How to Become a Clinical Nutritionist

Overview

A clinical nutritionist is someone who gains expertise in nutrition and advises people on their food, diet, nutrition, and how these things impact health. Nutritionists are knowledgeable about health, the components of nutrition, diets, weight loss, how nutrition affects disease, and specialize in understanding nutritional challenges that impact people throughout the lifespan. Clinical Nutritionists also have specialized knowledge about physiology, neurotransmitters, the immune system, metabolism, detoxification, allergies and sensitivities, and the function and health of the gastrointestinal tract. Clinical nutritionists use foods and supplements in an effort to treat disease and help the body mobilize its own healing resources. Nutrition as medicine is an important concept in many traditional cultures around the globe and may include concepts from Traditional Chinese Medicine and Ayurveda.

Although they cover very similar territory, nutritionists and dieticians are not the same thing. Dieticians are subject to professional and legal regulation whereas nutritionists are a collection of individuals with certification in nutrition. Nutritionists are not regulated in most states in the U.S. Because of this, it is possible, in some states, to practice as a Clinical Nutritionist without formal training or certification. However, certification is always preferred.

Clinical Nutritionists do a variety of things including assessing the diet and health of clients, developing and providing meal plans and guidance, understanding and teaching clients about nutritional issues, evaluating and making changes as needed, promoting good nutritional choices, and keeping up with the latest research in nutrition. Some nutritionists offer one on one consultation with clients, others work for large healthcare institutions, whereas others offer general advice through tools such as social media and blogs. Some nutritionists even do cooking demonstrations to show how to incorporate suggested nutritional changes into the diet with ease.

Work Environment

The word “clinical” in Clinical Nutritionist is vital, as it indicates that this type of nutritionist specializes in providing nutritional therapy within a medical context either for a wide variety of medical issues or may even specialize in working with specific disorders. A Clinical Nutritionist is mostly found in medical settings such as hospitals, doctors’ offices, or nursing homes. However, they also may go into independent practice and set their own schedules.

Requirements

Education

A bachelor’s degree in dietetics, nutrition, or a related area is generally recommended to break into the field to become a Clinical Nutritionist. These programs include classwork in chemistry, biology, physiology, and nutrition. Many individuals also pursue a Master’s degree in a subject related to nutrition. Yet, since the role of a Clinical Nutritionist is not regulated in most states a certification program may be all that is needed to go into practice.

Training

Training varies widely. If pursuing a bachelor’s degree associated with a nutrition than there could be up to several hundred hours of supervised practice such as an internship. This may be required before or after graduation. Supervised experience as a practicing nutritionist will be a part of any credible graduate program in nutrition or dietetics.

Licensing and/or Certification

There is a wide variety of types of certification available for those pursuing a career as a Clinical Nutritionist. Requirements for certification vary from state to state. But certification or licensure generally requires a related bachelor’s degree, passing a certification and licensure exam, and gaining practical experience under the guidance of trained professional supervisors. However, these specific requirements may be more closely tied with pursuing licensure as a Registered Dietician rather than as a Clinical Nutritionist.

As mentioned earlier, most states do not regulate nutritionists and so certification may not be necessary. There is also no licensing for Clinical Nutritionists but many states do require registration. The most well-known certification is as a Certified Clinical Nutritionist from the Clinical Nutrition Certification Board. This certification requires a bachelor’s degree in science with nutrition courses and a graduate degree in nutrition. This certification requires more than 50 hours of specialized instruction in their Post Graduate Studies in Clinical Nutrition program. It also requires a 900 hour internship.  And this program requires recertification every 5 years to verify continued expertise in Clinical Nutrition. Although this certification is one with the best reputation there are a myriad of other certification courses you can take. These may have no requirements whatsoever beyond taking the certification course and passing an exam. In fact, the Clinical Nutrition Certification Board also offers a Certificate of Completion in the field of Clinical Nutrition which requires only coursework.

Necessary Skills and Qualities

Essential skills to becoming a Clinical Nutritionist include organizational and detail oriented skills. Clinical Nutritionists will need to manage many different patients and different pressures and demands so they must be able to stay organized and attentive to small details and changes within their patients’ lives. They also need people skills so that they are able to maintain a sense of openness, trust, and empathy with patients. Analytical and problem solving skills are also essential so that Clinical Nutritionists can help solve their patients’ dietary problems through creative assessment and implementation. Communication skills are also necessary in order to foster effective verbal and written communication with patients and other health care providers.

Opportunities for Advancement

Clinical Nutritionists may not find much room for advancement within a large hospital or other large healthcare settings. However, they can become the leader of nutritional wellness programs within these settings. Clinical Nutritionists can find endless room for advancement in independent practice where they can become their own boss.

Salary

Clinical Nutritionists earn an average of 53,250 with a range of approximately $30,000-80,000 yearly depending on education, occupational setting, experience, certification/licensure, and type of practice.

Job Outlook

The job outlook for Clinical Nutritionists is better than average with an expected growth rate of 20% between 2010 and 2020. The growth rate of this profession may be even greater than projected since there has been exponential growth in the interest in nutritional change and management with the high incidence of obesity and its slew of negative health effects. Furthermore, there is a huge number of individuals going into retirement in the next 10-15 years and these individuals will need clinical nutritional care in hospitals and nursing homes.

Related Reading

Further Reading/References

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