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Clinical Nutritionist: Education and Career Information

As society continues to battle various stages of sickness and obesity, putting healthy choices in place for proper diet and nutrition continues to dominate the forefront. With so many different fads, poor eating habits and unhealthy foods and supplements on the market, it’s important to have someone who understands the sciences of both food and nutrition to guide individuals down the right path. There are a number of positions that accommodate this need. One of the most prominent is a clinical nutritionist. This can be a very interesting position, especially if you enjoy working with people. Depending on where the job is located, hours can vary. These professionals can work for a facility, or as a self-employed independent contractor.

What does a clinical nutritionist do?

A clinical nutritionist is similar to a registered dietician, providing meal plans and education in varied public health, clinical and educational settings. A clinical nutritionist focuses on the nutritional values of food and how the body uses the nutrients in the food to stay healthy through medical nutrition therapy. These alternative therapies assist the body through methods such as detoxification, homeopathy and naturopathy. You can find these professionals in hospitals, government facilities, nursing and residential care facilities, health practitioners’ offices and outpatient care centers.

A clinical nutritionist evaluates the needs of their patients to create nutritional programs based on their health needs. There are many who only work in specialized areas, such as critical care or transplant patients who must carefully watch their nutritional intake. Some additional duties of a clinical nutritionist include counseling patients on their nutrition and healthy eating habits; developing meal plans that will meet the clients’ needs and budget; evaluating how the meal plans are working for the patient and making changes when necessary; speaking to specific groups on how a healthy diet and nutrition can help their medical conditions, and how the relationship between both makes an impact; researching and keeping up with the latest nutritional sciences and medical evaluations; and writing reports to document each patient’s progress.

How much does a clinical nutritionist earn?

The pay for a clinical nutritionist varies based on the area, facility and experience of the nutritionist. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics state nutritionists and dieticians made on average about $60,000 in 2013. Clinical nutritionists differ from registered dieticians in that they are not regulated in every state, and can practice in this field without formal training. For those who wish to progress both educationally and financially, the Clinical Nutrition Certification Board provides certification in this area, which can significantly impact earning potential and credibility. Growth in this area is projected to grow over 21 percent from 2012 to 2022, which is faster than the national average in most occupations. Food health and wellness initiatives have increased, especially in the areas of preventative healthcare in the medical setting, leaving room for this career path to grow.

What type of skills are required to be a clinical nutritionist?

Clinical nutritionists need a diverse skill set to work with patients and carry out their duties within the management team. Some of the most noted skills are:

Compassion: Clinical nutritionists must be able to understand client needs and issues, being able to communicate in a caring and empathetic manner. There will be times when patients become very emotional. Being able to work through their issues in an understanding way is key.

Analytical: It is important to be able to assess current research and infuse education-based science into recommendations for healthy and practical eating. Because this is a science-based career path, knowing how to extract the right information and apply it is essential to this career.

Listening: A clinical nutritionist must be an active listener to effectively hear clients’ concerns and help determine their goals to create the right nutrition plans and make adjustments when needed.

Organization: A clinical nutritionist must be organized in a number of ways. They usually have a number of patients at any given time, and should be able to coordinate all their concerns, records and meal plans in an effective way. This includes maintaining appointments and client files.

Communication: Clinical nutritionists should be able to clearly communicate with patients, members of the administration, and other healthcare professionals. They should possess the ability to conduct workshops, speak to a variety of people, talk to patients, and deal with the administration as needed. They must be able to break down scientific, technical jargon into language that is easy to understand.

Problem-solving: It is important to be able to assess and solve problems as they occur based on the patients’ health condition, or in managing a disease where nutritional intake is crucial. A clinical nutritionist must be able to hear the issues and determine what is wrong, taking the necessary steps to correct the problem.

Internship Requirements

The number of internship requirements vary per program, but there are several hundred hours involved. There are instances where the internship may include supervised training as part of their coursework at the college level.

Educational requirements

Although the criteria for clinical nutritionists vary from state to state, having an education background can only help progress in this career path. If this choice is realized early on, background classes can begin at the high school level prior to entering college. At the minimum, a clinical nutritionist should have the same educational training as a registered dietician, which means they should have a Bachelor’s degree in Dietietcs or Nutrition Science.

There are also graduate programs in Nutrition that include masters and doctoral degree programs. With an emphasis on readily available education, there are many advanced degree programs in this field that are offered through online clinical dietician schools. Coursework in this area includes:

•Nutrition therapy
•Nutrient metabolism
•Community Nutrition

It will become more intense depending on the level of education.

A Clinical Nutrition Certification is available from the Clinical Nutritional Certification Board (CNCB) that must be renewed every five years. This is to recognize continued competency in the field. Potential candidates for this certification must complete the required Post Graduate Studies in Clinical Nutrition program, which is 56 hours of specialized instruction. Candidates must also have a bachelor’s degree in science with specified coursework in nutrition, an advanced degree in human nutrition, and be a licensed medical professional in the field.

This can be a very rewarding career path for someone who is truly interested in science, the nutritional values of food, and how the right combinations can help prolong the lives of others. Putting this educational background to use in assisting patients is not only a lucrative choice, but aids in rebuilding a healthy lifestyle.

Nutrition/Dietitian Scholarships

CANfit Scholarships California Restaurant Association Educational Foundation (CRAEF) Scholarship Grand Rapids Community Foundation Scholarships
Kikkoman Foods Inc. – FFA Scholarship Health Research and Educational Trust Health Center Scholarships National Poultry & Food Distributors Association Scholarship
Institute of Food Technology Scholarships General Mills Graduate Scholarship Society for Nutrition Education and Behavior


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