Updated: Jan 4
I am so excited to begin sharing my journey as I become a nutrition professional. I have already been getting so many questions regarding my Master’s program and why I chose this path, so I found it fitting to write this blog post to explain what exactly it is that I am doing and to answer questions that are floating around. If you are following a similar path, hopefully some of this information is helpful to you.
Where it all began:
I had been toying with the idea of studying nutrition for years before I actually decided to take the plunge. I’ve always been interested in health and wellness and I’m constantly trying out and researching new approaches to diet. I have noticed a very consistent commonality amongst most people I connect with – and that's diet. Whether an actor, musician, scientist, business executive, engineer, lawyer, etc. people want to feel good, look good, perform well, and live a long healthy life. It’s no mystery that diet is directly related to all of the above, but it does seem to be a mystery on how to actually do something about it.
I totally nerd out about this nutrition stuff and through the years, I have had so many conversations about peoples different experiences with diet - whether for weightloss, disease management, or just general health, so many people feel hopeless and confused when it comes to diet. I have started to feel a strong calling to learn everything I possibly can and to help people navigate through the confusing nutrition waters. I decided it was time to make it happen and go back to school.
Nutrition Education is Complicated.
I thought that once I made my decision to study nutrition, I’d have a beautiful clear path laid out in front of me; I wish it were that easy. If you know me, I’m an over thinker, a researcher and an avid planner. I knew I wanted a degree, so I skipped the nutrition certification options and went straight to the college search. I also already have a bachelor’s degree, so I’m looking for graduate programs.
I didn’t even know how to pronounce the word dietitian when I first started looking up nutrition programs, but I quickly learned that dietetics was the way to go if I was going to practice nutrition because a registered dietitian (RD) is the only licensed credential in the nutrition field that is recognized by all 50 states and is the most standard path for someone looking to practice nutrition. I made a list of all the schools that had good dietetics programs and learned all about the didactic and internship process associated with becoming an RD. I came up with a game plan and I jumped right into community college to complete all of my pre requisite courses to prepare for a graduate program. I had planned the whole next year - chemistry, biology, anatomy and physiology, and nutrition– this is my JAM!
In my first semester of these pre-req’s, I was stoked for my nutrition fundamentals class, but quickly began to realize that it seemed to be very formulaic and a tunnel vision approach to nutrition and not quite what I was looking for. It was a class that set the overview for what to expect in a dietetic program and I found myself feeling rather frustrated with what I was learning. We seemed to be more focused on USDA recommendations, MyPlate usage and food pyramid referencing, which creates a very one size fits all approach that I believe to be a little vague and dated. I believe that there are many factors that play into nutritional health that expand well beyond just the digestive system and the dietetics path just didn’t seem to recognize that. I began to realize that the general curriculum of an RD program just did not speak to me. Not to mention the fact that most dietetics programs are funded by big food companies. In the end, It seems to be more about money and less about actual health. (nothing against RD's! I'm more against the overall principal of it.)
I began expanding my search and found a different approach to nutrition that was not the standard, conventional dietetics rout. I discovered the world of alternative health, which uses nutrition as an integrated tool to heal the body at the root cause. While continuing to take my prerequisite science courses, I became passionate about finding a program with a holistic and whole body approach still with a heavy focus on the nitty gritty science including biochemistry and physiology.
While I started my new search, my biggest concern with leaving the dietetics/RD path behind was finding alternative licensure options and credentials. Will I have any limitations? Will I be able to find a job? Should I just suck it up and get my RD? All of these questions I am still answering today, but I have learned a lot through this process and believe I am making the best decision for me.
The alternative options that I found are two advanced certifications, Certified Nutrition Specialist (CNS) and Certified Clinical Nutritionist (CCN). These certifications require a Master’s or PhD, qualifying graduate level nutrition-specific course work, 1000 internship hours, and a board exam. Click on the links to get more info on these credentials. These are advanced nutrition certifications that compare to the RD credential. It is important to note, however, that each state has different laws regarding nutrition counseling, therefore it is important to determine what licensure or certification you can practice under. Info on that can be found HERE.
