How to Become a Registered Nutritionist in NZ

So you love food and health and have a passion for the magic of nutrients? Becoming a Registered Nutritionist could be your destiny! But… how do you make that happen? Read on!

A Nutritionist is working on a computer while a glowing apple floats above her outstretched hand in foreground

When I started studying I didn’t even know that Registered Nutritionists existed! Then, by chance, I found a Registered Nutritionist on Facebook doing cool stuff, went investigating and found that I too could become such a being. Eventually I did reach the promised land, but I have a solid memory of the journey being confusing as all hell. I wasn’t sure what to do, or when.

Since then, the system has been streamlined, however in my side hustle of doing Social Media for the Nutrition Society, I still see regular questions from Nutritionists somewhere along the yellow brick road and feeling lost. This article is for you, fledgling Nutritionists! It will probably be long so let’s grab a plate of Success Cookies and embed a table of contents. Click the headings to jump to that section.


What is a Registered Nutritionist?

Good question! The answer is: it depends on where you live! Registered Nutritionists (usually abbreviated as RNutr.) exist all over the world, but there’s no global definition of what the title means in terms of training and scope. In New Zealand, however:

An NZ Registered Nutritionist is registered with the Nutrition Society of New Zealand and must have at least an approved bachelor degree and at least three years’ work experience (or two years if holding a postgraduate qualification). They must comply with the Nutrition Society Code of Professional Standards and undertake appropriate continuing education and professional supervision.

There is also the title of ‘Associate Registered Nutritionist‘ which may be used by Nutritionists that have met the minimum education requirements but do not yet have the experience required for full registration. The Associate Registration step is optional.

Before you go into despair and click away, hear me out, it’s not as daunting as it sounds. Let’s break it down.


Becoming a Registered Nutritionist Step 1: Get some Uni.

All NZ Registered Nutritionists have a three year bachelor degree. This does not strictly have to be a ‘nutrition’ degree, but it must be a science degree with ‘relevance to nutrition’. As an example, my first degree was a Bachelor of Health Science in Psychology, with a few nutrition papers.

That having been said, it’s a faster process to full registration if you have a degree with a nutrition major or minor, so keep that in mind when you’re uni shopping.

Your first step toward becoming a Registered Nutritionist is either:

  • A bachelor degree with a major or minor in nutrition OR
  • A science degree with relevance to nutrition AND a graduate or postgraduate qualification in nutrition. The minimum acceptable qualification is a graduate or postgraduate diploma.

If your science degree is not in nutrition, but you intend to undertake postgrad studies in the area, then I’d recommend keeping in touch with the faculty at whichever uni you intend to do your postgrad at. They will be able to guide you in making the right choices with undergrad papers that may be pre-requisites for higher level courses, as well as advise if there are bridging programmes into postgrad nutrition.

Here's a couple of other things to think about while you are completing your undergraduate studies:

1. Take advantage of becoming a student member of the Nutrition Society (it's heavily discounted while you're a student). In order to apply for either Associate or Full Registration you will have to already be a member of the Nutrition Society, so don't forget that step!

2. If you plan to use the Associate Registered Nutritionist title while obtaining your full registration, near the end of your undergraduate degree start looking for a mentor (more about mentoring here).

Step 2: Ok, you’re A Qualified Nutritionist, Now What?

There are two main tasks to tackle once you graduate: 1) getting experience and 2) engaging with a mentor and/or professional supervisor. What is required depends on three things:

  • Your level of education (Bachelor, PGDip, Masters or PhD)
  • Whether you wish to use the Associate Registered Nutritionist title while you are gaining experience
  • Whether you wish to register as a Nutritionist in the field of Private Practice

Let’s start with mentoring and supervision. These are the things I get the most questions about.

Mentoring and Supervision

Mentoring is a part of the Associate Registration pathway. It is necessary for all Nutritionists that wish to use the Associate Registered Nutritionist title when they graduate.

Professional Supervision is a requirement specific to Nutritionists in private clinical practice. Having a professional supervisor is good practice and encouraged for Nutritionists in other fields of practice (industry, education, research, public health, food service and communications) but only compulsory for those that wish to register in the field of private practice.

Mentoring

What is the Role of Your Mentor?

Firstly, it’s worth repeating that mentoring is a step associated with the optional step of becoming an Associate Registered Nutritionist. The role of the mentor is essentially to role-model life as a successful Nutritionist, to answer questions, provide guidance and offer accountability with the goals (examples here) you set for the first ‘provisional’ year. Your mentor is a nutrition expert with experience in your field of practice. So if you’re planning to go into private practice, your mentor should have experience in giving dietary advice to individuals, if you’re going into communications, your mentor will be an experienced nutrition writer and so on. You meet with your mentor at least once every two months to see how you are tracking. The mentoring relationship continues until you are ready for full registration or until you switch to working with a Professional Supervisor.

You may also choose to continue working with your mentor after you begin supervision. This is up to you.

When to Engage a Mentor

In order to start with your mentor, you need to be either doing paid or volunteer work in a nutrition-related job, or undertaking postgraduate studies. Therefore, the best time to start engaging with potential mentors is as soon as you’ve handed in that last undergraduate paper (such a good feeling!), but it can be done at any point during the three years after you finish undergrad studies. Once you’ve found your mentor, and you’re working or in postgrad studies (or if you are crazy, both, haha), you file the Registration Application for Associate Registration through the Nutrition Society online system, Gecco, which all Nutrition Society members have access to. Applications are processed twice a year (in March and August) and once it is approved, you can start calling yourself an Associate Registered Nutritionist!

