritionist (RDN)

Nutrition and Dietary programs vary between colleges but in order to be accredited, they all follow the same knowledge requirements and learning outcomes by ACEND more commonly known as Knowledge for Registered Dietician Nutritionist (KRDN). The knowledge curriculum described by ACEND includes:

  • Demonstrate how to locate, interpret, evaluate and use professional literature to make ethical, evidence-based practice decisions.
  • Use current information technologies to locate and apply evidence-based guidelines and protocols.
  • Apply critical thinking skills.
  • Demonstrate effective and professional oral and written communication and documentation.
  • Describe the governance of nutrition and dietetics practice, such as the Scope of Nutrition and Dietetics Practice and the Code of Ethics for the Profession of Nutrition and Dietetics; and describe interprofessional relationships in various practice settings.
  • Assess the impact of a public policy position on nutrition and dietetics practice.
  • Discuss the impact of health care policy and different health care delivery systems on food and nutrition services.
  • Identify and describe the work of interprofessional teams and the roles of the others with whom the registered dietitian nutritionist collaborates in the delivery of food and nutrition services.
  • Demonstrate an understanding of cultural competence/sensitivity.
  • Demonstrate identification with the nutrition and dietetics profession through activities such as participation in professional organizations and defending a position on issues impacting the nutrition and dietetics profession.
  • Demonstrate an understanding of the importance and expectations of a professional in mentoring and precepting others.
  • Use the Nutrition Care Process to make decisions, identify nutrition-related problems and determine and evaluate nutrition interventions.
  • Develop an educational session or program/educational strategy for a target population.
  • Demonstrate counseling and education methods to facilitate behavior change and enhance wellness for diverse individuals and groups.
  • Explain the processes involved in delivering quality food and nutrition services. Describe basic concepts of nutritional genomics.
  • Apply management theories to the development of programs or services. Evaluate a budget and interpret financial data.
  • Describe the regulation system related to billing and coding, what services are reimbursable by third party payers, and how reimbursement may be obtained.
  • Apply the principles of human resource management to different situations. Describe safety principles related to food, personnel and consumers.
  • Analyze data for assessment and evaluate data to be used in decision-making for continuous quality improvement

Nutritionist Salaries

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) has detailed statistics on role which vary state by state but the median average salary for Nutritionist is $60,370 per year.

Several factors determine the final salary or wage that a Nutritionist will pay including specialization within a field, experience, and geography to name a few. The areas with a higher cost of living tend to pay above average. California, Alaska, Connecticut, Hawaii, and New Jersey are the top five top paying states according to the BLS.

Quick Facts: Dietitians and Nutritionists
2018 Median Pay

$60,370 per year

$29.02 per hour

Typical Entry-Level EducationBachelor’s degree
Work Experience in a Related OccupationNone
On-the-job TrainingInternship/residency
Number of Jobs, 201870,900
Job Outlook, 2018-2811% (Much faster than average)
Employment Change, 2018-288,000

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

Nutritionist Job Growth

The future is very bright for Nutritionist job growth. According to BLS, they predict employment to grow 11% from now through 2028. This is a much faster than average growth occupation in the Allied Health industry in terms of jobs. The BLS predicts 8,000 Nutritionist jobs will be added between 2018 and 2028.

Job growth for Nutritionist is growing as hospitals and nursing homes continue to use specialist with our aging population as they look for ways to stay healthy. Our younger population has seen an increase in obesity and diseases such as diabetes and heart disease which makes the Nutrition professionals in more demand to care for people with these conditions.

The need for Nutritionist is in every state but some areas have more need and are willing to pay more to start.

The top five states with the most jobs according to BLS are:

  1. California
  2. Texas
  3. New York
  4. Pennsylvania
  5. Florida

Nutritionist Career and Job Duties

The medical profession has become more active on preventative medicine and Nutritionist are playing a much larger role into the general health care of patients making this more mainstream every year.

Primary responsibilities are providing patient consultations on both nutrition and exercise.

A typical job description for a Nutritionist with a background in clinical Nutrition consists of the administrative and clinical duties below.

Administrative Duties for Nutritionists:

  • Follow up with patients on progress and concerns
  • Providing customer service and clinics including making sure each patient receives excellent service by providing a friendly environment and product knowledge
  • Make sure to monitor and maintain inventory supplies for clinical and office inventory
  • Trains staff on daily activities and provide ongoing support

Clinical Duties for Nutritionists

  • Perform Nutrition Assessments
  • Monitoring patients’ vitals such as EKK, Phlebotomy
  • Administer injections
  • Prepare laboratory order forms
  • Review patient’s lab results
  • Assist Physician with referrals to other healthcare professionals
  • Document patient progress and notes for charts
  • Consultations with patients on available wellness programs
  • Document and inputting medical insurance required information for invoicing and billing
  • Educate the public on nutrition with various targeted campaigns

What Personality Traits Are Helpful?

Nutritionists play a critical role in aiding the public with a healthy lifestyle. The general populations depend on a Nutritionist to efficiently understand and maintain their health and reduce health related diseases. Here are some traits that can help you succeed:

  • Excellent communication and customer service skills
  • Be able to inspire and motivate people
  • Detail oriented
  • Dependable
  • Tech Savvy
  • Strong ethics
  • Business acumen (If you run your own practice)
  • Friendly and patient with customers
  • Empathy for the customer
  • Ability to explain complex nutrition science simply

If you love the challenges and are passionate about health, Nutrition and Dietetics maybe the career that will be fulfilling for you. Click the blue “Find Schools” button to find colleges and universities that may fit your needs.

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