Reasons Why You Should Consider a Career in Clinical Nutrition

Thursday, April 18, 2019

Are eggs good for you? Is bread a nutrition villain? What about eggs on bread … or bread on eggs?

There’s all sorts of scrambled, half-baked nutrition information out there these days. Clinical nutritionists cut through the noise and break down the most recent peer-reviewed research to help people develop eating habits that allow them to feel their best and manage diseases.

If that sounds like your cup of tea and you want to learn more about careers in clinical nutrition, let’s get cooking.

What is clinical nutrition?

Clinical nutrition specialists keep current on the latest advances in nutrition science and translate them into an easily digestible message to help people, or even entire populations, get healthier. They help prevent and treat chronic diseases — such as obesity, heart disease and diabetes — in a variety of settings, from health care clinics and schools to at-home consultation.

Technically, anyone who wants to give nutrition advice can call themselves a nutritionist. For example, many personal trainers market themselves as nutritionists because they give clients diet advice.

Certified clinical nutrition specialists and dietitians, meanwhile, earn degrees, complete internships and obtain licensures that ensure they have the training to make use of the most credible, evidence-based research. That makes them fit to be employed in various settings that use nutrition to manage individual and population health.

How to become a clinical nutritionist

A master’s in clinical nutrition or a doctoral degree in clinical nutrition prepares students to pursue certification. Often, graduates move on to become a certified nutrition specialist, or CNS, or a registered dietitian nutritionist, or RDN.

The proper training and credentials set students up to work in a variety of careers, such as in federal or state agencies, public health or wellness settings, private industry, research or academic settings.

Top 5 reasons to pursue a career in Clinical Nutrition

  • Competitive salary: The average annual salary of nutritionists and dietitians was $59,670 as of May 2017, according to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics. Salaries can vary greatly based on experience, location and specialty. The top 10 percent of earners in the field average more than $83,000 per year.
  • Embrace your interest in food: People are paying more attention to what they’re eating, where their food comes from and how food plays a crucial role in health. A career in nutrition allows people to turn their curiosity into a career that can help others. “Being interested in food or being exposed to a nutritionist or dietitian who gave you life-changing advice that made you feel better often drives someone to pursue a career in the field,” says Sarah Peterson, PhD, RD, LDN, acting director of the master’s in clinical nutrition program at Rush University.
  • Strong job growth: The Bureau of Labor and Statistics estimates a 15 percent job growth for nutritionists and dietitians from 2016 to 2026, which easily outpaces most other occupations. Demand is increasing as baby boomers age and health care providers become more aware of the importance of nutrition in preventing and treating disease.
  • Help patients: Clinical nutrition specialists provide individual counseling and develop meal plans that can change lives and help patients who are dealing with diseases, such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease or obesity-related cancers.
  • Broad career opportunities:
    • Nutritionists work in health care settings ranging from large medical centers to community clinics and private practices.
    • Food and nutrition management is needed in industry settings, where nutritionists help organizations meet food regulation standards. Nutritionists also participate in product development, and translate science for marketing, communications and sales departments.
    • Public health nutritionists work in community settings such as government or schools, providing nutrition assessments for large populations and developing interventions to change policy and improve nutrition.
    • Nutritionists often work as faculty in universities and colleges, where they teach and perform research.
    • The media is employing nutritionists to keep pace with increasing public interest in food an nutrition. Nutritionists with strong communications skills help newspapers, magazines and broadcast media digest and publish the latest nutrition research.

How long does it take to become a clinical nutritionist?

Part-time students pursuing a master’s in clinical nutrition generally graduate in three to five years. A full-time student pursuing a master’s in clinical nutrition can usually complete a program in 18 months. Most master’s degree programs have a limit of around five years to finish the degree.

From there, graduates have the option of becoming a CNS, which requires 900 hours of supervised practice and passing an exam administered by the Board for Certification of Nutrition Specialists. Starting in 2024, to become a registered dietitian nutritionist, or RDN, individuals must complete a master’s degree and 1,200 hours of supervised practice during a dietetic internship from an accredited institution listed with the Accreditation Council for Education in Nutrition and Dietetics. Successful completion of these requirements allows them to take the national registration exam from the Commission on Dietetic Registration.

Learn about Rush University’s master’s in clinical nutrition program.