I spent a lot of time on google, yelp, linked-in, etc. looking at working nutritionists with similar approaches to mine and seeing what credentials they had. RD’s definitely rule the roost, but there are a lot of CNS and CCN credentialed professionals doing exactly what I want to do. One of the biggest factors is, without an RD credential, working in hospitals and most corporate facilities is out, which I am okay with, as I want to practice privately or within an holistic, integrated team.
The biggest piece of advice I have for you if you are making a similar decision: Find people doing what you want to do, and look at how they got there and what credentials they have.
Time to Choose
As I learned more and more about the direction I wanted to move in, I started to compile a list of specific things that I was looking for in a degree program:
Graduate level – Master’s of Science degree from an accredited school
Integrated, functional and holistic approach
A very strong science foundation (biochemistry, physiology, etc)
Ability to sit for the Certified Nutrition Specialist (CNS) and Certified Clinical Nutritionist (CCN) certification exams
Online/distance program (but would consider relocating for the right program)
Reasonable pre-requisites (I have an unrelated bachelor’s degree)
Reasonable program length
A curriculum that resonates with me
These are the results that I came up with:
MS – Human Nutrition and Functional Medicine
This is the school that I chose and will be starting in the fall. I chose this program for many reasons, but mainly because it fit all my criteria and because of the programs collaboration with the Institute of Functional Medicine (IFM). For me, this gives the program a leg up on all the other programs because of that deep focus on functional medicine as it relates to nutrition. The curriculum has a heavy focus on nutritional biochemistry, gastrointestinal, hormone and immune imbalances, chronic and autoimmune disease, supplementation, detoxification and clinical research. The program is 100% online and can be completed at flexible pace (average 2 years completion). I love that I am able to stay in LA while completing this program. (The school is physically located in Portland, OR but the nutrition program is only offered online.) This program requires biochemistry, anatomy and physiology, nutrition, medical terminology and biology pre requisites, which was similar to the pre reqs of an RD program. Learn more about this program and requirements HERE
MS - Nutrition
This was my second choice, as it seemed very similar to the UWS program, but without the specific functional medicine focus, but still a functional medicine approach. This program is also online, but they do offer a weekend program as well, so if you live in the Bridgeport area you can take in person classes on the weekend. I liked their curriculum and approach. The school also offers a naturopathic and chiropractic program as well, so a lot of great connections could potentially be made. The prerequisites for this program are similar to UWS requirements.
MS - Nutrition and Integrative Health
This school was very enticing with a great approach to integrative nutrition. This program also has a focus on the culinary side of nutrition, with cooking labs as a part of the curriculum, which interests me. However, this was the the most expensive option, which did play a factor into why I didn't choose it. Also, they do not require any prerequisites, as everything you need to know is built into the curriculum. Since I was already completing my prerequisites, I was a little afraid that there would be quite a bit of review. However, from hearing other peoples experiences, that doesn't seem to be the case. They also offer a PhD nutrition program, so who knows, maybe I will look into this down the road!
MS - Nutrition for Wellness
MS - Nutrition/Dietetics
Bastyr seems like a really amazing school. They are one of the only programs I found with a holistic and integrated dietetics program (qualifying for RD credential). They also have a MS program for nutrition and wellness (qualifying for CN credential, not CNS and CCN). However, they do not offer online programs, so I did not apply. But if you are capable of completing the program at their Seattle or San Diego locations, it may be worth looking into!
I didn't look that far into this school, as they do not offer an online program. But fits a lot of my criteria
I found this school pretty late in my search so I don't know much about it and couldn't find many alumni. But seems to have a good curriculum.
So there you have it! There is a taste of what the last year and a half looked like for me and how I came to my final decision on enrolling in UWS Human Nutrition and Functional Medicine Graduate Program! I will start this Fall (2018)!
Follow along on my journey and feel free to ask me any questions! I believe that this is the future of healthcare and I am so passionate about creating a movement for healthcare and nutrition professionals.