My Journey Becoming A Clinical Nutritionist
My Journey Becoming A Clinical Nutritionist
One of the most commonly asked questions I get asked on Linkedin, through email, and on Instagram DM’s is about the career path I chose and how to determine which nutritional direction is best. As much as I’d love to connect with so many wonderful people I meet on the internet, unfortunately, with everything I have going on, I don’t have the time to connect with everyone, and often feel I am letting people down.
As I reflect back to when I was determining my path, I was so confused. If I had been able to speak to someone who had been there before, I would have relieved a lot of stress and anxiety I had around the decision.
I hope this blog can shed some light & direction to best support you around your decision whether it be pursuing a health coaching degree, studying to become a registered dietician, becoming a clinical nutritionist, etc. When I see harsh comparison graphs on social media amongst nutritionists, RDs, health coaches, bashing one or the other I really wonder what is the point? I respect the ones that educate in a way where you can understand the role and responsibility vs “this ones better than the other” because depending on the individual. there are different paths for different people. If your passionate about nutrition but a single mom who can’t afford to go to RD school, you can look into a certificate. No matter what direction you choose, we are all in this to help people optimize their health and the ripples we can create in others’ lives touch others and begin to create waves with the people around them.
My Journey was not Linear
When I first thought about pursuing a career in wellness, I seemed to have a handful of passions within the health and wellness field. As excited as I was, it was hard to understand where to get started and what I exactly wanted to do. I knew I wanted to help people get well, stay well, and get to the root cause but in the beginning, the pathway not so clear and I had a lot of questions. A lot of questions and a “zigzaggy” transition from conventional medicine to holistic.
Whether you are just starting college studies or looking to make a career shift later in your life, there are so many questions that come up around a career in nutrition and it can often be really confusing. If you are struggling with knowing which steps to take, know that the path is not always linear and it is ok to have bumps along the road because ultimately those bumps prepare you and direct you to your true passion. I hope that this blog can support you around making the best choices for you.
Follow your passion, follow your heart.
Stepping Back in Time
Taking a step back in time, it all started for me when my grandfather passed away from Cancer. At a young age, I learned that cancer was something that ran in my family and I wanted to find the cure. A teenager at the time, but super determined.
I decided that once I graduated high school I was going to go to school to become a doctor. Out of high school, I started off at a community college majoring in biology for my associate’s degree where I gathered all my pre recs. I then transferred to a state school and finished my undergrad in Biology with a focus on pre-medicine. At the same time, I wanted to step into the medical field to learn more about it from hands-on experiences and build my resume. I completed a certification to become a patient care technician, started out working in a nursing home taking vitals and transferring patients, and found myself working for one of the largest hospitals in New Jersey, now know as Hackensack-Meridian Health a year later.
I worked in the conventional medicine field for the entire duration of my undergrad starting in pediatrics and venturing out to orthopedics, telemetry, surgery, and oncology floors. My experience working in a conventional medical setting taught me a lot. I didn’t realize how quick doctors jumped from patient to patient and quite honestly it’s not their fault, its the system. I saw how the majority of the time, inflammatory food was what had been served to patients on oncology floors, postoperative after surgery, and patients with high blood pressure or post-heart attack. I learned how the system felt broken and how medicine was more about looking at segregated systems rather than finding a room cause. We had doctors for everything, and no one talked because time was money.
I just to be clear. I am not against conventional medicine as I believe it is truly needed and LIFE. SAVING. However, I think what I learned in my experience working in a conventional setting was that conventional medicine was being overprescribed and more times than not used as a bandaid mechanism rather than taking lifestyle and nutrition into consideration.
Around this time I was introduced to the concept of food as medicine from my dad who has started to become interested in it himself. I started listening to podcasts, researching and reading. Before I knew it I was hooked. I started to change my diet, lifestyle, and question my career path. The turning point for me… I was working in a pediatric surgery setting when a little boy, about 3-4 years old, was brought into the recovery room post endoscopy/ colonoscopy. As a patient care technician, one of my responsibilities was to comfort the kids when they woke up in recovery until their parents came. I remember the parents coming into the recovery room to see their child and the doctor was waiting at the bedside to inform the parents that he had Crohn’s and that he was going to be on medication for the rest of his life. Then the doctor proceeded to tell the parents they could get the boy a slushy (which the first ingredients were high fructose corn syrup, red #5 & blue #4) when he woke up. That moment really opened my eyes to how little doctors actually knew about the importance of nutrition. I actually started to wonder at the time if nutrition was taught in medical school. Come to find out, I saw that most schools only offered 3-4 hours of nutrition in the entire doctorate program, if any. I no longer felt excited about conventional medicine. I stopped looking into medical school and shifted my interest to integrative nutrition.
