State Requirements for Nutrition and Dietitian Fields

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Virginia

Virginia Nutritionist Certification

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.”

Meeting Requirements to Practice Nutrition Care

Specifically, individuals in Virginia may not advertise themselves as nutritionists unless they meet at least one of the following requirements:

  • Possesses a bachelor’s degree or higher from a regionally accredited college or university in one of the following majors:
    • Nutritional sciences
    • Community nutrition
    • Public health nutrition
    • Food and nutrition
    • Dietetics
    • Human nutrition; AND

Has completed a program of supervised clinical experience approved by the Commission on Dietetic Registration (CDR) through the American Dietetic Association

  • Holds an active registration through the Commission on Dietetic Registration (CDR) through the American Dietetic Association
  • Holds an active certificate of the Certification Board for Nutrition Specialists through the Board of Nutrition Specialists
  • Holds an active accreditation by the Diplomats or Fellows of the American Board of Nutrition
  • Holds a current license or certificate as a nutritionist in another state
  • Holds the minimum education, training, and experience as determined by the Virginia Board of Health Professions:
    • A bachelor’s degree with a major in foods and nutrition or dietetics (or has a bachelor’s degree with coursework in food and nutrition); AND
    • Has two years of work experience in nutrition or dietetics; AND
    • Is employed by or under contract with a governmental agency
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Obtaining a Maryland Nutritionist License in Virginia

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:

  • A bachelor’s degree in dietetics; OR
  • A master’s or doctoral degree in one of the following:
    • Nutritional sciences (with an emphasis in human nutrition)
    • Food and nutrition
    • Dietetics
    • Human nutrition
    • Community nutrition
    • Public health nutrition
    • An equivalent program approved by the Board; AND
  • A supervised clinical experience approved by the Board of at least 1,000 hours; AND
  • An examination approved by the Board:

Certification Standards for Certified Nutrition Specialists (CNS) in Virginia

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:

  • Possess a master’s or doctoral degree in nutrition from a regionally accredited college or university or a professional degree (MD, DO, DDS, DPM, Doctor of Nursing, etc.)
  • Possess at least 9 semester hours in nutrition; 6 hours in biochemistry; 12 semester hours in clinical, life or physical sciences; and 3 semester hours in physiology
  • Complete at least 1,000 hours of supervised professional experience
  • Pass a written examination
  • Complete at least 75 hours of approved continuing education in nutrition every 5 years

Nutritionist Salary and Jobs in Virginia

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:

  • Winchester Medical Center
  • Virginia Commonwealth University Medical Center
  • University of Virginia Medical Center
  • Sentara Norfolk General Hospital
  • Mary Washington Hospital
  • Inova Fairfax Hospital
  • Carilion Roanoke Memorial Hospital

Health Coach in Virginia

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):

  • Nearly one-quarter of Virginians are not physically active
  • Nearly 10 percent of Virginians have diabetes
  • Less than 10 percent of Virginians consume their daily recommended amount of vegetables
  • More than one-quarter of Virginians are obese
  • Almost one-fifth of Virginians are current smokers

Degree and Professional Certification

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:

  • Obesity and weight management
  • Program planning
  • Alternative and complimentary approaches to healthcare
  • Group coaching and individual motivation techniques
  • Women's health
  • Holistic medicinal practices
  • Human biology
  • Fitness and wellness programs like yoga
  • Nutrition and dietetics
  • Exercise science and physiology
  • Mental wellness and methods of stress reduction
  • Wellness counseling
  • Health communication

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:

  • Bachelor of Applied Science (BAS) in Health, Wellness, and Social Services (Fairfax)
  • Bachelor of Science (BS) in Health Promotion and Management (Arlington)
  • Bachelor of Science (BS) in Health, Physical Education, and Exercise Science (Norfolk)
  • Bachelor of Science (BS) in Kinesiology (Charlottesville and Lynchburg)
  • Bachelor of Science (BS) in Dietetics (Blacksburg)
  • Bachelor of Science (BS) in Human Nutrition, Foods, and Exercise (Blacksburg)
  • Bachelor of Science (BS) in Health, Physical Education, and Exercise Science (Richmond)
  • Bachelor of Science (BS) in Exercise Science (Richmond)
  • Bachelor of Science (BS) in Health Science (Richmond and Arlington)

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:

  • Master of Science (MS) in Health Promotion and Management (Arlington)
  • Master of Education (M.Ed) in Kinesiology-Exercise Physiology (Charlottesville)
  • Master of Science (MS) in Exercise, Fitness, and Health Promotion, with a concentration in Wellness Promotion (Fairfax)
  • Master of Science (MS) in Clinical Physiology and Metabolism (Blacksburg)
  • Master of Science (MS) in Health and Movement Science (Richmond)
  • Master of Science (MS) in Health Science (Arlington)

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:

  • Health Coach Certification for Fitness Professionals
  • Health Coach Certification for Health Care Professionals
  • Health Coach Certification for Workplace Wellness

Career Paths and Job Opportunities Available to Health Coaches in Virginia

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:

  • As independent business owners who see their own clients
  • Working with health coaching and wellness companies that maintain contracts with a range of companies – in Virginia this includes companies like Provant
  • Working with healthcare or insurance companies, as well as government agencies, to provide workplace wellness programs – in Virginia this includes companies like Premise Health
  • Working for government or healthcare agencies to provide health coaching services to a targeted population as part of a government initiative or healthcare rehabilitation – in Virginia this could be with the Department of Health's Healthy Eating and Active Living (HEAL) program

Additional examples of major healthcare companies in Virginia that have been known to hire health coaches include:

  • Sentara Healthcare
  • HCA Virginia Health System
  • Inova Health System
  • Riverside Regional Medical Center
  • MCV Hospital
  • University of Virginia Medical Center
  • Bon Secours Richmond Health System
  • Anthem
  • Roanoke Memorial Community Hospital
  • Centra Health

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:

  • Master's degree in a health-related field or an equivalent amount of experience
  • Additional wellness/fitness certifications
  • At least one year of experience working in a healthcare setting
  • Experience in health promotion or worksite wellness programs

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:

  • Exercise physiologist, health educator, registered dietician, or registered nurse credential
  • Bachelor's degree in a health-related field
  • Must be able to understand and interpret BMI, cholesterol readings, and blood pressure
  • Wellness coaching certification preferred

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:

  • Bachelor of Science (BS) in dietetics
  • Integrative nutrition health coach
  • Master of Science (MS) in public health nutrition
  • Registered dietician nutritionist

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

 

 

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