A visit to the doctor’s office usually includes a request to list the medications you take. But soon, the doctor may also ask you to list the foods you eat.

For millennia we have been curious about how foods affect the ways we think, feel and heal. In the last century, we have transformed this curiosity into a science and in the past few decades we have started to align this science with medical care.

As we become more aware of how our eating habits affect well-being, healthcare providers and practitioners are embracing nutritional care as a way to help prevent diseases and promote “healthy aging.” They acknowledge that, while many risk factors play into a person’s chances of developing a disease, nutrition is a key area where patients have control.

Researchers and advocates are increasingly calling for physicians to receive nutritional training and for nutritionists to be present in medical settings. Nutritionists are now working alongside physicians to develop more comprehensive care plans that incorporate diet and lifestyle recommendations. They are being hired to support hospitals, clinics and care centers and to advise food companies, corporate wellness plans and community centers. According to Burning Glass, a platform that collects job posting data, more than 33% of postings for nutritionists or dietitians in 2019 requested medical support as a necessary skill.

As demand for nutritionists increases, the need for specialists with a master’s degree has increased as well. The overall trend for health fields is that employment and certification standards are increasing. For example, the Accreditation Council for Education in Nutrition and Dietetics plans to make a graduate degree part of its certification requirements starting in 2024.

If you are considering a nutrition master’s program, you might notice that some universities list a master’s in clinical nutrition. It may leave you wondering: what is the difference?

How is a Master’s in Clinical Nutrition Different than a Master’s in Nutrition?

In general, nutrition programs teach

  • how nutrients and minerals affect bodies,
  • how to develop eating plans for patients or clients
  • and how to share this information effectively with diverse populations.

Some programs allow specialization in an area such as sports nutrition, public health or corporate wellness. If you are especially interested in how nutrition can manage disease and disorders, you may want to consider clinical nutrition.

MS in Clinical Nutrition

A master’s in clinical nutrition program centers on the relationship between food and disease, principally in healthcare and disease research settings. Students in these degree programs use science-based techniques to identify, treat and prevent disorders through nutritional therapy. They are likely to go on to be clinical nutritionists working in a medical environment or as academic researchers. Some clinical nutritionists choose to specialize in a specific condition, such as diabetes or cancer. Or they may specialize in disorders of a particular part of the body, such as the kidneys or digestive system.

MS in Nutrition

Master’s in nutrition programs encompass a much broader range of concentrations, which reflect the many ways we can promote wellness. For example, Adelphi University’s MS in Nutrition highlights experiential learning and professional opportunities. Other programs may emphasize public health approaches or prepare students to move into research positions. All programs include training in advanced interventions, research techniques and communication strategies.

Master’s in Clinical Nutrition vs. Nutrition Course Comparison

Below is a sample of master’s in nutrition and master’s in clinical nutrition courses in the United States. This is not an exhaustive set and each institution’s curriculum is different, but this can give you an idea of the classes you may encounter.

Sample Master’s Courses

Clinical Nutrition Courses Nutrition Courses
  • Fundamentals of Nutrition
  • Vitamins and Minerals
  • Biochemistry
  • Statistics
  • Genetics
  • Metabolism and Body Composition
  • Lifecycle Nutrition
  • Nutrition in Critical Care
  • Public Health and Epidemiology
  • Nutrition Counseling/Health Coaching
  • Leadership and Management
  • Complementary/Alternative Medicine
  • Research Methods
  • Capstone/Thesis
  • Fundamentals of Nutrition
  • Vitamins and Minerals
  • Biochemistry
  • Anatomy and Physiology
  • Nutrition Assessment
  • Metabolism
  • Lifecycle Nutrition
  • Food, Culture and Social Issues
  • Community Nutrition
  • Nutrition Policy and Ethics
  • Nutrition Counseling/Health Coaching
  • Entrepreneurship
  • Research Methods
  • Capstone/Thesis

Master’s Program Prerequisites

A master’s in clinical nutrition and a master’s in nutrition have similar requirements. Nearly all schools require a bachelor’s degree from an accredited college and the fulfillment of some prerequisite courses:

  • Introductory Nutrition
  • Anatomy and Physiology
  • Biochemistry
  • Chemistry (Inorganic and Organic)
  • Statistics

Some schools may require additional foundational courses such as physics, kinesiology or science writing. Most programs do not require a GRE. The application process will typically require your undergraduate transcripts, a personal statement, letters of recommendations and an application fee.

Choosing the Right Degree Program

Choosing between a master’s degree in nutrition versus a master’s degree in clinical nutrition comes down to your professional goals and the time you want to dedicate to education. To get started:

  • Check out a program’s overview or benefits statement.
  • Read through the courses offered, comparing core classes and electives.
  • Determine whether you want to obtain your Registered Dietitian Nutritionist certification.
  • Decide whether you are able to commit to a full-time program or need to balance part-time coursework with other obligations.
  • Consider whether you would like to attend in-person classes or take courses online.

