A nutritionist, also called a registered dietitian, needs at least a bachelor's degree to hold a license or obtain certification in her state. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, a nutritionist with an advanced degree generally has the best opportunities available to her. Sharon Palmer, RD, in an article for the American Dietetic Association, says that a nutritionist with a master's degree is more likely to secure a job with a higher paying salary.
The salary of a nutritionist with a master’s degree varies greatly by specialty, years in practice, geographic region and type of practice. The BLS states that the median annual wage of a nutritionist in 2008 was $50,590. Those in the middle range of the income scale earned between $41,060 and $61,790, and those in the top 10 percent earned over $73,410. Nutritionists who worked in outpatient care centers in 2008 earned the highest median annual wage, $52,120. The highest paid nutritionists in 2007 were those who participated in research and education for an annual median income of $66,061, food and nutrition management for an annual median income of $64,002 and those who owned a business or provided consultation services for an annual median income of $60,008. Nutritionists who met the minimum requirements to receive a license generally earn lower wages than those who have a master’s degree.
Factors behind Lower Wages
Nutritionist Sharon Palmer states that she believes nutritionists work in an underpaid profession, especially when compared to allied health professions. Many people see the nutrition field dominated by females with The ADA backing up that claim, finding 96 percent of the total nutritionists were female. As a result, female nutritionists earned 21 percent less than their male counterparts as of 2009. This difference in pay could be a result of nutritionists not working as they raise their families and reentering the field with a “salary disadvantage.” A lack of involvement in professional associations and not being familiar with the salary range for the profession can also be attributed to lower wages. Alternatively, a hospital may cut funding to its nutrition department, causing full-time employees to change to a part-time status, but keeping the same workload. According to Palmer, nutritionists who want to earn higher wages must seek a graduate degree and specialty certifications, such as food services and exercise physiology.
After earning a Bachelor of Science degree with a specialization in diet and nutrition, an individual should seek a master’s degree in a coordinated or didactic dietetic program from an accredited school. The BLS states that ADA’s Commission on Accreditation for Dietetics Education, as of 2008, approved 18 master’s degree programs in the U.S. While taking graduate courses, nutrition students learn about cultural anthropology, the sciences, cuisine, nutrition therapy, writing and communication skills and nutritional concepts.
The classes a graduate student takes helps to prepare her for the licensing exam and fulfill the community and clinical practice hours she needs. The BLS states that out of the 46 states that have laws regarding nutritionists, 12 require certification, 33 require a professional license and only one requires a nutritionist to register as a professional. The ADA's Commission on Dietetic Registration awards the Registered Dietitian credential to those who have earned a master's degree and completed an internship.