A clinical nutritionist consults with doctors, caregivers, and patients to develop custom diet and exercise plans. He or she educates patients about the importance of healthy diets and how their particular medical conditions require them to meet very specific nutritional guidelines. In addition, a professional might create a grocery list and explain cooking instructions to ensure that patients eat the right meals. Most clinical nutritionists are employed by hospitals and assisted living facilities, but some professionals operate their own consulting centers.
Before meeting with a patient, a clinical nutritionist usually reviews forms provided by the recommending doctor. He or she goes over an individual's medical history, current condition, and any relevant special information about allergies or exercise restrictions. Nutritionist rely on their training and medical knowledge to create individualized plans based on each patient's special needs. They understand that patients with diabetes, for example, should have different dietary restrictions than individuals with heart disease.
With the appropriate plan in place, a clinical nutritionist can go over recommendations with the patient and his or her caregivers. The nutritionist explains why a special diet is important, detailing how sugars, cholesterol, protein, and carbohydrates affect overall health. He or she describes which foods to eat, which to avoid, and how to prepare healthy, tasty meals. Nutritionists usually meet with their patients several times during their hospital stays or recoveries to check how they are doing and determine if dietary regimens need to be adjusted.
A person who wants to become a clinical nutritionist usually needs to obtain a bachelor's degree or higher in nutrition, dietetics, biology, or another subject related to health and diet. In addition, many regions require prospective workers to pass written licensing exams before they can work independently in hospitals or private clinics. Most new clinical nutritionists also pursue voluntary certification to further improve their credentials and their chances of finding work.
In order to maintain licensure and ensure the best possible services for patients, a clinical nutritionist attends continuing education classes and seminars throughout his or her career. It is important for a nutritionist to stay up-to-date on the latest research findings regarding dietary recommendations for specific patient types. Informed, skilled professionals usually have long careers in the field and enjoy many opportunities for advancement. With experience, a nutritionist may be able to advance to an administrative, policy-making position within a hospital or even open his or her own clinic.