Meet Professional Nutritionist Kathleen Putnam
Kathleen Putnam has been a professional nutritionist for 20 years, and she has extensive experience in many facets of the nutrition field. She earned a Bachelor of Science in nutrition and dietetics from Oregon State University, and a Master of Science in nutrition from Bastyr University. For the past 10 years, she has been in private practice at NutritionWorks Seattle, where she counsels individuals and groups. When she is not meeting with her clients, she teaches nutrition courses at Shoreline Community College.
To learn more about the best online master's in nutrition programs, check out our 2020 rankings. Otherwise, continue reading for advice from nutritionist Kathleen Putnam!
Why did you decide to become a nutritionist?
I was first attracted to this field because I have always been interested in my own personal nutrition. I was also drawn to the teaching aspect of nutrition, as well as the constant learning. This is a dynamic subject and the data is constantly changing and I knew I would enjoy learning and growing along with the field.
Are there common misconceptions about your profession?
Yes, people commonly think that nutritionists will be judgmental and condescending, and that we will dictate what they can and cannot eat. But we don’t force changes on people; we are here to help people understand why changing their habits is so difficult. Nutritionists are knowledgeable about human behavior and development, and we don’t want to set people up for failure. An eating plan is only successful if it works for the individual person. We help people to make healthy choices in our modern culture, while considering people’s budgets, lifestyle and personal preferences. Nutritionists are the facilitators.
What is a typical day like for you?
Most days, I meet with four or five clients at my practice, Seattle NutritionWorks. Some days I also conduct a one-hour group session. When I am not meeting with clients, I update charts, communicate with therapists and physicians about clients, blog and answer questions on my website. I make time each week to communicate and network with other professionals in the nutrition field. I also teach nutrition courses at local colleges. I currently teach two five-credit classes, although most quarters I only teach one class at a time.
What advice, or words of caution, would you give to a student who is considering studying to become a nutritionist?
If you are considering studying to become a nutritionist, you should first be aware of the time and education commitment. Often, students don’t realize that a bachelor’s degree in nutrition is not enough. Most nutritionist jobs will require you to be a registered dietitian. In order to become a registered dietitian, you will need to complete a yearlong internship after college, and then you will need to pass the national licensing exam. In all, it is a minimum commitment of five years, and you should understand the requirements ahead of time.
In addition to recognizing the level of commitment, I would also recommend that you research the profession and educate yourself about the salary range, as well as the salary range of related fields.
Above all else, don’t be discouraged by things that you hear or read; if it is your passion, you can have success. You will have plenty of opportunities, especially internationally, and your opportunities will probably increase as time goes on. If you love what you do and you have passion for nutrition, you can make money in the field. You might have to supplement your income through teaching or writing, and you might have to be creative to get your foot in the door and gain experience. But if you want to work as a nutritionist, you will find success. There is room for you!
What Do You Need to Get an Online Master's in Nutrition?
Students who enjoy science, working with people, and applying the principles of food and nutrition to health may be interested in pursuing an online master’s degree in nutrition. Many students who’ve earned undergraduate degrees in nutrition or dietetics continue on to earning a master's degree in order to gain advanced knowledge, develop research skills, and enhance their abilities to pursue higher-level, better-paying positions in the field. However, online master’s degree programs are also open to students who’ve earned degrees in other fields, such as nurses and healthcare professionals, who are seeking a more in-depth understanding of nutrition for their current clinical roles or who simply want to gain the scientific knowledge and internship hours to earn a nutrition license.
To enroll in an online master’s degree in nutrition program, students must have a bachelor's degree. Some graduate programs also require that applicants complete prerequisite courses or have relevant work experience. While a master's degree is not required to work as a nutritionist, a graduate degree can help qualify a dietitian for higher-level positions and a higher salary. Through additional coursework and exam preparation, some master's degree programs in nutrition science also prepare students to earn specialized credentials, which are highly desired by employers. The majority of master’s degree programs take two years to complete, assuming students take two to three classes per quarter or semester.
Nutrition majors study every aspect of the food system at the graduate level. Online master's degrees in nutrition include coursework heavily focused on the biological sciences, including metabolic processes, micro and macronutrients, exercise, public health, epidemiology, and food safety. In addition to advanced nutrition courses, online master's programs may focus on nutrition subcategories such as pediatric nutrition, sports nutrition, eating disorders, and nutrition and aging. Other courses teach students about the production of food, how food is marketed to people, and how people get their information about nutrition and make food choices.
There may also be opportunities to explore the social dimension of nutrition and how foods affect people's bodies and minds through courses like psychology of nutrition, nutrition for disease prevention, nutrition for weight control, and childhood or developmental nutrition. Many master's degree programs also incorporate clinical practice, research opportunities, and seminars.
How Important is Accreditation for Online Master's in Nutrition Programs?
Accreditation is a term used to describe the process by which schools and individual degree programs are evaluated for their quality and their ability to provide students with a valuable education. Independent regional and national agencies evaluate institutions of higher education based on a variety of factors and determine whether or not to grant them accreditation. Legitimate accrediting agencies should always be recognized by the US Department of Education or the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA). While attending an accredited school or program isn't mandatory, it will help ensure that you receive a high-quality education and that you meet eligibility requirements for federal financial aid. Also, if you wish to transfer your earned credits to another school at some point in the future, it will be important that your credits are from an accredited school or program.