Both online and in-person master’s degrees require 30 to 36 credit hours and the average completion time is two years.

You can also contact a school’s admissions counselor to talk about what programs or specializations would fit best with your plans.

Possible Nutrition Careers

If you are considering a move into the nutrition field or are thinking of extending your professional capabilities, now is a great time. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates nutrition and dietician jobs will grow by 11% in the next decade, much faster than other jobs. Healthcare workers with a master’s degree make at least 19% more than their counterparts with only a bachelor’s degree.

Salary and Careers

Here is a comparison of average salaries and potential careers for an MS in nutrition versus for an MS in clinical nutrition.

Master’s in Clinical Nutrition Master’s in Nutrition
  • Median salary is $55,499*
  • Many clinical jobs currently require certification as a registered dietitian
  • Top employers:*
    • Compass Group
    • Sodexo
    • Fresenius
    • DaVita
    • Department of Veterans Affairs
    • Morrison Healthcare
  • Example jobs:
    • Develop meal plans for patients in a university hospital
    • Assess and treat children with metabolic disorders
    • Monitor nutrition in a community home for patients with disabilities
    • Lead patient education for a county health clinic
  • Median salary range is $56,466*
  • Broad range of career opportunities in both public and private settings
  • Top employers:*
    • Sodexo
    • Compass Group
    • Anthem Blue Cross
    • Fresenius
    • Healthcare Services Group
    • Aramark
  • Example jobs:
    • Counsel new parents on infant nutrition care
    • Optimize athlete eating plans at a fitness center
    • Consult on new product development at a food manufacturer
    • Manage the kitchen at a nonprofit

*Source: Burning Glass

“Clinical Nutrition” and “Dietetics”: Is There a Difference?

You will likely come across the terms “dietetics” and “dieticians” in discussions of nutrition education and careers. What separates clinical nutrition from dietetics? There’s a lot of overlap between the two terms and you may see clinical nutritionists and dieticians working in the same settings. One major difference comes down to certification.

Beyond this, clinical nutrition is more focused on how particular nutrients affect our bodies, while dietitians look at how our overall diet affects our bodies. While clinical nutritionists are largely found in healthcare settings, dieticians may work in food service and kitchens (management dietitians) or public education (community dietitians).

Many job postings that carry the title of clinical nutritionist still require applicants to be a registered dietician. Students and working professionals who want to become an RDN should consider a master’s that offers a coordinated or combined program in dietetics, meaning the school is accredited by the Accreditation Council for Education in Nutrition and Dietetics and it provides the coursework and test-prep necessary to become an RDN.

Working as a Nutritionist in New York

New York has the highest employment level of nutritionists in the country, behind California and Texas, and is in the top ten of states with the highest mean salary. According to the New York State Department of Labor, there are nearly 6,000 active certified nutritionists and dieticians in the state of New York.

New York’s Nutritionist and Dietitian License Requirements

The professional license requirements for New York state require anyone who calls themselves a certified nutritionist, certified dietitian, or certified dietitian-nutritionist to be registered with the state and meet certain qualifications. These requirements include:

  • Complete at least an undergrad degree in nutrition-dietetics from an accredited program or a program registered by the New York State Education Department
  • Fulfill at least 800 hours of work experience in the nutrition field
  • Pass the Certified Nutrition Specialist exam or the Registered Dietitian Nutritionist exam
  • Be over the age of 18
  • Pay a registration fee
  • Renew the certification every three years

The state has different education and experience requirements for nutritionists with an associate’s degree: Their degree must be from a nutrition-dietetics program that is registered by the New York State Education Department, and they must have ten years of experience, which can be a combination of education and full-time work.

These requirements do not limit someone from working in the nutrition field, but instead restricts them from using a “certified” title.

Nutritionist Job Prospects in New York

There were more than 500 job postings for nutritionist or nutrition technician jobs in New York state in 2019, with a median salary of $55,546, according to Burning Glass. More than 20% of jobs were in general medical and surgical hospitals, followed by special food services and higher education.

Adelphi University’s Online MS in Nutrition

The online MS in Nutrition at Adelphi University prepares students to become nutritionists and to work within a variety of sectors in the health and wellness field. Our courses are designed to give students the comprehensive skills they need to be effective nutrition leaders and communicators. The program is geared toward busy working professionals in health or health-related fields who want to expand their knowledge so that they can more effectively help others, expand their career opportunities or advance in their current role. A graduate degree from Adelphi is an excellent way to advance your career. The average base salary of Adelphi graduate students is 10% higher than the national average—with 94% of grads working or continuing their education within six months.

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