Medical Doctors (MD or DO) Eligibility Requirements

There are three eligibility requirements to earn the CNS: Education, Practice Experience, and Examination.


All candidates must meet the following degree and coursework requirements:

Degree Requirement
  • All candidates must hold an MD or DO degree from a regionally accredited medical or osteopathy school or foreign equivalent; and
  • All candidates must hold a current licensure to practice medicine in the US (or in the country of practice).
Coursework Requirement
  • Coursework must be from a regionally accredited* institution; credits are semester credit hours (please convert to semester credit hours if they are not).
  • Coursework should be balanced to provide the foundational knowledge for the development of core competencies required for the practice of effective personalized nutrition** as indicated by the CNS Examination Content Outline.

*Regionally accredited means an institution that was accredited, at the time the degree was awarded, by a regional accreditation body in the United States which is recognized by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation and the United States Department of Education. Degrees from institutions outside the U.S. must be from that country’s equivalent of a regionally accredited U.S. institution.

**Personalized nutrition is an interdisciplinary field that draws upon a broad range of sciences to advance human health. It considers the unique makeup of individuals and specifically identified sub-groupings of people with similar characteristics, and encompasses a person-centered approach to nutrition science evidence, education, and clinical care.

Coursework must include a minimum of 35 credits the following 5 categories:

1. Graduate Nutrition Science Courses – Twelve (12) semester credit hours* or 180 Continuing Education (CE) credits:
  • Foundational Nutrition: 4 semester credit hours or 60 CE
  • Advanced Nutrition: 8 semester credit hours or 120 CE
2. Graduate or undergraduate Biochemistry Courses – Six (6) semester credit hours

Examples may include but are not limited to:

  • Biochemistry of Nutrition
  • Clinical Biochemistry
  • Medical Biochemistry
3. Graduate or undergraduate Physiology or Anatomy/Physiology – Three (3) semester credit hours

Examples may include but are not limited to:

  • Anatomy and Physiology I, II
  • Anatomy
  • Medical Physiology
  • Physiology
  • Health and Wellness Physiology I
4. Graduate or undergraduate Clinical or Life Sciences – Twelve (12) semester credit hours

May be prerequisites for the above courses and include, but are not limited to:

  • Biology
  • Botany
  • Micro-Biology
  • Nutrition Science
  • Organic/Inorganic Chemistry
5. Graduate or Undergraduate Behavioral Science  - Three (3) semester credit hours

Examples include but are not limited to:

  • Motivational Interviewing
  • Psychology
  • Self-Care
  • Sociology

Eligible Courses

Practice Experience

In order to be approved to sit for the Certification Examination for Nutrition Specialists application, the experience requirement must be completed after academic requirements have been met or while they are in progress. This consists of demonstrated practice in clinical nutrition, as defined by the following: 

Each candidate must complete 1,000 hours of clinical nutrition practice experience with hours distributed as follows:

Experience may be obtained through:

The CNS Practice Experience must be completed and approved before applying to sit for the Certification Examination for Nutrition Specialists℠.

MD and DO candidates are also required to complete one Personalized Nutrition (PN) Case Data Collection for a case occurring within the past 5 years. 

Certification Examination

Applicants are required to pass the Certification Examination for Nutrition Specialists℠ to demonstrate that their education, experience, and training have resulted in a mastery of the knowledge and skills required of the Certified Nutrition Specialist®.

The examination is offered two times per year, typically in the spring and fall. Unsuccessful candidates may re-take the examination.  

The examination contains 200 multiple-choice, single answer questions, and covers the broad spectrum of basic and applied nutritional science, based on an explicit set of competencies outlined in the Examination Content Outline. Competencies are determined by a job analysis study conducted on practitioners.

Candidates must complete the Exam Application for MD and DO and upload to their portal along with supporting documentation.

  • Motivational Interviewing
  • Psychology
  • Motivational Counseling
  • Principles and Practices of Health Behavior and Self-Care
  • Foundations of Health Behavior and Health Education
    • Nutrition assessment (minimum 200 hours)
    • Nutrition intervention, education, counseling, or management (minimum 200 hours)
    • Nutrition monitoring or evaluation (minimum 200 hours)
    • Remaining hours may be in any of the above categories
    • Residency or fellowship in clinical nutrition or part of training in a related subspecialty that incorporates nutrition. Examples may include gastroenterology, endocrinology, critical care, nephrology, cardiology, etc. and/or
    • Clinical practice