During your first year, you meet with your mentor at least bi-monthly. At the end of your first year, your mentor files a mentor report and you submit a CPD (Continuing Professional Development) file detailing the goals you have set and achieved during your mentoring year. You can then continue to use the Associate Registered Nutritionist title for the remainder of your time while gaining experience.

Finding a Mentor

OMG, how do you find a mentor? Your mentor can be anyone with experience in your field so you may already know someone to ask. Another option is to approach one of the mentors listed in the ‘Professionally Trained Supervisors and Mentors‘ document on the Nutrition Society website and keep an eye on the Nutrition Society newsletters for mentoring group opportunities.

You could also ask on the NZ Nutritionists’ Network Facebook Group.

Supervision

Engaging in professional supervision is required for Nutritionists in the field of private practice, and encouraged for all Registered Nutritionists.

What is the Role of your Professional Supervisor?

The main role of your professional supervisor is to encourage reflective practice. They are a safe space for you to chat about your practice and guide you to critically reflect on how you are progressing as a Nutritionist. They can help you work through, for example, a tricky client situation or self-doubt and some have skills outside of Nutrition, for example counselling or business management that may come in useful. One important fact is that your supervisor is not there to solve your problems for you; they guide you toward finding your own solutions. They are also not there to teach you how to be a practicing Nutritionist, that is more in the realm of mentoring. and ongoing professional development courses/training. Generally you will be paying for supervision, and at time of writing the going rate is around $100 / hr.

When to Engage a Supervisor

Supervision starts when you start working with the public, whether paid or voluntary. If you are working full time, supervision will be monthly. After each supervision session, record the details of the session in the ‘Supervision Report‘ . This gets uploaded as part of your CPD (continuing professional development) record when you apply to register or re-register.

Where to Find a Professional Supervisor?

Your professional supervisor is a Registered Nutritionist, Registered Dietitian or other experienced professional with expertise in your field of practice and at least five years experience. They may also have special training in professional supervision. There is a list of Nutrition Society vetted Professional Supervisors here, or again, you may have success by asking in the Nutritionists’ Network Facebook group or contacting Registered Nutritionists and Dietitians directly.

If you are unsure whether your intended supervisor is suitable, email the registrar Cherise (registration(AT)nutritionsociety.ac.nz) or send a query through the webform.


Step 3: Work Experience

The requirements around work experience are pretty straightforward:

If you have a bachelor degree you need three years full time work experience, and if you have a postgraduate qualification (PGDip, Masters or PhD) the requirement is two years until you are eligible for full registration. Work experience can be paid or voluntary and the timeframe is the same whether you are Associate Registered or not. Work experience can be concurrent with mentoring and/or supervision.


Step 4: Keep up your CPD and write that sh*t down

Along with work experience, you need to meet the requirements for continuing competency. While there is no set in stone number of CPD hours, you should try and cover off off activities in four main areas: gaining knowledge, teaching/presenting, work-related and contact with other Nutritionists. Basically.. everything you do that is career related, add it. More is better. Food photography course? Add it. Gave a 15 minute online presentation about making kombucha? Add it, immediately.

I’m not saying it’s soul destroying to go through three years worth of planner diaries and google calendars to try and record all that CPD that you forgot to write down, but it might be. I’d recommend not finding out.


Step 5: Apply For Full Registration

The big moment! Twice a year (March and August) the Nutrition Society takes applications for registration, but I’d suggest having a look at the form in Gecco and starting the epic mission of document assembly at least a month prior. Along with the application form and CPD record, you will need to find two referees, become a full member if you aren’t already, make sure you understand the code of ethics, sign a consent form, get a good photo for your registration card and think carefully about the choices that led you to this peak experience. All of this is well explained on the Nutrition Society website, so I won’t go into details here.

Before the deadline, submit all your paperwork and your selfie (JK, aim for professionalism) and I wish you all the best for your application and your career xx.


That’s not the End though..

*Bwahahaha!* There’s more! Along with the requirements of other Allied Health professions, maintaining registration is an ongoing process, and you must re-register every three years. Re-registration involves submitting your CPD record and, if you are in private practice, the supervisor’s report. If you have kept up your CPD and supervision, and written that sh*t down (see above) then re-registration is not such a hassle.


Clearing Up Some Confusions

Member vs. Registered Nutritionist

Membership and Registration are different things, although to register you do need to be a member. To a point, anyone studying, with qualifications or with an occupation even obliquely related to nutrition can apply to be an ‘Ordinary’ or ‘Student’ member of the Nutrition Society, even if you’re not currently working in the field. This allows you to take advantages of member benefits, such as free webinars, the newsletter and discounted conference tickets. Applications are assessed by the council on a case-by-case basis.

What if my Application is Rejected?

It happens, and it is absolutely nothing to be ashamed of! Don’t stress. It’s likely something simple, like you haven’t yet fulfilled the requirements for work experience, or your CPD record doesn’t cover all the requirements. You will get feedback from the registration committee, take that on board and try again at the next intake.

Does Postgraduate Study Count as Work Experience?

It depends. This is something you would need to take up with the Registrar (registration(at)nutritionsociety.ac.nz). What it depends on is how closely your study replicates ‘work as a Nutritionist in your field of practice’ and is assessed on a case-by-case basis.

What if I only work part time in Nutrition?

Working part time is a common situation, especially when you are first starting out. Again, your best plan is to contact the Registrar and explain your situation. You do need to have amassed the equivalent of two or three years full time work (depending on your level of education) before applying for full registration.


Ok, that’s it! Hopefully this answers most of your questions, but if it doesn’t, or something is unclear, please leave me a comment below. I’ll also endeavour to keep this post updated if things change over time, however, please keep in mind that I’m writing this as a layperson and for the official word on anything to do with Registration, consult the official Nutrition Society website.

Sending you happy Nutritionisty vibes

Sara

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