I looked into different options from certificate programs like IIN (Institute for Integrative Nutrition) to masters programs like MUIH (Maryland University of Integrative Health). Ultimately, I went on to pursue my Master of Science in Nutrition & Integrative Health from MUIH to became a clinical nutritionist.
My nutrition Career:
- Internship at a local functional clinic
- Clinical nutritionist at the same local functional clinic where had roughly 150 clients
- Private Practice (short term) under 50 clients
- Health Coach at Parsley Health NYC (now fully virtual)
I am currently practicing at Parsley Health, working alongside medical doctors helping to transform the health of everyone, everywhere through the world’s best possible medicine.
Here are some of the most common questions I have been asked about my education…
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ’s):
Please know, these are generalized answers. I hope that you may find some answers helpful but still encourage you to do your own research to determine what is the best path moving forward for you as an individual.
What is your bachelor’s degree in?
- I received my Associate’s Degree in Biology from a community college before transferring to a state school to complete my Bachelor of Science in Biology with a pre-med focus.
What do you recommend studying in undergrad to pursue a degree in nutrition?
- This really depends on your focus. MUIH did not require a bachelor in any specific field because they taught you all the prereqs you needed to know in your first few semesters. I do however recommend if you are interested in studying nutrition for graduate studies… to major in any health science degree. A major in science provides for a flexible and interdisciplinary degree that applies science to human health, including medicine, nutrition, and other health-related subjects.
I would love to do something with nutrition, I just don’t know what… where do I start?
- Nutrition laws vary by state so it is important to take “place of work” into consideration when making this decision. You can learn more about the state laws here.
- These are the options I looked at for myself and the whys behind my decision:
- Health Coaching with IIN – I chose my masters because I was looking for more comprehensive training and more responsibility with my own state laws and regulations.
- Registered Dietician – I would have had to go to school much longer since I already had my bachelor’s in nutrition and the masters program I choose (below) still allowed me to sit for board licensure, complete an internship, and was more “functional nutrition” focused.
- Clinical Nutritionist (Masters Degree) – This was the direction I chose since I already had my bachelor’s of science and the program curriculum was more geared towards holistic health and functional medicine (which were my personal interests).
I see you went to MUIH, what do you need to study in undergrad to go there?
- You can technically have your bachelor’s in anything when applying to MUIH. I am not sure how this works with other schools but MUIH will teach all the science pre recs in your first few semesters. That said, you may have a greater chance of being accepted with a science background.
My BS is in marketing, can I still shift to nutrition?
- This depends on the school. My school, MUIH, accepts applicants from a wide variety of backgrounds. If you are struggling with getting into. graduate school because of your previous studies, something like IIN would be a great option for someone jumping out of a business career or marketing career looking to change their career path to nutrition.
What certifications do you recommend?
- Upon completion of my masters, I did additional training with IFM (Institute for Functional Medicine) and SAFM (School of Applied Functional Medicine). I loved them both and would highly recommend both experiences.
I don’t want to have to commit to years of school, what certificate would you recommend?
- I would recommend IIN or SAFM for someone who does not want to commit to years of school but wants to shift to a career in nutrition. I have not done INN myself, but currently continuing my education with SAFM and love the experience.
What advice or perspective would you offer a coach who is just getting started?
- Build community – start an IG, podcast, connect with people on linked in, etc.
- Instagram is also a great way to showcase your knowledge and expertise + a great resume builder
- Take a marketing/business course if you can especially if you plan on moving into a private practice
- As we know the body is so interconnected, but starting off with one or two “specificities” can help build your practice. For example metabolic health, fertility, or gut health. Find your niche.
- If interested in working with a functional practice, get experience. Coach friends, family, etc. I’ve found that experience is key when applying for positions.
- Look into an internship, even if it is once per week. This is a great way to build connections and also get your foot in the door.
