By Jeff Novick, M.S., R.D.
I am often asked my opinion on what is the best way for someone to pursue an education and/or career in nutrition. Usually, it is from someone who has seen the results of what living healthfully can do and often experienced a dramatic improvement in their health and now wants to help others and carry the message.
The dilemma they often face is how best to go about this as there seems to be no perfect way to do this. On one hand, they can pursue an accredited degree from an accredited school which will entail learning lots of information that is industry sponsored and may be inaccurate just so they can get a recognized and accredited degree. The positive aspect of this is that it will open many doors in the traditional world of healthcare and medicine. On the other hand, they can pursue one of the non-accredited degrees from a non accredited school and while they may learn more information that is closer to what they feel is accurate, they will still need to learn lots of information that is inaccurate and contradictory. In addition, it is much harder to become established and be recongized and/or accepted in the traditional world of healthcare and medicine. In addition, patients may not feel as confident in a non accredited degree as an accredited degree.
So, what’s one to do?
The answer depends on what your goals are and what you want to do with the education.
Are looking to study nutrition for your own personal edification or are you thinking of using it in someway to teach or help others?
Either way though, I am not a big fan of many of these unaccredited colleges and courses even though they may sound great. While they may offer some good info that can be helpful, most of them are also full of other info that is of questionable value or worth.
My choice and recommendation is to pursue the traditional accredited degree from a accredited school/university.
Regardless of the profession, you will never (ever) find a course of study that will suit your beliefs 100%. But, that is not a bad thing. While you and I may think we know better, it is still good to be open minded and see what is taught in traditional education. After all, it is good to know what everyone else is being taught, what they know and why.
In addition, what we are really trying to learn is the basic fundamentals of the science and not how they may (mis)apply the application. This is an important issue. Nutrition is an art and a science. The amino acid content of the foods is a science. Do plants have all the essential amino acids or not? The answer does not depend on your belief about it. But, how they (or you and I) may choose to apply this information, is the art and may be influenced by their beliefs.
Also, you will have the opportunity to present papers and do some research along the way in your areas of interest. In addition, you could do things like start a journal club, to review the new and relevant research. This is something that I did as an RD Student.
Yes, many of the professors and instructors and institutions you will work with hold outdated, inaccurate beliefs. But, remember not everyone may have gotten into the profession for the same reason you are. It is really helpful to not see it all as an “us” and “them” because while many of them may not seem to be on the side of “us”, they are not all willfully on the side of “them” either. They may just not know any better, or ever been exposed to any different info.
You may want to go to a RD conference or communicate with some of the RDs in the Vegetarian Practice group and talk to them about what they think about their careers and what they thought about their education. I think you will find that most all of them are quite satisfied with their education (in spite of its limitations) and greatly satisfied with their careers and the opportunities that their education gave them.
Somebody once said that they best way to change a system is from within.
Come on in.