The United States educational system allows you to pursue graduate degrees in many fields without the prerequisite background. This is very true for degrees in the health sciences. Typically, a master’s degree is about 36 credits and includes research-based coursework, which is often not practical to working with clients.
A master’s degree without a bachelor’s in the field lacks the comprehensive coursework and internship experiences required in a bachelor’s degree, which is usually around 120 credits. While some of them are general education, most of the other coursework is coursework related to the degree.
Some master’s and doctoral programs require some prerequisites, but not all of them nor are they uniform. The University of Texas, for example, does not require those with a master’s in kinesiology to have the bachelor’s degree. Having done my master’s at UT, I would not say that it would qualify me to work in various areas of physical activity since it was such specialized knowledge in exercise physiology, a subject that is probably meaningless had you not had an undergraduate chock full of science to even understand the master’s.
I know what information was NOT in the master’s, so to be practicing without the undergraduate level work and experience required to get that degree is a problem with the educational system. I also had to complete 3 internships at the undergraduate level for kinesiology. To not list that against people who just have a master’s is to omit pertinent structured educational experience I have that others do not. It is not to just list more letters off my name.
I adopted the UK’s manner of listing credentials because the British have it right in terms of recognizing that if you have a PhD, you may not have a bachelor’s and master’s in the subject. If you have a master’s in a subject, you don’t always have a bachelor’s degree in it (especially in health and fitness). “Practice in the UK varies from that in the US partly because it is designed to draw attention to the fact that not everybody who possesses a higher ranking award possesses lower ones as well.”
In my particular case, a nutritional sciences degree is NOT the same step-wise prerequisite that a dietetics degree is. I had to go back to school after having a nutritional sciences degree for another 4 years to complete the dietetics coursework and 1200 hr internship, which is encompassed in the RD credential. The coursework to become an RD is not 100% science, as my undergraduate education was mostly a pre-med degree.
Dietetics also includes classes on counseling individuals and educating groups, foodservice, community nutrition (WIC, government programs, etc.).
Had I just had a dietetics degree, I wouldn’t list my other BS degree because it would be included in the RD credential. The nutritional sciences curriculum at Penn State was a pre-med track with more advanced sciences required than the dietetics track. Nutrition sciences had to take a more difficult organic chemistry, a microbiology with a lab instead of just lecture, organic chemistry lab, physics 1 and 2 each with a lab, and multiple levels of bio with labs including genetics and PCR.
Additionally, I took college-level anatomy and physiology in high school (and won the award for highest GPA in it at Strake Jesuit College Preparatory), physiology and exercise physiology as an undergraduate at PSU, and then multiple levels of physiology during my master’s, including being a preceptor for the undergraduate UT physiology course and leading study discussions. Nutrition and fitness is a lot of human physiology.
On a side note, ask people who are “certified nutritionists” whether they had to pass high level sciences (and by pass, good luck getting into a dietetic internship with less than a 3.5 GPA). You may get a quizzical look. This is another reason why credentials are important in the nutrition and fitness field. They won’t be able to stand their ground when it comes to tough questions on human physiology and nutrition. No one has tested their knowledge and made them pass anything high stakes.
These sciences are a way to weed out people who think they know nutrition and human physiology for a reason. Everyone thinks they are an expert these days, so it creates artificial competition against real practitioners. I mean artificial because some people are not qualified to practice but there is no law prohibiting who can do nutrition counseling (or fitness) in Texas.
To think that people would pay people who are of these sham certifications baffles me. I’ve been told before, “Your rates are too expensive. I hired someone who charges $30.” If you are willing to put your health into the hands of someone who only charges $30 an hour as a freelance professional to travel to your home, something is really fishy with that professional.
Even a massage costs 2-5 times that. Psychotherapists charge 3-6 times that amount and people see them regularly. $30 an hour doesn’t even pay for day-use office space in Austin among the other costs of being in business. A small business must pay double taxes on their income as well. About 50% of my clients only need one session to get them on the right foot, but those who visit more frequently have the best results, especially for weight loss, disordered eating, and eating disorders.
Back on credentials.
Master’s degrees are not uniform from school to school or subject to subject. Sometimes other nutrition “professionals” just list a master’s degree after their name without saying what that degree is actually in. If you aren’t listing what it is in these days, you are hiding something. You should ask what their degree is in. What if your nutritionist has a master’s in, say, computer science? How does that relate to them being able to serve you? Why are they listing it after their name on their nutrition services website? What if their undergraduate was architecture?
One of the perks of being a credentialed healthcare provider through various health insurance companies is that it is a badge that the provider’s education is legitimate. Insurance companies verify you actually have what you say you have. It is a lengthy 3-4 month process for most private insurance except Medicare, which credentials faster within a month.
There are some in the fitness and nutrition field that say they have degrees when they do not. No one is verifying their information. This is a problem, so you SHOULD ask. Anyone can practice fitness or nutrition counseling in Texas. That’s the law. They aren’t breaking any laws. They just cannot call themselves a “licensed dietitian” or a “registered dietitian.” Anyone can use the term “nutritionist.” Registered dietitians can also call themselves “registered dietitian nutritionists,” which is also a protected term and credential.
Most personal trainers lack a kinesiology (or exercise science) degree. Other fields require formal education before certification. Personal training is backwards–they don’t even care if you have a degree when hiring at most gyms. In fact, a degree is worth the same as a kettlebell or group exercise certification at most businesses that hire personal trainers in terms of pay rate increases. This is utterly ridiculous, but it is true.
Now, let’s talk about this emerging field called “functional and integrative medicine.” First, I am not trashing all practitioners of this field. There are some people who know what they are doing. Then there are the hippies who skipped and spurned all traditional education and now think they can practice at the same level as those of us with professional education.
It is one thing to go into functional and integrative (ie a new term for alternative, or non-evidence based) practice as a healthcare professional who has traditional credentials but also tries alternative therapies, and it is another thing to go into it with no professional education at all in the traditional sense and just do alternative therapies because you told yourself you are a badass.
It is another thing to go into the field, proclaim being at the same level, and have no academic background in the subject at all. This is what a charlatan or quack is. A charlatan uses marketing, emotions, and bells and whistles to appeal to those who believe that a traditionalist must not know anything at all. I’m sorry if you had a bad experience with a traditionalist. Sometimes even good practitioners are not on their game with 100% of their clients or patients all the time. Maybe getting second opinions is what you need rather than one and blame the whole profession.
Is there more to practicing nutrition than knowing science? Absolutely. Good practitioners need to know how to ask the right questions, assess clients’ readiness to change, explore motivations, have good people and business skills, etc. There is a lot of stuff going into the practice of nutrition than there is just pure science knowledge. However, to consider all practitioners at the same level in spite of those of us who took the extra effort to actually know our field forward and backward before practicing is myopic!
Not many people get formal education in both nutrition and kinesiology and have a unique perspective of how they interact with experience in both fields.
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