In hospitals, nursing homes and schools across the country, nutritionists and dietitians create and oversee the preparation of balanced meals for the people they serve. Other professionals in the field may work as consultants or dietary coaches to help those on special diets receive proper nutrition. However, according to the laws in most states, not just anyone can work in nutrition. Individuals must meet specific education and licensing requirements. Online degrees in nutrition are one way to fulfill these state mandates.
Nutrition education requirements
Almost every state has its own requirements for dietitians and nutritionists working within its borders. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), 46 states and jurisdictions have laws regarding the practice of dietetics. Since laws can vary dramatically, it is best to check with the state licensing agency to confirm whether attendance at a state-approved school is required for licensing.
The BLS indicates that most employers are looking for job applicants with a bachelor's degree. Graduate degree programs in nutrition are also available for those wishing to expand their knowledge and improve their opportunities for advancement into managerial positions.
Studying for online degrees in nutrition
While certification is only required in 12 states, it is available, on a voluntary basis, to dietitians and nutritionists in all states. The American Dietetic Association (ADA) offers two certification options: registered dietitian (RD) and dietitian technician, registered (DTR). Those certified as DTRs generally work under the supervision of RDs.
Both positions require the completion of a degree at a regionally accredited university or college or at a program approved by the Commission on Accreditation for Dietetics Education (CADE). While associate degree holders can be certified as DTRs, a bachelor's degree is needed to receive the RD designation. RDs must also complete a six to twelve month CADE-accredited practice program before being able to sit for the association's registration examination.
Although online health care degrees in nutrition are offered by many institutions, students residing in states requiring certification should carefully review program accreditation. The ADA advises that, as of 2011, only six distance learning programs in nutrition have been approved by CADE.
More about careers in nutrition
Nutrition careers should grow modestly in the upcoming years. The BLS estimates that demand for dietitians and nutritionists will grow 9 percent from 2008 to 2018. As of 2008, approximately half of all nutrition specialists were working at health care facilities such as hospitals, nursing homes and physician offices. Other workers were self-employed or worked across a number of sectors including government agencies and educational institutions. In 2010, the mean annual wage for dietitians and nutritionists was $54,340 and the top 10 percent of employees in the field made more than $75,000.
Traditional and online degrees in nutrition require coursework in topics such as physiology, chemistry and biology, making this a good career choice for individuals interested in science. Dietitians and nutritionists working as dietary coaches must also be able to take complex ideas and share them in an accessible manner with their clients.
At a glance:
- According to a 2009 American Dietetic Association (ADA) salary survey, registered dietitians with less than five years experience earn $51,100 to $62,200 annually.
- Jobs will grow fastest for those specializing in renal and diabetic nutrition or gerontological nutrition, says the BLS.
- Maryland is the top paying state for dietitians and nutritionists according to 2010 BLS data.