What is a Nutritionist?

Job Outlook, Salary, and More

Place Setting and Plate, Pie Chart, Healthy
Tamara Staples / Stone / Getty Images

A nutritionist, also sometimes called a dietician or registered dietician, is a health professional who typically has a bachelor's degree in dietetics or related field. As with any area of study or expertise that has a broad array of real-world applications, nutrition lends itself to a number of possible career paths, each with its own unique rewards and challenges. However, there are three main areas in the field of nutrition.

  • Clinical: Clinical nutritionists, as one might expect, work in clinical settings, often in one-on-one situations with inpatients and/or outpatients, as well as with their families, in assessing, designing, and implementing dietary strategies and nutritional therapies. Often the aim is to address a particular medical issue, which can include hypertension, diabetes, or obesity, although clinical nutritionists are also called upon to come up with a plan of action in situations where a treatment protocol, such as chemotherapy, impacts a patient's overall diet or creates particular food sensitivities.
  • Community: Schools, community health clinics and recreational centers, local, state, and federal government agency programs, and health maintenance organizations (HMOs) are some of the places you’re likely to find nutritionists and dietitians working in this capacity. Often, in these settings, specific subgroups (children, the elderly, at-risk families) and their specific needs are targeted in programs designed to address specific nutritional issues. For example, when the U.S. Departments of Agriculture and Heath and Human Services unveil revised dietary guidelines based on the latest scientific data, it’s the job of community-based nutritionists and dietitians to explain the implications, educate the public, and implement plans of action for achieving the new goals.
  • Management: Institutions that depend on large-scale food service operations to feed employees, patients, and/or the public, require nutritionists and dietitians to help manage and optimize the performance of these facilities. Responsibilities can include recipe testing, menu planning, food sourcing, and long-term budgeting, all with the goal of meeting the latest standards and recommendations for health and nutrition.

Educational Requirements for Nutritionists

The minimum requirement to become a nutritionist is a bachelor's degree, (four years of college). Some nutritionists have master's degrees, which some higher-level or management positions may require. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), there are about 279 bachelor's programs for nutritionists in the U.S., and about 18 master's programs that are recognized by the American Dietetic Association's Commission on Accreditation for Dietetics Education. Undergraduate programs include majors in dietetics, foods, and nutrition, food service systems management, among others. Critical coursework includes nutrition, psychology, chemistry, and biology.

Licensure and Certification

Some states require licensure to practice as a nutritionist. Additionally, the status of "Registered Dietitian" can be achieved by completing a supervised internship and a certification exam administered by the Commission on Dietetic Registration of the American Dietetic Association.

This certification is not required to practice but may be preferred by some employers as an additional quality control.

Job Outlook

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the job growth for nutritionists is projected to be about 16 percent from 2014-2024, a pace which is "much faster than average", according to the BLS.

Most nutritionists work in hospitals, nursing homes, long-term care facilities, or medical offices. Other nutritionists work in public health or government institutions (correctional facilities, universities, etc.) Additionally, some nutritionists work in special food services, which are corporations that provide dietetic and nutritional planning and services to facilities and universities.


These professionals earned a median salary of $56,950 in 2014, according to the BLS. The top 10 percent earned more than $79,840, while the bottom 10 percent brought in less than $35,040. Prospective dietitians and nutritionists might consider moving to California, since the metropolitan areas of San Francisco, Vallejo, and Salinas pay very well.

Was this page helpful?