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How to Become a Nutrition Nurse

| Gayle Morris, RN, BSN, MSN

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Nursing offers you the opportunity to specialize in many different areas. Highly skilled communicators with strong relational abilities, nutrition nurses are a valuable asset to the medical profession and their clients.

In this guide, you can explore nutrition nurse school requirements, how long it takes to become a nutrition nurse, and the credentials needed to improve your hiring potential.

job outlook

What is a Nutrition Nurse?

A nutrition nurse has expertise in overall nutritional support as it pertains to specific medical conditions. A certification from the National Board of Nutrition Support Certification (NBNSC) or the American Association of Nutritional Consultants (AANC) is required for becoming a nutrition nurse. This offers greater opportunities in:

  • Long-term care and geriatrics
  • Hospitals
  • Schools
  • Outpatient settings
  • Wellness programs

Nutrition nurses may utilize nutritional therapies, such as supplements, tube feedings, intravenous feedings, or a combination. The recommendations are aimed at supporting patients affected by diseases that impact eating, digestion, and absorption of nutrients.

Steps to Becoming a Nutrition Nurse

Nurses working in this field are often self-motivated with excellent communication, time management, and interpersonal skills. A nutrition nurse degree begins with a registered nurse credential. Before certification, you may complete an associate degree in nursing (ADN) or a bachelor of science in nursing (BSN).

Specific nutrition nurse school requirements for your job, including certification and licensure, may vary depending on your state. Certification demonstrates you have attained necessary skills, but it is not a legal right to practice. Your state nursing board can answer questions about specific license requirements.

A BSN is a four-year nursing degree. Nurses with a BSN may specialize in several fields, including geriatrics, mother/child, and nutrition. Students who hold an ADN degree may enroll in an accelerated RN-to-BSN program. Those who have a bachelor's degree in a non-nursing field may complete an accelerated BSN program. Passing the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX) is required to obtain a license to practice in all states. The candidate has up to six hours to answer questions in four categories. The NBNSC and AANC offer certification examinations in nutritional support. You may choose to pursue a certification to demonstrate credibility with clients and other professionals. The content of the AANC examination is based on a booklist given to the candidates. The candidate pays a one-time fee of $400 and completes a series of tests.

To take the NBNSC examination, candidates must first meet the eligibility requirements. Nurses or nurse practitioners must be registered to practice in their state, and a copy of a current license must be sent with the application. Both the NBNSC and AANC recommend that candidates hold two years of experience in nutrition support prior to receiving certification.
After meeting the nutrition nurse school requirements and becoming certified, a nutrition nurse may seek employment in areas of medical practice where appropriate nutrition improves healthcare, such as clinics that address the needs of wound care, diabetes, cancer, and cardiovascular disease.

Nutrition Nurse Schooling

As you investigate how to become a nutrition nurse, you will discover that your time commitment is dependent on your current nursing education, experience, and background. Certification demonstrates credibility to your clients and future employers. Nurses with a BSN degree may have more job opportunities available to them.

BSN Degree

Becoming a nutrition nurse begins by holding an RN license in your state. To take and pass the NCLEX and be licensed to practice nursing, you must hold an ADN or BSN degree. Nurses who chose to advance to a graduate-level program typically hold a BSN.

  • Admission Requirements: Nutrition nurse school requirements include standard admission criteria, with a focus on the sciences. Most colleges and universities also look for students who are inquisitive and can apply classroom knowledge to professional settings.
  • Program Curriculum: The nutrition nurse degree curriculum includes science and writing classes, as well as nursing foundation courses and clinical rotations. Core learning outcomes include analytical thinking, effective communication, and a foundation in social justice.
  • Time to Complete: Most BSN programs can be completed in four years when the candidate attends full time. Candidates who are completing an ADN-to-BSN program may finish sooner.
  • Skills Learned: In addition to science and medical knowledge, students learn the professional nursing role, current trends, and issues in nursing, fundamentals of nursing research, leadership and management, and community health nursing.

