Clinical Nutrition Career Options and Education Requirements

May 27, 2021

A bachelor's degree is required for a career in clinical nutrition. In some cases, certification or a license is also required. Clinical nutrition careers include clinical nutritionists, researchers, and pharmaceutical sales representatives.

Essential Information

A career in clinical nutrition typically requires a bachelor's degree, as well as licensure and certification, although actual requirements vary between states and employers. For more advanced career opportunities in clinical nutrition, master's degrees in this field are available, which can lead to administrative positions or careers in research.

Career Clinical Nutritionist Researcher Pharmaceutical Sales Rep
Required Education Bachelor's degree in clinical nutrition Bachelor's or graduate degree Bachelor's degree
Other Requirements Certification and/or licensure Certification Formal training and certification
Projected Job Growth (2019-2029)* 8% (for all dieticians and nutritionist) 4% (for all agricultural and food scientists) 4% (for all wholesale and manufacturing sales reps that sell technical and scientific products)
Average Salary (2020)* $64,150 (for all dieticians and nutritionist) $80,190 (for all food scientists and technologists) $99,680 (for all wholesale and manufacturing sales reps that sell technical and scientific products)

Source *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Career Options

After earning a bachelor's degree in clinical nutrition, graduates can go on to earn certification or licensure to practice as nutritionists or dietitians. Alternatively, they may go on to work as pharmaceutical sales reps after completing a company training program in sales. Those who would like to further their education at the graduate level may ultimately become clinical researchers, though some positions in research only require a bachelor's degree. Read on to learn about the career options available to clinical nutrition graduates.

Job Duties

Students with a degree in clinical nutrition generally find careers in institutions working as dietitians or nutritionists. A variety of institutions employ clinical nutritionists, such as hospitals, extended care facilities, prisons and nursing homes. Clinical nutritionists often work in collaboration with health care providers creating dietary menus that work with patients' overall care plans. Through proper nutrition, they can aid patients who are overweight or suffer from a variety of diseases, such as hypertension, diabetes or kidney failure.

Besides working in an institutional setting, those with a degree in clinical nutrition or dietetics can work as researchers or pharmaceutical sales representatives. With an advanced degree, dietitians may be qualified for administrative positions, such as an assistant director or manager of a nutrition department.

Most states require nutritionists and dietitians to be licensed. Licensing requirements vary by state, but typically include a bachelor's degree and an examination. Many states restrict the activities performed by nutritionists and dietitians based on their licensing, registration and certification.

Although it may not be required by employers or some states, many clinical nutritionists and dietitians choose to become professionally registered and certified. There are many options for people working in this field; the most common being registered by the American Dietetic Association (ADA) as a registered dietitian (RD). The International & American Associations of Clinical Nutritionists (IAACN) offers certification specifically for those working in clinical nutrition. Registration and certification require graduation from an educational program approved by the ADA, professional experience and passage of a skills assessment exam.

Employment opportunities in nutrition-related positions were expected to increase much faster than national average through 2029. This increase was due in part to the overall aging of the population and the increased awareness of the nutritional requirements needed for good health and disease prevention. In May 2020, the BLS reported that professionals in the 90th percentile or higher earned $90,000 or more per year, whereas the bottom 10th percentile earned $39,840 or less per year.

Education Requirements for a Career Clinical Nutrition

To begin a career as a clinical nutritionist or dietitian, students typically need a bachelor's degree in clinical nutrition or dietetics from a program approved by the ADA. A bachelor's degree involves a four-year program where students take classes in nutrition areas such as food science, food safety, human metabolism and food service systems. Advanced coursework in organic chemistry, physiology and biology are typically required in these programs. Many bachelor's programs include an internship under the supervision of a registered dietitian where students gain practical first-hand knowledge in the operations of a food system service.

For those interested in advancing their careers, there are master's and doctoral degree programs in areas such as human nutrition, nutrition and dietetics and food science. Some of these programs feature a concentration in clinical nutrition. The majority of these programs require an educational background in nutrition and some require students to be registered dietitians before they can be admitted into the program.

During a master's degree program, students can expect to study topics in food process engineering and medical nutrition therapy. Some programs offer internships, and coursework usually includes children and nutrition, sports nutrition, nutrition and aging populations and public health.

Ph.D. programs generally take five to seven years to complete and are typically designed for those interested in becoming teachers, high-level administrators or researchers in nutrition and dietetics. Doctoral students typically concentrate on a specific area in this field on which they'll write and defend a dissertation.

Nutritionists may work in hospitals, prisons or nursing homes. They work with other medical professionals to create a menu that fits the needs of an individual's care plan. They can opt to pursue post-graduate degrees in fields such as human nutrition, food science or nutrition and dietetics.

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