Nutritional Sciences

The Best Online Master’s Programs in Integrative and Functional Nutrition

The Best Online Master’s Programs in Integrative and Functional Nutrition
MS in functional nutrition programs blend science and nutrition-based education with a patient-centered focus. Image from Unsplash
Kristen Mills profile
Kristen Mills July 22, 2019

The flexibility of an online program could make earning your master's in functional nutrition a piece of cake. (Gluten-free, non-dairy cake—of course.)

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How to choose an online master’s in functional nutrition program

Any doctor can tell you that nutrition is key to maintaining a healthy weight, improving your cognition and functioning abilities, and promoting overall health and well-being. But for those within the field of functional medicine, balanced nutrition is so much more—with less chance of drugs and surgery.

Functional medicine refers to medical practices and treatments that focus on whole-person wellness with consideration of all of the body systems, external stimuli, and environmental factors that affect an individual’s health. __Combining functional medicine with a clinical nutrition approach considers the whole person—body, mind, and emotions—to treat any underlying symptoms and diagnoses. It’s fundamental work, whether you’re shaping healthcare policies or sharing your knowledge of food and nutrition with low-income populations.

While functional medicine and integrative medicine both support patients through a whole-person approach, the goal of functional medicine is to determine the root cause of health issues patients may have—such as asthma, high cholesterol, and arthritis—which includes a deep dive into an individual’s genetic makeup, history, and lifestyle. Integrative medicine tends to focus more on the lifestyle habits of a patient, like diet and exercise practices, out of the belief that lifestyle choices are the cause of many modern problems.

To help you choose the best online master’s in functional nutrition program, we’ll cover:

  • Master of science in nutrition within functional medicine online program overview
  • Job outlook for people with an online master of science in nutrition within functional medicine
  • Best online master of science in nutrition within functional medicine programs
  • Best value for online master of science in nutrition within functional medicine programs

Typical program overview for an online master’s in functional nutrition

If your goal is to help individuals achieve optimum wellness by creating tailored nutrition programs, earning your master of science (MS) in nutrition is a great option, especially if you’re one of many nutrition professionals who have a bachelor degree in nutrition or health sciences, and are looking to dive deeper into the field. If your bachelor’s degree tends towards liberal arts, the shift into clinical nutrition, and many other science-related fields may require you to complete college-level courses subjects like in chemistry, biology, statistics.

MS in functional nutrition programs blend science and nutrition-based education with a patient-centered focus. Alongside fieldwork, courses prepare students to address the cognitive and biological factors that influence the role of food and nutrition in human health. An online approach, also known as distance learning, to graduate-level courses will offer flexibility as you grow your understanding in the field of alternative medicine.

An online MS in functional nutrition program can generally be completed in two years. Core courses include:

  • Nutritional theories and principals
  • Nutritional assessment, diagnoses, and intervention
  • Foundations in functional medicine
  • Nutritional lifecycles, or Nutrition across the lifespan
  • Ethics in functional medicine
  • Practical application of functional medicine
  • Clinical application of functional medicine
  • Nutritional biochemistry
  • Organic chemistry

It’s a degree that opens doors to many career options within functional medicine, some of which include:

Job market and earning potential for functional nutritionists

An MS in nutrition within functional medicine comes with a bump in the marketability of your skillset, particularly once you’ve satisfied state licensing requirements. In terms of salary, however, not every career path sees a boost in earnings with a master’s degree.

For example, according to a survey from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics Compensation, the median salary for registered dietitians with a master’s was $1.89 more per hour than the median salary for registered dietitians with a bachelor’s degree.

When considering licensure, PayScale data on registered dietician salaries indicate slightly more disappointing numbers, with registered professionals making an average $1,000 less annually than dietitians who haven’t completed certification. All of this may position an MS nutrition degree within functional medicine as less of a pathway to higher income, and more of a streamlined approach to securing the advanced skills and certification that many employers prefer.