What is most important when applying to jobs?
- There are so many things that make a great coach but having had gone through the interview process before, I feel like what makes a great candidate is showing great bedside + experience. Knowledge & education is always important but protocols are easier to teach than personality and experience. If your new starting out, coach people around you. Take on free clients to gain experience with your friends and family. Take a motivational interviewing course and practice your bedside manner through the experience you build. If you are having trouble finding a job as a coach, apply for another position inside a company to get your feet in and build a connection.
I was planning to start IIN but have my bachelors, is it worth doing my masters instead?
- This is ultimately your decision, and I do recommend looking at the state laws, as I linked above, to help you make the best decision for you. Financials is something else that should be considered when decided the best options for you. Graduate programs can get pretty expensive.
Was your master’s program virtual learning? How did you like that?
- My study was completely virtual. MUIH offers on-campus, virtual, or half & half. I chose distance learned and I loved it because I worked full time during my graduate studies and could do my schooling on my own time. MUIH made you feel like you were in the classroom evening a virtual setting.
Do you have any recommendations for someone looking to continue education after a master’s degree?
- When you start learning functional nutrition, the learning never stops. I recommend podcasts and certification programs (such as IFM). Two of my favorite podcasts are Broken Brain and The Doctors Farmacy.
Tell me about Parsley. I would love to learn more about your day to day as a parsley health coach and how it differs from a clinical nutritionist?
- Before working at Parsley Health, I worked for a small functional clinic for two years (where I also did my internship) then stepped out into private practice. The difference between my role as a clinical nutritionist at the clinic and in private practice VS as a health coach at parsley was that I was practicing individually vs as a team. At Parsley, call of our health coaches come from different nutrition backgrounds but are called health coaches because we do more than just nutrition. We help with nutrition 100% but also focus on other lifestyle areas like sleep, stress management, hydration, movement, and other foundational areas. For clinical nutritionists and health coaches, state laws vary for what you can do in your state. This can help influence your decision for what is right for you. As much as I loved private practice and practicing as a clinical nutritionist on my own, I truly love being able to work alongside of incredible doctors each and every day and have a “team” approach. At Parsley, I see members 4x per week and support members where they need while working together with their doctors to optimize their health.
Did you go to school full time or did you work while in school?
- I did. I worked full time in the hospital while receiving my undergrad and I worked full time at a small functional clinic when studying my graduate studies. This is not for everyone and was not 100% ideal in my situation but was what I needed to do at the time.
How long did you have a private practice and how did you start it? Was this your first job after going to MUIH?
- My first job after MUIH was working for a small functional medicine clinic. I worked there for 2 years, saw a little over 100 patients, and then went into private practice for a few months before starting Parsley. I was enjoying private practice but fell in love with the mission behind Parsley Health.
What is the difference between a clinical nutritionist and a RD or RDN?
- When it comes to the standard career paths, RDNs are mostly trained for acute care, such as hospital care, including parenteral (tube) nutrition, while CNSs (clinical nutritionists) are trained in chronic care and private clinical practice, working in doctor’s offices or in private wellness centers. Both CNS and RD require an internship, board exam, and generally the years of schooling. There are most definitely integrative and functional practicing RD’s and I have never been to RD school to know exactly, but from my own research and understanding RD’s have more conventional training.
How important is an RD license?
- I recommend looking into your state requirements because in some states they require you to be an RD to practice nutrition. These would be red states “It is illegal to perform individualized nutrition counseling unless licensed or exempt. Effectively only RDs are eligible for licensure”… you can look at your state requirements here . For me, it was not worth it for me to get my RD because I already had my bachelor’s in biology. I felt comfortable in that if I got my masters in nutrition and sat for my CNS exam I would practice comfortably.
I hope this was helpful! I plan to expand on these questions as they come in and wish each and every one of you reading this blog the best with your future in the field. I can honestly say that this was the best decision I ever made. My passion became my work and I could not see it any other way. Please know that these answers are just my personal option from the experience I have had and the journey that I have been on. Do your research, look at your personal situation, and look into your state laws to help determine which nutritional profession is best for you as an individual.
Feel free to DM me on @nutritionbysam IG (I may be slow to answering) if there is anything else I can add to this blog to help!