Healthy eating and wellness go hand-in-hand. American consumers understand this, according to analysts from the International Food Information Council Foundation, which found that more than one-third of U.S. residents follow specific nutrition plans with the intention of losing weight, increasing their energy levels and preventing disease. Most consult with nutritionists when developing and managing their diets, according to the IFIC. In fact, approximately 70% of American adults attest to seeking insight from these health care specialists, according to the group.
This widespread embrace of health-conscious eating has catalyzed growth in these professions, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported. Together, these occupations are on track to grow 15 percent between 2016 and 2026 — almost twice as fast as the national average for all occupations. If you are looking for new health care opportunities, this field might fit your goals. Although dietitians and nutritionists often find success with bachelor’s or associate degrees and some additional certifications, a graduate degree can separate you from the others competing for roles in the industry.
There are several master’s degrees that can lend you the expertise you need to pursue or progress a career as a dietitian or nutritionist, but two of the most common are an online Master of Science in medical nutrition degree or an online Master of Science in nutritional sciences (dietetics) degree.
Exploring the similarities in the nutrition and dietetics degrees
Both an online MS in medical nutrition and an MS in nutritional science (dietetics) degrees typically cover comparable themes and goals. They also generally seek to lend students the expertise they need to develop and implement preventive health care strategies centered on nutrition. This objective is essential, especially in the U.S. where ailments such as diabetes and heart disease claim hundreds of thousands of lives annually, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Each of these degrees addresses actionable dietary strategies that can improve health outcomes and helps students engage with data-backed research methodologies that can be applied in the real world.
Understanding the difference between the nutrition and dietetics degrees
Despite the similarities, the online MS in medical nutrition and online MS in nutritional science (dietetics) cater to unique student demographics and include singular programmatic features.
An online MS in medical nutrition degree can suit students taking a gap year prior to medical school, practicing doctors and pre-professionals who wish to cultivate clinical knowledge they can use to develop nutritional management plans and interpret research, among other duties. Programs of this kind often focus on disease prevention and treatment, giving students the opportunity to gain experience that translates to the real world. Some of these degrees end with capstone projects.
An online MS in nutritional science with a concentration in dietetics suits registered dietitians with at least one year of experience working in the field. These degrees often focus on the science at the nutrition field’s foundation and cover niche topics such as pediatric nutrition and nutrigenomics, providing registered dietitian nutritionists (RDNs) with the insight they may need to move into specializations. This online dietitian degree can often be completed in around 12 to 14 months and closes with an applied project.
Mapping out potential careers
Both of these nutrition and dietetics degrees can lend students the expertise necessary to pursue various careers. For students with an online MS in Medical Nutrition degree and additional education and licensing, common opportunities might include:
- Physician assistant: These medical professionals are in high demand in the health care industry, according to BLS analysts, who recently predicted that providers will hire almost 40,000 new physician assistants between 2016 and 2026, a 37 percent growth rate. What is behind this recruitment rush? A good number of health systems and hospitals, especially those in rural regions, are using PAs to fill primary care gaps, according to the National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants. Professionals in these roles, most of whom the American Academy of Physicians Assistants says must work with patients to implement treatment plans that include preventive health strategies, require nutritional expertise.
- Dentist: Tooth health and nutrition are interconnected, as unhealthy foods that damage the digestive system often also wreak havoc on teeth and gums. This makes nutritional awareness an essential competency for health care professionals interested becoming dentists. Dentists are especially needed in rural communities, where an estimated 43 percent of residents do not have access to regular dental care, according to the National Rural Health Association.
- Osteopathic specialist: Osteopathic medicine emphasizes holistic health management through health promotion and disease prevention. Nutrition plays an important role in this burgeoning specialty, which analysts for the American Osteopathic Association say 25 percent of medical school graduates have embraced.
- Veterinarian: Core nutritional concepts apply to virtually all mammals, including horses and house pets, according to the American College of Veterinary Nutrition. Like humans, animals sometimes require dietary guidance. Veterinarians offer this insight, developing nutritional strategies that build the foundation for positive health outcomes for all creatures. That said, students should know that this career requires additional education and training.
