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How to Become a Certified Nutritionist

In many ways, the old saying “you are what you eat” holds true. Nutritionists, more than most, know this is the case. As their name implies, nutritionists are experts in nutrition who advise patients on how food and diet can impact their overall health. With specialized knowledge in physiology, metabolism, allergies and sensitivities, and the function of the gastrointestinal tract, nutritionists possess a unique perspective that allows them to guide clients in making healthy choices. Additionally, clinical nutritionists are able to educate their clients on how food and nutrition can help prevent and manage disease.

In light of America’s historically complicated relationship with food, it’s no surprise that the demand for nutritionists is on the rise. More nutritionists are being called to help patients battle ubiquitous conditions like diabetes, heart disease, and obesity. If helping patients develop healthy eating habits and guiding clients in their nutritional journey is of interest to you, you may want to consider a career as a nutritionist.

Before delving into how to become a nutritionist, you should consider what kind of clinical nutritionist most aligns with your career goals. There are three, primary avenues to becoming a nutritionist today. You can pursue licensure as a Certified Clinical Nutritionist (CCN) or Certified Nutrition Specialist (CNS). Alternatively, you might decide to go without licensing and become a Clinical Nutritionist (CN), instead.

In order to practice as a nutritionist, most states do require you to be licensed and certified, with education and experience under your belt. The certified nutritionist requirements, however, vary from state to state. Most include receiving a degree, completing supervised practice, and passing an exam, such as the CCN and CNS certifications detailed below.

Here are the various ways you can become a nutritionist today.

Clinical Nutritionist (CN)

As of 2019, only nineteen states had licensing requirements for Clinical Nutritionists. In states that don’t regulate the use of this term, anyone with an interest in diet or nutrition can label themselves as such. However, uncredentialed nutritionists are unlikely to find work in a medical office or research facility. Instead, it is more common that nutritionists pursue higher education and licensing either as a CCN or CNS.

Certified Clinical Nutritionist (CCN)

A Certified Clinical Nutritionist uses their strong foundation in biochemical science to assess a client’s history, physical health, and lifestyle and promote optimal health. They use assessments such as laboratory tests in addition to case history to provide treatment to their patients. Their assessment can also be used to provide the basis for a referral to a physician.

Certified Clinical Nutritionists are required to hold a minimum of a bachelor of science from an accredited university. They must have taken courses in anatomy, physiology, human biology, chemistry, nutrition, and microbiology. However, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that nutritionists with advanced degrees can have greater job prospects. Graduates with a master’s degree in Nutrition can also apply to take the CCN exam. Health professionals who hold an MD, DO, or BS in nursing are required to take 56 hours of online training in clinical human nutrition in order to qualify to take the CCN licensing exam. Depending on your state’s certified nutritionist requirements, you may be asked to also complete a 900-hour internship to become a CCN.

Licensure as a CCN is earned after passing a 150 question, multiple-choice certification exam. In order to maintain certification, CCN’s must complete 40 hours of continuing education every two years and retake the CCN exam every five years.

Certified Clinical Nutritionists can work in a number of settings. Most find employment working in clinical settings such as outpatient facilities and hospitals. Though nutritionists may work in institutional environments, they’re more frequently found working as a member of a medical team in an outpatient care center. They’re also qualified to work for nutritional and nutraceutical companies in research and development.

Certified Nutrition Specialist (CNS)

Certified Nutrition Specialists are advanced, credentialed experts who work closely with their patients to effect dietary changes. They are qualified to work with people who’ve been diagnosed with obesity, high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease, as well as disordered eating. They’re also able to provide nutrition education and advising to school systems, government agencies, rehabilitation facilities, and community programs. Those who earn the CNS board certification pass the most rigorous standards of any nutritional professional. As such, those who hold a CNS title are in high demand and highly valued by employers.

Certified Nutrition Specialists are expected to meet the most advanced academic requirements of all nutritionists. They must earn at least a master’s degree in Nutrition from an accredited university. Certified Nutrition Specialists are required to have completed courses in biochemistry, assessment, evidence-based nutrition, developmental nutrition, among other courses. They must also complete 1,000 hours of supervised experience in nutrition, either before or after passing the CNS examination. Some nutrition schools allow you to get a head start on your CNS license through clinical experiences. For example, the University of Bridgeport provides 255 of the required experiential hours online, via a virtual clinic.

Licensure as a CNS is earned after passing a 200 question, multiple-choice exam. Passing the exam is determined by a pass-fail score. Additionally, Certified Nutrition Specialists are required to finish 75 continuing education credits every five years in order to maintain their certification.

As CNS’s are held to a particularly high educational standard, Certified Nutrition Specialists work in advanced medical nutrition therapy and nutritional research. They can also provide education within school systems and clinics, as well as community and governmental agencies. They are also qualified to provide nutritional and dietary advice to patients.

Clinical nutrition is an ever-evolving field and the need for qualified nutritionists is ever-growing. Depending on the career path you’re interested in pursuing, becoming a clinical or certified nutritionist can be as simple as earning a bachelor’s degree and passing an exam, or may involve earning a postgraduate degree and completing an internship. The choice is up to you!

Interested in pursuing a career in clinical nutrition? Contact us online to get more information about University of Bridgeport’s M.S. in Nutrition.