What Postgraduate Degrees are Available in Nutritional Sciences?

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Many opportunities are available for students who pursue post-graduate degrees in Nutritional Sciences. According to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, employment of graduate-level prepared dieticians and nutritionists have a projected growth of 13%, which is higher than the national average of growth for all occupations. Nutritional Sciences is an umbrella term for dietician and nutrition degree plans, which have several different employment opportunities. The most common degree plan is for dietetics. Students may even become Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN), which is a licensed credential.

With the growing obesity epidemic, nutritional science degrees are important, and employment is needed for those to help promote health and wellness. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, more than one-third of U.S. adults are obese. Many diseases are the result of obesity such as diabetes and heart disease. Nutritionists and dieticians are involved in the role of food and nutrition to promoting health and wellness, particularly as a part of preventative healthcare. Postgraduate and graduate-level prepared dieticians and nutritionists are granted health diagnosing and are considered practitioners. As the obesity and health crisis epidemic increases, more dieticians and nutritionists will be needed to provide care for these types of patients.

Nutritional science job opportunities

Dieticians and nutritionists are involved in healthcare settings to assist with food choices for those with certain diseases and ailments. Opportunities are available in all healthcare settings, but most dieticians and nutritionist that are graduate-level prepared work in inpatient hospital settings. The Bureau of Labor and Statistics listed the following nutritional science job opportunities:

  • Hospitals; state, local, and private- 30%
  • Government- 14%
  • Nursing and residential care facilities- 10%
  • Outpatient care centers- 9%
  • Self-employed workers- 6%

Graduate-level dieticians and nutritionists provide medical nutrition therapy. They are an integral part of the health care team and customize nutritional programs based on the health needs of patients. They also act as consultants to patients and counsel them on how to improve their health through nutrition. Most work in hospitals and long-term healthcare facilities. However, some work in outpatient centers, clinics, and private practice. Clinical dietitians and clinical nutritionists may specialize additionally, such as by only working with patients who have specific conditions such as kidney disease, diabetes, or digestive disorders.

Master of Science in Nutrition

Master of Science in Nutrition is a graduate-level degree that prepares new and experienced graduates. Students may complete the MS in Nutrition in order to take the national Registration Examination for Dietitians and apply for a license to practice through the State Board of Examiners of Dieticians. Or, students who already have an RDN and are looking to advance their position in academia or management may obtain a graduate-level degree in nutrition. MS in Nutrition requires students to have a nutrition-related bachelor’s degree such as a BS in Nutrition or Dietetics. Licensing of dieticians is required for most states in order to practice as a licensed dietician. Most MS in Nutrition programs are 36 credit hours. Most MS in Nutrition requires students to complete an internship often in the hospital setting. The following universities offer nutrition masters programs online:

  • Texas Women’s University
  • East Carolina University
  • Texas Tech University
  • University of Nebraska-Lincoln
  • University of Southern Mississippi
  • Bowling Green State University
  • North Carolina State University at Raleigh
  • University of Western States
  • Auburn University
  • Colorado State University
  • Logan University
  • Stony Brook University
  • Northwestern Health Sciences University
  • University of Arizona
  • Indiana University of Pennsylvania

Master of Science in Dietetics

Master of Science in Dietetics is a graduate-level degree that prepares new and experienced professionals for advanced training in nutritional sciences. MS in Dietetics allows students to develop the ability to keep up with research and literature in the nutrition and dietetic fields.  Most MS in Dietetics programs are 36 credit hours. MS in Dietetics requires students to complete an internship before completion of the program. The following universities offer dietetics masters programs online:

  • North Dakota State University
  • University of Kansas Medical Center
  • Kansas State University
  • Central Michigan University

PhD in Nutrition Sciences

Graduate-level prepared nutritionists or dietitians carry much responsibility in the healthcare field. They assess patients’ nutritional and health needs, create meal and nutrition plans, determine the effects of meal plans and make necessary changes, advance better health through nutritional consultations, keep current with the latest food and nutritional science research, and document patients’ progress. In practice, this means a dietitian or nutritionist might teach a patient with diabetes how to meal plans and to balance their blood sugar, or determine which tube feedings are most appropriate for a client with a nasogastric tube.

Those who are PhD prepared nutritionist or dieticians impart medical nutrition therapy and act as a practitioner related to nutrition and diseases. Those with PhD degrees in nutrition or dietetics may specialize in certain disease processes such as working with clients with kidney disease, digestive disorders, heart failure, chronic malnourishment, or neurological disorders.

PhD in Nutrition or Dietetics is a terminal degree. Meaning, there is no higher degree for this field. PhD programs require a previous master’s degree and often take 4 to 6 years to complete, depending on your research thesis and dissertation publication. The following universities offer PhD in nutritional sciences programs:

  • Cornell University
  • Texas A&M University
  • Boston University
  • Colorado State
  • Harvard University
  • John Hopkins Center for Human Nutrition
  • University of Connecticut

Obtaining a PhD in Nutrition or Dietetics takes motivation and hard work. Students integrate nutritional knowledge from physical, biological, and social sciences. Scientific research is the foundation for all PhD programs. Ultimately, students are being trained as the next generation of scholars, researchers, and nutritional professionals responsible for improving nutrition and human health. PhD programs in nutritional sciences go into extreme depth of nutritional topics. These programs study how human metabolic systems regulate nutrients, the influence of genetic variations on nutrient function, the role of nutrients on genome programming, nutrient requirements through the life span, the role of diet in reducing disease or the risk of disease, nutritional quality of food, and interventions and policies designed to promote nutritional health and well being of individuals or populations.

To conclude, some states necessitate dietitians and nutritionists to have their license in order to practice. Others necessitate state registration or certification, and there are no regulations for a few states. Many dietitians choose to obtain the Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN) credential and continue education through master’s programs in nutritional sciences. Many master and PhD programs are available for those looking to advance and further their careers. Students who obtain postgraduate degrees in Nutritional Sciences contribute to the healthcare system and are well respected.

Tessa Chatham

Master of Science (M.S.), Nursing Education| Aspen University

Bachelor of Science (B.S.), Nursing| Texas Christian University

Bachelor of Arts (B.A), Psychology and English| The University of Texas at Arlington

December 2019

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