In many cases, graduates can expect a humble rise in earnings with continued work experience. PayScale indicates the average entry-level salary for dietitians or nutritionists at $48,188, while professionals in mid-career roles make an average $51,270. Those late in their careers can expect an average $59,957.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), healthcare job opportunities are expected to grow 18 percent by 2026, much faster than the average for all U.S. occupations. Dietitian and nutritionist occupations follow a similar trajectory with an expected 15 percent increase by 2026. There is a wealth of opportunities in work as a registered dietitian, clinical nutrition, nutrition education, health promotion, or even health sciences research.

Best online MS in nutrition and functional medicine programs

Finding the best master’s program can encompass a variety of factors like length, research priorities, and any offered credentials that will help you stand out in the job search. Online programs are especially beneficial if you’re looking to balance your studies with work, family, or any other obligations.

When evaluating online master’s programs, consider these factors:

  • Guidance: Your degree program provides placement in the supervised practice program, which in many cases, is called a Dietetic Internship. This program lasts between eight and 24 months and requires you to complete 1,200 hours of supervised rotation practice in the three major areas of dietetics: clinical dietetics, community dietetics, and food-systems management.
  • Accreditation: This will help ensure that a program will prepare you for work in specialized nutrition and that any work you do will lead to a master’s degree. Students seeking certification are also required to hold degrees from accredited institutions.
  • Specialization: Look for programs emphasize functional medicine and balance nutritional sciences with training to grow the interpersonal skills you’ll need for a patient-centered career.

Best value for online a master’s in nutrition and functional medicine

There’s no doubt that your passion for nutrition and your goals to help individuals manage their health will be the driving force behind your plans for a master’s degree and ultimately, a career. Carefully choosing an online master’s program that shares those values can go a long way. Before bookmarking any graduate program applications, consider your budget with the factors we mentioned above. Use the programs listed below as a research guide and see how they stack up against what’s on your list.

Saybrook University

Saybrook University’s MS in Integrative and Functional Nutrition takes a holistic approach through courses like foundations of integrative and functional nutrition, advanced nutritional biochemistry, and therapeutic diet and menu planning.

  • Tuition: $27,439 annually
  • Program length: Between 21 months and 2 years
  • Certification options: This program fills course requirements for the Certified Nutrition Specialist (CNS) and Certified Clinical Nutritionist (CCN) exams. Keep in mind, however, that you’ll need additional supervised practice experience for certification.

University of Western States

The University of Western States’s MS in Human Nutrition and Functional Medicine is founded on a holistic view of health, courses offer science-based, patient-centered training that highlights how health can be achieved and maintained through diet and nutrition.

  • Tuition: $26,468 annually
  • Program length: UWS recommends that student take 2-3 classes per term, which equates to approximately 21 months to two years
  • Certification options: Certified Nutrition Specialist (CNS), Certified Clinical Nutritionist (CCN), Diplomate of the American Clinical Board of Nutrition (DACBN)

Maryland University of Integrative Health

Maryland University of Integrative Health’s MS in Nutrition and Integrative Health is designed for students to enhance their knowledge and skills through a concentration in Community Nutrition Education, Herbal Medicine, or Human Clinical Nutrition. Depending on the concentration, the degree concludes in a two-trimester experience in which students interview and assess clients, develop a nutrition program for a particular population, or complete an applied research project.

  • Tuition: Depending on concentration, students pay $4,000 to $8,000 per trimester
  • Program length: Two to five years
  • Certification options: Certified Nutrition Specialist (CNS) and the Certified Health Education Specialist (CHES)

Which MS in integrative and functional nutrition program is for you?

Functional medicine is a way for you to use human nutrition to guide a patient towards whole-body wellness by attending to all functions of the body. Delving into a program that offers a nutritional sciences curriculum through the lens of functional medicine expands your opportunities for employment in the clinical nutrition field. Whether you’re interested in corporate wellness, private consultation, clinical care, or even research, this degree is your launchpad to helping people achieve optimum health through balanced nutrition with a natural approach.

(Last Updated on February 26, 2024)

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About the Editor

Tom Meltzer spent over 20 years writing and teaching for The Princeton Review, where he was lead author of the company's popular guide to colleges, before joining Noodle.

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Categorized as: Nutritional SciencesNursing & Healthcare