Increasingly, a master’s degree in nutrition science is seen as necessary for dietitians and other healthcare professionals. Earning this credential can help a range of professionals—from registered dietitians to doctors, nurses, physician assistants, and pharmacists—thrive in a growing and in-demand field.
“Nutrition is the backbone behind prevention and treatment of almost every disease out there,” says Dr. Jaimie Davis, a registered dietitian and associate professor from The University of Texas at Austin. Davis, who teaches in UT Austin’s online master’s program for nutritional sciences, says the next generation of nutrition professionals will have the opportunity to solve the world’s greatest public health challenges.
Simply Put, the Foods We Put in Our Bodies Matter
According to the National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion (NCCDPHP), “good nutrition is essential for keeping Americans healthy across the lifespan.” It plays a starring role in everything from childhood development to treatment and prevention of chronic disease.
Yet, far too few Americans maintain healthy eating styles or have access to science-backed human nutrition programs, according to NCCDPHP. Just 1 in 10 adults and adolescents eat enough fruits and vegetables. In the United States, one third of adults are obese. Diseases such as diabetes and heart disease, as well as some cancers, are associated with obesity and unhealthy diets.
Michelle Obama, whose signature White House initiative centered around nutrition science and education, summarized the stakes like this:
“The physical and emotional health of an entire generation and the economic health and security of our nation is at stake.”
Wanted: Expertise in Nutrition Science
The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that job demand for qualified registered dietitian nutritionists (RDN) will grow significantly in the next decade, outpacing average U.S. job growth. Salaries are also expected to increase as more qualified candidates enter the job market, according to the Commission on Dietetic Registration.
Earning a master’s in nutrition science is increasingly seen as the key to unlocking the expertise needed to thrive in this growing profession. Advanced coursework and a graduate degree offer numerous career paths.
So whether you’re an undergraduate wanting to bolster your resume and compete for top jobs, an experienced nutritionist looking to take your career to the next level, or a medical professional hoping to round out your knowledge in a field of growing importance, here are four ways your career will benefit from having a master’s degree from a graduate program focused on nutrition.
1. Bolster Your Credentials as a Qualified Nutritionist or Registered Dietitian
A master’s degree is increasingly critical to be a successful registered dietician, and will soon be required by the Accreditation Council for Education in Nutrition and Dietetics (ACEND) as part of the licensure process to gain entry into the profession. Even before this prerequisite kicks in on Jan. 1, 2024, aspiring registered dietitians understand that now is the time to enroll in a top-ranked nutrition science program if they want job opportunities in the future.
Effective January 1, 2024, a graduate degree will be required by ACEND to be approved for eligibility for the registration examination for dietitians.
“[Students] know that they’re going to need the master’s in nutrition science to be competitive with people coming out who have their master’s in their field,” Davis says.
“There’s a certain competition that comes with having that extra degree,” Katie Horrell, a registered dietitian and fitness trainer who runs the Dark Blue Nutrition YouTube channel, said on her podcast.
Application requirements for enrolling in a graduate program in nutrition science may also include taking the GRE or MCAT/PCAT/OAT/DAT test.
2. Take Your Nutrition Career to the Next Level
Seasoned nutritionists and clinical dieticians know how important it is to understand the ever-evolving body of nutrition research and nutrition programs. A master’s degree is a chance to develop new skills and knowledge while gaining hands-on experience that you can immediately apply in your career. You have the ability to critically evaluate the nutrition science and translate findings for the public, skills that food and health corporations are seeking.
Davis says that she often works closely with mid-career nutritionists who see themselves as life-long learners and want to stay up-to-speed on the field’s latest advancements. This includes nutritionists working in nonprofit community health, community nutrition, public health, as well as in clinical nutrition.
Davis recalls a nutrition graduate who worked full-time in state government and wanted to develop a statewide nutrition education program based on food science and gardening. She took what she learned in the program and implemented it as a grant program to improve healthy food access for low-income families.
“She was really interested in how to measure the impact of nutrition and learned about the value of program evaluation and nutritional assessment,” Davis says. “She was able to apply that directly to her job, in real-time, which was great.”
3. Develop Specialization and Expertise as a Medical Professional
A master of science in nutrition isn’t only for people looking for nutrition careers.
Medical professionals, from doctors and nurses to physician assistants, dentists, and pharmacists, know that nutrition is one of the best ways to prevent chronic disease. It’s also a crucial part of the battle against obesity, which is a source of many chronic diseases that have an outsized negative impact in low-income communities. Nutrition is increasingly a point of concern patients want to talk about as a way to prevent disease or manage existing disease. Doctors working in certain fields, including pediatrics, family health, and even dentistry, may find that they want to better understand the research, biochemistry, and practice that serves as the foundation of nutritional science.
Davis says that a nutrition science degree can help medical professionals quickly see the connections—and gaps in knowledge—between their own medical training and what they are learning in their classes.
“They see the value of nutrition because it is the backbone behind prevention and treatment for almost every disease out there,” she says.
Davis says that aspiring doctors who are planning to apply to medical school can benefit from a nutrition degree as well. It’s an opportunity to strengthen their application and get a head start on a topic of growing importance, but which typically doesn’t get heavily covered in medical school.
4. Elevate Your Brand as a Personal Trainer, Life Coach, and Fitness Consultant
Want to optimize an athlete’s performance? Help executives develop and hone their leadership skills? Coach professionals to lead fulfilling lives? Nutrition is a cornerstone of personal health and wellness, which means it should be a necessary part of fitness and coaching plans.
Sports teams, from the pro leagues and top-tier college programs down to high-school level, now have paid nutritionists on staff to counsel and advise teams and individual athletes as part of a larger winning strategy.
In the personal fitness training industry, private practice trainers are constantly looking for ways to stand out and recruit clients. While there are a limitless number of credentials and certificates, none of them demonstrate a comprehensive knowledge in nutritional science like a master’s program, Davis says.
Take the Next Step in Your Career
Whatever career pathway in nutrition you’re interested in, the first step is to research your degree options.
Online programs, like the one offered at UT Austin, offer affordable and convenient self-paced learning experiences. Students can earn their master’s degree in nutrition science from anywhere, without having to quit their jobs. And a degree from a prestigious research institution like UT Austin means students will be taught by leading scholars, engage in high-quality clinical learning experiences, and have access to top-tier resources.
Get started: Visit UT Austin’s Master’s in Nutritional Sciences page to learn more.