An online MS in nutritional science with a concentration in dietetics can prepare students to progress their similarly impactful careers.
- Registered dietitian nutritionist: Tens of thousands of registered dietitian nutritionists work in the U.S., leveraging their food and nutrition expertise to help people in numerous settings, from hospitals to research institutions, according to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. The baseline education requirement to sit for the registered dietitian exam will be increased from a bachelor’s to a master’s degree starting in 2024. The online MS in Dietetics degree can help individuals who are already registered stay competitive within the evolving workforce and move forward in their careers to take on new duties and leadership roles.
- Wellness or nutrition director: Through management of operations, training, marketing and more, wellness or nutrition directors work to ensure that facilities deliver wellness programs and services that are safe and healthy. The environment of this role can range from fitness centers to major corporations. A postgraduate degree can help elevate candidates in the applicant pool for positions like these.
- Nutrition and dietetics instructor: The degree can also help students prepare for roles outside of clinical settings, including nutrition and dietetics instructor. These education professionals are essential to the field’s health, as they equip prospective dietitians with the necessary expertise and insight.
In the end, both nutrition and dietetics degrees can help students develop the expertise they need to cultivate careers and make an impact. However, individuals intent on pursuing the above careers should know that additional education on top of an online MS in medical nutrition or online MS in nutritional science (dietetics) could be required, Sandra Mayol-Kreiser, clinical professor and nutrition program dietetic internship assistant director at the College of Health Solutions at ASU Online, explained.
“Some students may believe that by completing the online MS in medical nutrition, for instance, they can become registered dietitians. This is not the case,” she says. “To become registered dietitians, students need to complete a dietetic internship, which entails 1200 hours supervised practice at an accredited institution.”
Getting started with ASU Online
ASU Online offers an online Master of Science in Nutritional Sciences (Dietetics) degree and an online Master of Science in Medical Nutrition degree.
During the online Master of Science in Nutritional Sciences (Dietetics) program, registered dietitian nutritionists can expand their expertise through a science-based curriculum featuring courses covering everything from ethics and policy in American diets to pediatric nutrition. The coursework culminates with a research-based project wherein students use their insight to explore population-wide nutrition issues.
The online Master of Science in Medical Nutrition program offers current and aspiring health care professionals the opportunity to develop the skills and expertise necessary to consult on nutritional matters and craft overarching policies that affect populations of all sizes. The degree includes courses such as Food and Nutrition Across the Lifespan, Medical Nutrition in the Care and Prevention of Disease, and Research Methods. It ends with a capstone project during which students apply their expertise to real-world problems. Students who begin the online MS in Medical Nutrition having taken dietetics courses before have an advantage here, an ASU Online clinical associate professor of nutrition explained.
“If a student who is interested in the MS Medical Nutrition program already has a strong background in nutrition we will not have them take the introductory courses and instead have them choose two other online graduate nutrition seminars or electives as replacement for those six credit hours,” Mayol-Kreiser says.
The online Master of Science in nutritional sciences (dietetics) degree or online Master of Science in medical nutrition degree can help you develop the knowledge necessary for success in the nutrition field, where you can choose from a variety of in-demand roles that not only offer professional growth but also purpose.
ASU Online – Online Master of Science in Medical Nutrition
ASU Online – Online Master of Science in Nutrition Dietetics
2018 Food and Health Survey by the International Food Information Council Foundation
Dieticians and Nutritionists by the Bureau of Labor Statistics
National Center for Health Statistics by the Centers for Disease Control
Physicians Assistants by the Bureau of Labor Statistics
2017 Statistical Profile of Physicians Assistants by the National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants
What is a PA by the American Academy of Physicians Assistants
Rural America’s Oral Health Needs by the National Rural Health Association
What is Osteopathic Medicine by the American Osteopathic Association
Nutrition Resources by the American College of Veterinary Nutrition
Visioning Report by the Academy of Nutrition Dietetics
FDA Health and Diet Survey by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration
Health Educators and Community Health Workers by the Bureau of Labor Statistics
What is a Registered Nutrition and Dietetics Technician by the Academy of Nutrition Dietetics
Registry Statistics by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics