Are you are a registered dietitian nutritionist who practices in a clinical setting and is interested in furthering your knowledge and career? I highly recommend earning Certified Nutrition Support Clinician status through the CNSC exam, which proves a minimum level of knowledge for clinicians practicing nutrition support. The exam is not normally required to be a practicing clinical dietitian, but a certification shows that a dietitian has gained additional knowledge in nutrition support.
When I finished my dietetic internship I was hired at a small hospital in my hometown. As I started feeling more comfortable as a dietitian, I learned I still had some reservations about nutrition support. I wasn’t completely comfortable leaving recommendations, especially in the critical care unit. My manager at the time suggested I think about taking the CNSC exam once I had at least one year of clinical experience under my belt. I wasn’t totally convinced at first, but studying for the exam was one of the best decisions I’ve made during my clinical career. Not only do I feel more confident in my recommendations, but I gained more knowledge in many other areas of nutrition that I hadn’t necessarily concentrated on during my nutrition courses in college.
The National Board of Nutrition Support Certification provides the CNSC exam content, which consists of a nutrition assessment component (19 percent of the exam); therapeutic plan of care (32 percent); initiation, monitoring and clinical management (32 percent); management of outcomes (8 percent) and a professional practice component (9 percent). The Candidate Handbook for the exam can be found on the NBNSC website, where detailed information on each exam component can be found.
Talk to your employer about whether they will pay for the CNSC through an education reimbursement program. Or, perhaps, by making the case for how obtaining a CNSC credential will benefit your work as a clinical practitioner.
When you first encounter the material, the CNSC exam can seem daunting, so give yourself ample time to prepare. For my first time taking this exam, I gave myself four months to prepare, studying for about one hour a day, though not always on weekends.
Also, be aware that the exam must be retaken every five years to ensure a level of knowledge and to encourage clinicians to stay up to date.
5 Essential Resources for the CNSC Exam
By becoming a member of the American Society for Parenteral and Enteral Nutrition you gain access to many resources for studying for the CNSC exam at a discounted price. You will also have access to Nutrition in Clinical Practice and the Journal of Parenteral and Enteral Nutrition, both of which are great ways to stay current on nutrition research.
- The A.S.P.E.N. Adult Nutrition Support Core Curriculum, 2nd Edition
This resource is a great tool to use in studying – honestly, the first time I took the exam I read this cover-to-cover and took so many notes my college self would have been impressed. This book covers the basics in nutrition all the way through to specific disease states, implementation and management of nutrition support. Each chapter also provides questions and case studies to help you understand the material.
- The Nutrition Support Fundamentals and Review Course
This resource is for a review of nutrition support basics. I’m using it now to refresh my knowledge in preparation for my recertification.
- A.S.P.E.N. Self-Assessment Program
This is an online module with test questions to assess your level of knowledge. This is a great resource for determining where to focus your studying. The test questions provide you with the correct answers to help maximize your studying.
- Clinician’s Compendium
This is another resource that’s useful if you need further review of nutrition support, and it includes sample test questions. The Clinician’s Compendium is free to A.S.P.E.N. members.
Here are a few other details to know before you sign up to take the CNSC exam. It is offered twice a year for a two-week period in April and September/October. It is administered at a testing site, similar to how many of us took the Registration Examination for Dietitians, but may take you longer to complete.