Nutritionist School Programs: What to Expect
Nutritionists and dietitians utilize their expertise in food science, nutrition, biology and physiology to prescribe meals, diets and health plans for patients who have poor nutrition or who are suffering from dietary issues. Nutritional technicians and dietitians can work in hospitals as clinical dietitians or in large corporations as company-wide health educators or meal planners. As such, degree programs can include courses in nutrition and dietetics, food service systems management and clinical health. These courses can help students identify and diagnose food-related illnesses and allergies, as well as prescribe diets and meal plans. Some nutritionists and dietitians provide clinical treatment in the form of therapy for illnesses or diseases. This could include treating those suffering from celiac disease, which prevents digestion of gluten.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, most dietitians and nutritionists have earned a bachelor's degree in addition to receiving supervised training through either an internship or course work (bls.gov/ooh, 2012). Earning a bachelor's degree and completing a supervised training program is required by the Commission on Dietetic Registration for the Registered Dietitian Credential. Many dietitians and nutritionists have advanced degrees.
Often the difference between a nutritionist and a dietitian is semantic. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, both nutritionists and dietitians have expertise in food and nutrition and perform similar tasks (bls.gov/ooh, 2012). However, some states regard nutritionists and dietitians differently in the eyes of regulation and licensing. According to the Commission on Dietetic Registration, 19 states require licensure of nutritionists, while nearly twice as many states require licensure of dietitians (cdrnet.org, 2012). Furthermore, many states restrict the use of titles such as "registered dietitian" or "dietitian technician registered."
Nutritionist and Dietitian Skills
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, nutritionists and dietitians may benefit from having some of the following skills:
- Analytical: nutritionists and dietitians may be required to interpret scientific data and studies for their own research and for the understanding of their patients. Being able to analyze data for a variety of purposes can be helpful.
- Organizational: as with other clinical or managerial professions, nutritionists and dietitians can expect to work with multiple people at a time, each with unique dietary needs.
- Communication: nutritionists need know how to speak but also how to listen when trying to understand a patient's goals, concerns and health problems. Nutritionists and dietitians also need to communicate complex issues understandably.
In addition, dietitians and nutritionists working in large scale food service positions may need to have strong managerial skills as well. Nutritionists working in cafeterias, hospitals, nursing homes and schools may be responsible for delivering, planning and creating nutritional meals for many people every day of the week.
Nutritionist Tools and Technology
While some nutritionist tools may seem simple and timeless, other tools have made the jump into the digital age. They include some of the following:
- Food logs: Food log software such as nutrinote and FITDAY took the pen and paper food log and made it digital for personal computers. By tracking food daily, this software can help patients maintain blood sugar levels, lower their weight or track nutrition.
- Nutrition calculators: software such as Living Cookbook can calculate the total nutritional information for meals, not just the nutritional facts for pre-packaged ingredients.
- Body mass index (BMI) and basal metabolic rate calculator: A number of software and mobile applications are available to calculate BMI and basal metabolic rate. Basal metabolic rate determines how much energy is needed to keep a body functioning even at rest.
Potential Jobs for Nutrition School Graduates
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the employment of dietitians and nutritionists is expected to grow by up to 20 percent from 2010 to 2020 (bls.gov, 2012). As of May 2012, nutritionists and dietitians earned a national median annual wage of $55,240 with the highest 10 percent earning up to $77,590 and the lowest 10 percent earning up to $34,500 (bls.gov/oes, 2013). Most nutritionists and dietitians were employed by medical and surgical hospitals, nursing care facilities and outpatient care centers.
The increased interest in the role of food in promoting health and wellness as a form of preventative medicine may play a large role in this growth as more dietitians and nutritionists will be needed to provide care for people with health conditions and food allergies (bls.gov/ooh, 2012). The aging population should also increase the need for dietitians and nutritionists as nursing homes may need to provide more specialized meal plans.
The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, A new predictive equation for resting energy expenditure in healthy individuals, MD Mifflin, St. Jeor et all, 1990, http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/51/2/241.abstract
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2012-13 Edition, Dietitians and Nutritionists, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/Healthcare/Dietitians-and-nutritionists.htm
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Employment and Wages, May 2012, Dietitians and Nutritionists, http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes291031.htm, March 29, 2013
Commission on Dietetic Registration, Laws that Regulate Dietitians/Nutritionists, http://cdrnet.org/vault/2459/web/files/Licensurelawsregulations.pdf