For nutrition degree programs specifically, the Accreditation Council for Education in Nutrition and Dietetics (ACEND) provides accreditation if schools' master’s in nutrition programs meet a set of national standards for the field. Accreditation by this industry-recognized agency helps to ensure that you will receive a quality education.
Frequently Asked Questions About Online Master's in Nutrition Degrees
How do I choose an online master's in nutrition?
When choosing an online program for a master’s degree in nutrition, students should consider factors such as their long-term career goals, desired area of concentration, the program’s faculty credentials, and program graduation rate. Some programs may require short-term campus visits, which may provide valuable opportunities for collaborative clinical practice but could be difficult for distance learning students or those working full-time while in school. Check to see if the program offers opportunities for field experience, clinical work, or other unique aspects, such as the ability to earn credits through an internship or independent project.
What are the prerequisites for an online master's in nutrition?
Applicants to an online master's in nutrition program must have a bachelor's degree from an accredited college. While most schools do not require that a student have a bachelor's degree in nutrition specifically, many schools have expectations of previous coursework in biology, chemistry, physiology, and other natural sciences. If students do not have experience with these subjects, they may be required to complete prerequisite courses prior to admittance. Applicants will need to submit their undergraduate transcripts as part of the application process. Some graduate programs also require that applicants have relevant work experience. While a master's degree is not required to work as a nutritionist, a graduate degree can help qualify you for higher-level positions and a higher salary.
What classes will I take in an online master's in nutrition program?
Nutritionists study every aspect of the food system at the graduate level. In addition to advanced nutrition courses, master's programs may focus on nutrition subcategories such as pediatric nutrition, sports nutrition, eating disorders, and nutrition and aging. Other courses teach students about the production of food, how food is marketed to people, and how people get their information about nutrition and make food choices. Students also study how nutrition affects people's bodies and minds through courses like psychology of nutrition, nutrition for disease prevention, nutrition for weight control, and childhood or developmental nutrition. Many master's degree programs also heavily incorporate clinical practice, research opportunities, and seminars.
Where do nutritionists work?
Individuals with an online master's degree in nutrition may find work in a variety of settings. While a bachelor's degree in nutrition is generally the minimum requirement to become a registered dietitian, a master's degree in the field is required for the certified nutrition specialist (CNS) designation. Additionally, a master's can open up career options in public health, public policy, medicine, and education, among other industries. Online master's degrees in nutrition can also provide students who already hold a bachelor's degree in nutrition with a more advanced understanding of the discipline.
Those who earn an online master's in nutrition and want to pursue work as a nutritionist have multiple career options. They may work as clinical dietitians in hospitals or clinics, providing individualized care to patients. They can also work as community dietitians at non-profit organizations, government agencies, or medical clinics, developing large-scale programs to educate community members about nutritional needs.
How much can you make with a nutrition degree?
As of May 2019, the Bureau of Labor Statistics was reporting a median annual wage of $61,270 for dietitians and nutritionists. The top 10 percent of wage earners in the field of nutrition earned more than $87,360.
Future employment opportunities for dietitians and nutritionists look promising. The need for professionals in this field is projected to grow by 11 percent through the year 2028 due to increasing interest in the role of food and nutrition in preventing disease and promoting health and wellness. Dietitians and nutritionists who have earned advanced master’s or doctoral degrees in nutrition or certification in a specialty area of nutrition may enjoy even higher salaries and better job prospects.
Are there professional organizations for nutritionists?
Once graduates enter the field of nutrition, they may want to continue their education and enhance their career paths by joining a professional organization. Among the many options available are:
- Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: The world's largest organization of food and nutrition professionals was initially founded in 1917 to help the U.S. government conserve food and improve the public's health and nutrition during World War I. Today, the Academy offers practical resources to more than 100,000 credentialed practitioners who hold undergraduate and advanced degrees in nutrition and dietetics. The organization is committed to improving the nation's health and advancing the profession of dietetics through research and education.
- American Nutrition Association: The ANA is dedicated to championing the science and practice of personalized nutrition, especially for children. Among their six guiding values is the idea that nutrition is an ecosystem of food growers and providers, scientists, academics, healthcare professionals, policymakers, philanthropists, corporations, and more.
- American Society for Parenteral and Enteral Nutrition: ASPEN promotes patient health through good nutrition and provides its member-professionals with a wealth of resources, guidelines, and best practices on maintaining healthy lifestyles and avoiding common medical conditions. There are also continuing education resources available to help ensure ASPEN's members remain on the leading edge of nutritional science.
- American Council on Science and Health: A pro-science consumer advocacy organization, the Council was founded in 1978 by a group of scientists intent on promoting evidence-based science and medicine while debunking junk science and minimizing false health scares. The organization’s mission is to “fight back” against activists who attack the credibility of academic and private sector scientists and undermine the integrity of the scientific enterprise.
- National Association for Nutrition Professionals: NANP is a professional business league dedicated to furthering the cause, education, and standards of the holistic nutrition industry. Prospective students who are looking for programs in holistic nutrition, natural cooking, and dietary supplements may want to consult the NANP website for more information.
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