How Long Does It Take to Become a Nutritionist?
A licensed nutritionist must complete a certain amount of education and training (and in some cases, experience) before being called “licensed.” Not all states require nutritionists to be licensed, but most employers of nutritionists require them to be certified or registered through a nationally recognized organization that regulates nutritionists and dietitians. Whether you wish to be termed a “licensed nutritionist” or a “nutritionist,” it will still take a few years to achieve your goals.
What Does a Nutritionist Do?
A nutritionist evaluates clients for their nutritional needs, providing advice and counseling to them on dietary issues. Their job duties will depend upon their clientele, which may be children, the elderly, and those with special dietary need due to illness or disease. Nutritionists, whether licensed or unlicensed, will create nutritional plans for their clients, and may follow up with them to determine if the plan is helping them to change their lives in positive ways. A nutritionist might also educate the public about nutrition issues and consult with other health care professionals when working with clients.
Education for Nutritionists
Employers of nutritionists typically specify that they are seeking candidates for nutritionist jobs who hold a minimum of a bachelor’s degree. Most certification agencies will also require a minimum of a bachelor’s degree to fulfill their qualifications. Your bachelor’s degree should be from a program that is accredited by the Accreditation Council for Education in Nutrition and Dietetics (ACEND) of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
Bachelor’s degree programs in nutrition are available online, on-campus, and in a hybrid fashion. Some examples of potential bachelor’s degrees in nutrition that you might pursue include:
- Bachelor of Science in Nutrition and Dietetics
- Bachelor of Science in Dietetics
- Bachelor of Science in Food and Nutritional Sciences
- Bachelor of Science in Nutrition
If you opt to get your master’s degree in nutrition (and there are some good reasons to do so, as you will see in the next section), more employment options may open for you. Some institutions only hire masters-educated nutritionists. Other certification agencies require a master’s degree for qualification. Like bachelor’s degree programs, master’s in nutrition programs are available on-campus, online, and hybrid. Examples of master’s degree programs in nutrition include:
- Master of Dietetics and Nutrition- Medical Dietetics
- Master of Clinical Nutrition
- Master of Nutrition and Integrative Physiology
- Master of Public Health in Nutritional Sciences
Certification for Nutritionists
There are many different options for nutritionists to become certified, depending upon what they plan to do and the clientele upon whom they wish to focus. A few of the most popular certification choices for nutritionists are listed below.
Commission on Dietetic Registration (CDR)
Although a bachelor’s degree is the minimum level of education required for most nutritionist positions, that is about to change. The Commission on Dietetic Registration (CDR) the most popular national certification organization for nutritionists, will require candidates for certification to hold a minimum of a master’s degree as of January 1, 2024. Many schools which formerly offered bachelor’s programs in nutrition are closing those programs, opting instead to offer only master’s degree programs. Certification requires passing the Commission on Dietetic Registration (CDR) examination, giving you the nationally-recognized credential Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN) (also known as Registered Dietitian, or RD).
Also within the CDR, you may become certified in specializations in nutrition and dietetics. These include: Gerontological Nutrition, Oncology Nutrition, Obesity and Weight Management, Pediatric Nutrition, Pediatric Clinical Care Nutrition, Renal Nutrition, and Sports Dietetics.
National Commission for Health Education Credentialing (NCHEC)
Another national credentialing organization for nutritionists is the National Commission for Health Education Credentialing (NCHEC). This organization is geared towards nutritionists who wish to educate others, and offers two certifications which are available through examination: Certified Health Education Specialist (CHES), with no experience required and Master Certified Health Education Specialist (MCHES), requiring five years of experience.
National Board of Nutrition Support Certification (NBNSC)
The National Board of Nutrition Support Certification (NBNSC) is another option for certification for nutritionists. To earn their Certified Nutrition Support Clinician (CNSC) credential, you must be registered or licensed as a dietitian nutritionist and have two years of experience, as well as pass an examination.
Clinical Nutrition Certification Board (CNCB)
The Clinical Nutrition Certification Board (CNCB) offers the Certified Clinical Nutritionist (CCN) credential. In addition to a minimum of a bachelor’s degree, candidates for certification must complete the organization’s Post Graduate Studies in Clinical Nutrition Program and pass an examination.
Board of Certification for Nutrition Specialists (BCNS)
An arm of the American Nutrition Association, the Board of Certification for Nutrition Specialists (BCNS). Its main credential, Certified Nutrition Specialist (CNS), requires that the applicant holds a master’s degree or higher in nutrition, complete 1000 hours of supervised practice, and pass an examination.
Other Specialized Credentials for Nutritionists
There are many other credentials nutritionists can earn, depending upon their intended clientele. They include, but are not limited to:
- International Association of Eating Disorders Professionals – offers Certified Eating Disorders Specialist (CEDS) and Registered Dietitian (CEDRD) credentials
- Association of Nutrition and Foodservice Professionals- offers Certified Dietary Manager, Certified Food Protection Professional (CDM, CFPP) credential
- Certification Board for Diabetes Care and Education- offers Certified Diabetes Care and Education Specialist (CDCES) credential
State Licensure for Nutritionists
Not all states require nutritionists to be licensed. If you wish to practice as an RDN, you must pass the CDR exam, regardless of the state in which you wish to work. Some states go an additional step and require that, if you wish to be called a nutritionist, you must be licensed or certified by the state. Check with your state’s board of nutrition and dietetics practice to find out its requirements. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics offers this handy sheet of a summary of licensure statutes in each state for dietitians and nutritionists.
Length of Time to Become a Nutritionist
Now we get to the real question that we asked in the beginning of this article: how long does it take to become a nutritionist? As you can see from the varied requirements above, the answer to this question depends on many factors. You must have at least a bachelor’s degree, which takes an average of four years to complete. If you desire a master’s degree, to become registered by the CDR or certified by the BCNS, that usually takes about two more years to earn, bring total education time to six years. Conservative estimates, therefore, say that an entry-level nutritionist can enter the job market after four years of study, unless a job requires experience (which can often be earned during your bachelor’s degree program as part of an internship). Otherwise, if you wish to earn a master’s degree, it will take you approximately six years to become a nutritionist.
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