Joanna Cummings has the unique distinction of being the person to train Laos’ first-ever dietitians. She found her chance as part of the Lao-American Nutrition Institute (LANI), a program sponsored by the U.S. Government, the Lao Government, and Oregon Health Science University, where Cummings received her Masters in Clinical Nutrition degree.
This training is part of an effort to improve children’s nutrition in Laos, which currently has some of the highest rates of underweight and malnourished children in the world. The initiative also uses a garden to assess community nutrition, sustainable farming options, and local livestock breeding practices.
Global health and disease prevention are areas where graduates of Master of Science (MS) in Nutrition programs can make an impact, but there are many other career paths in nutritional sciences, food science, and community nutrition much closer to home. With personalized nutrition taking a leading role in research, and a growing public awareness of the importance of healthy eating and nutrition, there is an unprecedented amount of opportunity in this growing field.
This master’s degree program covers all aspects of dietetics and nutrition, from research to ethics to public health, and may include internship opportunities.
Master of Science in Nutrition courses train graduates in the following areas:
Generally, MS in Nutrition programs prepare students to pursue a Registered Dietitian-Nutritionist (RDN) credential from the Commission on Dietetic Registration, which come 2024, will require a master’s-level degree for exam eligibility. Some MS in Nutrition programs, often called MS in Human Nutrition, prepare students for positions in the medical or dental field, as well as careers in academia.
Those with an academic or professional background in health education, wellness counseling or coaching, nutrition, or fitness training will be a good fit for these programs. These programs are likely to take two years for full-time students and longer for part-time students. Online programs are also available, providing a lot of flexibility to working students.
MS in Nutrition programs usually requires at least a bachelor’s degree and possibly a GRE score. Some graduate programs want applicants to have specific undergraduate coursework under their belts, such as work in health sciences, evidence-based practice, or nutritional science.
An MS in Nutrition can open the door to many career paths, including ones in which nutrition and food science only make up a part.
Working in a counseling setting, nutritionists help individuals and groups—such as sports teams or even residents of senior living facilities—use diet and nutritional sciences to optimize their health and wellbeing. A common path for MS in Nutrition graduates, nutritionists design customized diet plans to help people eat in a way that’s right for their needs, whether that means recovering from illness, bulking up on muscle, or staying at a healthy weight.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), nutritionists pull in a median salary of $60,370. That figure can improve if you become a certified clinical nutritionist, seek out specialized training, or go into private practice. Curious about job prospects? The field is expected to grow by 15 percent by 2026, or twice as fast as the average for all U.S. occupations.
Exercise physiologists design fitness and exercise programs to help people achieve and maintain a strong sense of wellness. Nutritionist training will offer a huge boost to helping others achieve success, whether you’re offering advice on what to eat before a workout or helping balance an individual’s caloric intake with their active lifestyle. While this path is relatively new to the field of healthcare, industry standards have been established to help define requirements needed for practice. Most employers, especially in clinical settings, require certification from major organizations like the American Society of Exercise Physiologists (ASEP) and American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM).
BLS indicates that these health professionals bring home a median salary of $49,090, with the top 10 percent in the field earning more than $78,810. Exercise physiologist jobs are growing almost twice as fast as U.S. occupations overall, and are set to increase 13 percent by 2026.
For degree holders who are experienced in the field and are looking to transition out of a clinical setting, a career as high school health teacher may be ideal. As a high school health teacher, you’ll use your in-depth knowledge of food and nutrition to teach students to care for their health, make proper food choices, and develop lifelong healthy relationships with food, among other health and wellness strategies. Keep in mind, however, that this path requires teaching licensure, which includes any exams and practical teaching experience. Depending on your state, you may also need to pursue a master’s degree in teaching, education, or a related field.
BLS states that high school teachers bring in a median salary of $60,320, though those in the top ten percent of the field net close to $100,000. Job prospects for high school teachers holding steady against average U.S. occupations and are predicted to grow 8 percent by 2026.
Those who look at and address the health patterns and levers in specific places or among specific types of people are called community health workers. Collaborating with community health educators, they help people better understand issues of health and wellness, research health concerns among particular demographics, and work with the healthcare community to improve outcomes. Depending on the state, those seeking this career path may need to complete a certification program such as a Certified Health Education Specialist (CHES) credential along with on-the-job training.
Community health workers bring home a median salary of $39,540, but those with more experience can build their incomes up to around $66,000. Community health worker jobs are expected to grow 16 percent by 2026, more than twice the U.S. average.
An MS in Nutrition lends itself well to wellness coaching, which involves working with clients to improve diet, exercise, mental health practices, and other habits to gain better health and well-being. Nutrition graduate education will contribute to your preparation for becoming a National Board Certified Health & Wellness Coach (NBC-HWC).
According to Payscale, wellness coaches average $47,547 a year, while top earners in the profession land closer to $66,000. This boost can come through bonuses and profit sharing, going into private practice, or opening a business related to wellness coaching and wellness maintenance.
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