Nutrition Nurse Credentials

Nutrition nurses have two key credential options. The first is a state license conferred by national board certification that governs your ability to practice as an RN. The second is a certification in your area of specialization; in this case, certification as a nutrition nurse. This demonstrates your knowledge and skills in the specialized area but does not give you the legal right to practice nutrition.

Certifications

  • What is a certification? This is an official document given to you after passing a certifying examination that attests to a level of achievement.
  • Are they required? Certifications are not necessary to practice as an RN or as a nutrition nurse. However, they are valued by your future employers as it demonstrates your knowledge.
  • Who provides certification? There are two certifying professional associations for nutrition nurses. These are the NBNSC and the AANC.
  • How do professionals maintain certification? Those who are certified by the NBNSC or AANC must retake the certification exam every five years. A candidate certifying with AANC must be a member of the organization.

Licensure

  • What license is needed for this career? Nutrition nurse school requirements include an RN license. You can be licensed as an RN with an ADN or BSN degree.
  • How do professionals obtain this licence? Candidates seeking to work as a nutrition nurse must first apply to a board-approved school of nursing, graduate, and pass the NCLEX. This information is provided to the state board who then issues a license to practice in the state.
  • How do they maintain licensure? Each year, RNs must complete the correct number of continuing education (CE) requirements mandated by their state board of nursing. Some states also call these contact hours. These are required to maintain continuing competency. Most states specify an RN renews their license every two years, which includes submitting the correct number of approved CE hours with the application.

Working as a Nutrition Nurse

After graduating, becoming licensed to practice, and obtaining certification as a nutrition nurse, you can begin your job search. The average annual salary for nutrition nurses in the U.S. is $64,040. After being certified, you may also choose to specialize further in geriatrics, wound care, public health, or prenatal care. Nutrition nurses may also want to consider obtaining certification as a nurse coach, as the coaching skill set compliments their nutrition education.

Some of the work settings nutrition nurses can practice include:

Reimbursement for long-term care facilities can be based on patient outcomes, so they often employ a nutrition manager who oversees the general and specific nutritional needs of the residents. The goal is to reduce the incidence of malnutrition common in the elderly, which helps reduce the incidence of skin breakdown and poor health. Nutrition nurses work with an outpatient client population within wellness programs set up by communities, hospitals, or insurance companies. They may function as a general nutrition coach or specifically for medical conditions, such as diabetes or heart disease. Nutrition nurses develop customized nutrition plans to encourage good health and improve their client outcomes. Within public and private schools, and in collaboration with community resources, nutrition nurses can provide health coaching, preventive nutrition education, and help create guidelines for activities that promote wellness within the organization and community.

Becoming a Nutrition Nurse: FAQs


How many years does it take to become a nutrition nurse?

It can take up to five or more years to complete nutrition nurse requirements. This includes four years to obtain your BSN and one year for education and certification. However, you may wish to earn a graduate degree as a nurse practitioner, which expands employment opportunities.

What is the quickest way to become a nutrition nurse?

The fastest route to becoming a nutrition nurse is to complete an ADN in two years, followed by an online certification program that allows you to practice as a nutrition nurse. Although this is the quickest way, you may not have as many employment opportunities. However, it may allow you to start working while completing an ADN-to-BSN program.

How hard is it to become a nutrition nurse?

Candidates prepare by taking science and math classes in high school. A BSN program requires four years of education, after which candidates can specialize in nutrition by taking additional classes, an internship, and passing a certification examination. A nursing license must be renewed every two years and the certification exam retaken every five years.

Do nutrition nurses get paid well?

The national average annual salary for nutrition nurses is $64,040. Salaries can go as high as $128,000 or as low as $18,000, depending on the geographical area, experience, and educational level. However, the majority of salaries range from $39,000-$81,500.

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Reviewed by:

Brandy Gleason, MSN, MHA, BC-NC, is a nursing professional with nearly 20 years of varied nursing experience. Gleason currently teaches as an assistant professor of nursing within a prelicensure nursing program and coaches graduate students. Her passion and area of research centers around coaching nurses and nursing students to build resilience and avoid burnout.

Gleason is a paid member of our Healthcare Review Partner Network. Learn more about our review partners here.

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