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What Is Clinical Nutrition?

Clinical nutrition involves studying what nutrients are necessary for your body to function and how what you eat affects your health. Keep reading to find out more about the field of clinical nutrition, including education programs, professional requirements and career information.

Clinical Nutrition Defined

Clinical nutrition is the practice of analyzing if a person is consuming an adequate amount of nutrients for good health. A clinical nutritionist is concerned with how nutrients in food are processed, stored and discarded by your body, along with how what you eat affects your overall well-being. Professionals in this field assess your nutritional needs based on your family and medical history, lifestyle and laboratory tests in order to make recommendations on your diet and individual nutritional needs. A clinical nutritionist may provide advice on changes to your diet that may help prevent disease.

Important Facts About Clinical Nutrition

Licensure The Certified Nutrition Specialist (CNS) credential is accepted for licensure purposes in many states.
Required Education Courses in biology, chemistry, and psychology are suggested.
Key Skills Compassion, organizational, problem-solving, and speaking/listening skills
Similar Occupations Rehabilitation counselor, registered nurse, community health worker, health educator
Work Environment Full-time, typically on flexible schedules, sometimes self-employed

Education

If you want to become a clinical nutritionist, you'll need to have a minimum of a bachelor's degree in nutrition, dietetics, biochemistry or a related field. Graduate programs in clinical nutrition are also available. Dietetics and nutrition programs provide general nutrition courses as well as courses in specific areas, such as pediatric nutrition or geriatric nutrition. Anatomy and physiology, pharmacology, biochemistry and disease prevention might also be included in the curriculum. If you are already a licensed health care professional, such as a doctor, nurse, pharmacist or dietitian, you may only need to complete a few graduate nutrition courses.

Licensure and Certification

Most states require nutrition professionals to have a license to practice, requiring completion of a bachelor's degree program; an approved, supervised internship; and an exam. Many employers hire individuals who hold the Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN) credential, and this designation sometimes meets licensure guidelines. However, licensure requirements vary from state to state, so you'll need to check with your state board of health. Continuing education is typically required to maintain licensure.

The Clinical Nutrition Certification Board offers the Certified Clinical Nutritionist (CCN) credential. Candidates are required to have a Bachelor of Science degree with a curriculum meeting science and nutrition coursework guidelines or a professional health care degree at least at the bachelor's degree level. Additionally, they must complete a 56-hour online clinical nutrition training program offered through the board. If candidates hold a graduate degree in nutrition, they may be exempt from the online program requirement.

Careers

As a clinical nutritionist, you may work in a variety of settings, including hospitals, acute care centers, weight management clinics, health care consulting firms, government agencies, pharmaceutical companies, food companies, sports agencies and long-term care facilities. You may also open your own clinic and provide nutrition advice and analysis to patients of any age and health status.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), a much faster than average job growth of 15%, which would add about 9,900 jobs, is expected for dietitians and nutritionists from 2016-2026. Since the importance of good nutrition is well known, people are increasingly demanding the expertise of nutritionists. Also reported by the BLS, dietitians and nutritionists earned a median annual salary of $60,370 in 2018.