Updated: May 7th, 2021

How to Become a Certified Nutrition Specialist

A Certified Nutrition Specialist® (CNS®) is an advanced credential offered by the Board for Certification of Nutrition Specialists℠ (BCNS℠). Certified Nutrition Specialists are whole food experts who practice nutrition therapy using a science-informed, personalized approach to help people optimize health, manage or prevent disease, and improve their quality of life. CNS is the most advanced certification for practitioners of personalized nutrition.

Why become a CNS? This kind of advanced training gives a person the chance to make meaningful, sustainable, and evidence-informed impacts on the health and lives of individuals, families, and communities. Your training and knowledge prove your expertise, boost your credibility as a practitioner of nutrition and dietary science, and enhances your career opportunities within a range of industries, including health care, government, business, and education.

At the Maryland University of Integrative Health, we’ve made the process of becoming a certified nutrition specialist as streamlined as possible. There are multiple paths and steps you can take to earn your CNS credential, and your journey will depend on where you’re coming from. Whether you have a background as a nutritionist, registered dietitian (RD), a medical doctor (MD or DO), or another profession, our university is happy to help you explore this exciting career field.

What Does a Certified Nutrition Specialist Do?

Certified Nutrition Specialists work and make an impact in a variety of settings, including government and social service agencies, food services, hospitals, private practices, rehabilitation centers, nursing homes, schools, and outpatient clinics. Plus, the job and career opportunities for nutrition specialists continue to expand, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Typically, certified nutrition specialists will:

  • Help individuals reach health goals or manage chronic diseases by designing and implementing personalized meal and food plans
  • May recommend targeted nutritional and herbal supplements
  • Can interpret laboratory testing
  • Monitor the progress of their clients and provide ongoing feedback and support
  • Provide nutrition education based on the latest research and scientific evidence
  • Play an important role in a health care team

Like RDs, CNSsuse medical nutrition therapy (MNT) to work with people who have a range of health conditions, including high blood pressure, obesity, diabetes, high cholesterol, and more. Compared to RDs, however, CNSs are more likely to help with organizing and running community initiatives, public health programs, and food service programs that can have a broader impact on a community or region.

How Much Does a Certified Nutrition Specialist Make?

Since Certified Nutrition Specialists come from so many professional backgrounds and can work in a variety of settings and locations, the expected salary range can vary greatly. Typical salaries range from $58,000 to $80,000 per year or more for positions within outpatient care centers, insurance companies, home health, the federal government, and education. CNSs who also hold other advanced degrees, including DDS, DO, MD, NP, and PA, may earn as much as $120,000 per year or more.

Are There Any Prerequisites to Becoming a Certified Nutrition Specialist?

According to the American Nutrition Association, there are a variety of prerequisites to becoming a CNS. These include:

  • Degrees: candidates must hold a Masters or doctoral degree in Nutrition or other fields of clinical health care (including DC, DDS, APRN, ND, PA, PharmD, or OD) from an accredited institution; an MD or DO are also acceptable
  • Coursework: specific coursework must be completed in topics such as nutrition, biochemistry, behavioral science, and anatomy and physiology; alternatively, a candidate can earn a degree from an ACNPE-accredited program
  • Experience: this can include a minimum of 1,000 hours of supervised practice experience with a Board of Certified Nutrition Specialists-approved supervisor as well as internships and personalized nutrition case studies, depending on the individual’s background

Once these prerequisites are fulfilled, hopeful recipients can sit for the CNS exam offered by the Board for Certification of Nutrition Specialists℠ (BCNS℠). Recertification is also required, which currently includes 75 continuing education credits every 5 years. MUIH also offers Professional and Continuing Education courses to fulfill continuing education requirements.

And did you know? We’ve taken steps at MUIH to facilitate these supervised practice hours by offering our students an optional six-month supervised internship program, which we call the Nutrition Post-Graduate Practice Experience.

Can Anyone Take the Certified Nutrition Specialist Exam?

The Certification Examination for Nutrition Specialists is held twice per year. Anyone who has successfully fulfilled the necessary prerequisites can sit for the exam. You’ll need to organize and provide additional materials in order to sit for your exam, including:

  • Official transcripts from all regionally accredited institutions where any qualifying courses were taken
  • Two letters of recommendation
  • The exam application and associated fees
  • A resume or CV

Are There Different Types of Exams?

Becoming credentialed as a certified nutrition specialist isn’t the only avenue for people who complete their Master of Science in Nutrition & Integrative Health at MUIH. Our successful graduates also become board-eligible for a number of other national board certifications related to nutrition, including:

  • Certified Clinical Nutritionist (CCN)
  • Certified Health Education Specialist (CHES)
  • Board Certified in Holistic Nutrition®
  • Society for Nutrition Education and Behavior

Depending on the type of exam you choose to sit for, you may be required to take certain courses or meet additional requirements. For example, our Master’s graduates interested in sitting for the Board Certified in Holistic Nutrition® must take at least one herbal elective course. To sit for the CHES, Master’s graduates must successfully complete the Community Nutrition Education area of concentration. Our friendly staff at MUIH is always happy to help you navigate the rigorous board certification process and ensure you’re prepared.

Conclusion

A degree in Certified Nutrition Specialist/MSNIH opens up many doors to you in the health and wellness profession. Whether you want to work with individuals, families, local communities, charitable organizations, or other agencies, this degree can help you make a serious impact in your niche and establish yourself as a leader in the competitive and evolving field of nutrition.

Did you know that successful graduates of MUIH’s Clinical Nutrition and Herbal Medicine concentrations within our Master of Science in Nutrition & Integrative Health are eligible to sit for the CNS exam from the Certification Board of Nutritional Specialists? Prepare for your examination and accelerate your nutrition with confidence by applying for our Master’s program today.

Interested in learning more about becoming a CNS? Check out our webinars here, and register for our CNS Webinar.