There is currently no licensing law in Virginia for nutritionists and dieticians; however, Virginia law protects the rights of practice and protects the titles “nutritionist” and “dietician.”
Specifically, individuals in Virginia may not advertise themselves as nutritionists unless they meet at least one of the following requirements:
Has completed a program of supervised clinical experience approved by the Commission on Dietetic Registration (CDR) through the American Dietetic Association
Due to Virginia’s lack of nutritionist licensure, it is commonplace for Virginia nutritionists to hold nutritionist licenses in Maryland through the Maryland State Board of Dietetic Practice.
Maryland licenses individuals as dieticians-nutritionists, which require the completion of the following:
In the absence of nutritionist licensure in Virginia, many nutritionists choose to achieve the certified nutrition specialist (CNS) certificate through the Certification Board for Nutrition Specialists. The CNS credential is currently recognized in 13 states and is included in the existing title law in Virginia.
Individuals who want to qualify to achieve the CNS credential must meet the following, minimum requirements:
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the metropolitan area of Winchester VA-WV ranked fourth in the nation for its concentration of nutritionist jobs. The annual, mean salary for nutritionists there during this time was $56,740.
Thanks to an increased awareness of the importance of good nutrition and holistic care, nutritionists in Virginia can be found working for a number of companies, organizations, and associations. The largest employers of nutritionists in Virginia, however, are likely found throughout Virginia’s largest hospital systems:
An article featured in Virginia Business details the exponential growth of one local business based out of Richmond that hired health coaches to assist patients in meeting their wellness goals. In that company, over the course of four years its workforce increased from 11 to a staff of almost 700.
Why the sudden and rapid growth in demand for health coaching in Virginia? Haven't the benefits of being healthy always been obvious? The short answer is yes, however what is new is the proven effectiveness of health coaching. A study published in the US National Library of Medicine in 2015 looked exactly at the question of how effective health coaching was at reducing expenditures for healthcare. Over the course of two years this study collected and examined data from 6,940 health coach clients. The conclusion, “Health coaching led to significant reductions in outpatient and total expenditures for high-risk plan enrollees.”
The wellness company Vera Whole Health sums it up like this: “Healthy people cost less.” As the benefits of health coaching become ever more apparent, businesses, insurance companies, healthcare organizations, and government agencies are increasingly willing to pay for health coaching benefits up front and reap the benefits of a healthy population later.
Individual Virginians are also increasingly turning to health coaches as they want to look better, feel healthier, and live long and fulfilling lives. This convergence on demand for health coaches couldn't come at a better time, as Virginians are facing some challenging numbers (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2014):
Currently there are no standardized statewide or national credential requirements to become a health coach. This gives you the freedom to earn a degree in a relevant area that aligns with your niche interests, whether it’s holistic health and wellness, nutrition and dietetics or exercise science and kinesiology.
Since health coaching is a multi-disciplinary field, as you prepare for your career you’ll likely find yourself exploring a range of topics including:
Degree Options for Health Coaches –Bachelor's, and Master's Degrees
The following is a list of degrees offered at campus locations throughout Virginia. You can find similar programs offered online. If you've already earned a degree you may be able to apply your old credits towards your new program.
Bachelor's Degree Programs
Although some entry-level positions may be available to candidates with associate’s degrees, a bachelor’s degree in one of these majors or another closely related area of study is the most common requirement for health coach jobs:
Master's Degree Programs
If you’re looking for a career change and already hold a bachelor’s degree in a non-related major, you’ll find a master’s degree in one of these majors or another closely related area of study to be the ideal choice:
Professional Non-Degree Health Coach Certification Programs
You also have many options to choose from when it comes to earning professional certification to augment your education. Offered by different national professional organizations, earning certification usually takes a matter of months to complete with each organization offering its own curriculum and certification procedures. To become certified you typically complete a course of study and then pass a final examination.
The many certification organizations out there have varying levels of accreditation. The American Council on Education (ACE) is currently the only organization that is accredited through the National Commission for Certifying Agencies (NCCA). The ACE health coach program offers three certification routes specific to different career paths:
With your degree and professional health coach certification in hand you will be eager to start your new career. Most health coaches earn a living through one of these routes:
Additional examples of major healthcare companies in Virginia that have been known to hire health coaches include:
The following job vacancy announcements, sourced in September 2016, represent the types of employment opportunities available to properly credentialed health coaches in Virginia. These job vacancy announcements are shown for illustrative purposes only and are not meant to represent job offers or provide an assurance of employment.
Wellness Coach with Premise Health in Norfolk – As a health coach with Premise Health you will be working out of their brand new employer health center. Here you are tasked with improving the cost and quality of employee healthcare, which means working one-on-one or in small groups with your clients to meet their individual goals relating to ideal weight, exercise, stress reduction, smoking cessation, and balanced health in general. Your duties also include documenting client progress and taking biometric measurements. To apply for this position you must have at least a bachelor's degree in a health-related field, one year of related experience, as well as certification from the ICF by the end of your first year. Preferred applicants have any of the following qualifications:
Health Coach with Provant in Marion – One of the nation's leading employers of health coaches, Provant has a client in Marion in need of quality health coaching. This position primarily involves individual face-to-face coaching on-site at a corporate location. You are tasked with assessing your clients' health risks based on factors like smoking, biometrics, use of prescription medications, and other data gained from clinical evaluations. Using this data you will develop individualized plans of action that motivate your clients to improve their health and wellness. To apply for this position you must meet these minimum requirements:
Independent Health Coach Business – There are many examples of health coaches who have started their own independent businesses throughout Virginia, and Katie Abbot of Integrative Nutrition and Wellness in the Tidewater region is one great example. Describing herself as an integrative nutrition health coach and a progressive registered dietician nutritionist, Abbot has been so successful that she is currently not accepting new clients who need health coaching. However she is still available for public speaking events on wellness topics, as well as article writing for magazines and websites. Abbot specializes in topics that include the art of well-being, mindful eating, plant-based nutrition, and anti-inflammatory foods. Her professional credentials include:
Additional Resources throughout Virginia
You can find additional resources and networking opportunities for health coaches through the following government and professional organizations:
Government Resources and Programs
Associations and Professional Organizations