Saturday, April 26, 2014

Dietitian vs Nutritionist: What's the Difference?

With only two weeks of my last rotation left, I thought it was a good time to do a short post on the goal of why I embarked on completing a dietetic internship- becoming a registered dietitian. I hope to cover what dietetic internships are all about in another post, but I’ll dish a little about it now. A dietetic internship (unpaid) can range from 9 months to 2 years (if it is a coordinated masters with a dietetic internship). Interns are required to accumulate 1200 supervised/hands-on practice in community, food service management, clinical, and much much more.  Along with the working at rotation site, interns will have class, assignments, formal case studies, projects/papers with each rotation, and volunteering hours. Applying to internships can be a formidable process with the national average matching to an internship around 50%.  It can be costly too ranging from $5, 000 to $55,000 (combined 2 year programs), but very rewarding and valuable experience. The military route is another way to go with the Army dietetic internship at no cost and paying interns (4 years of active duty after=job)!

Some of the lovely interns and RDs-to-Be :) Easter Sunday, 2014

After completing the internship, interns can then sit for the registration exam and become a registered dietitian (RD) which can also be referred to as a registered dietitian nutritionist (RDN). But what is a RD/RDN and how is it different from a nutritionist? A dietitian can be a nutritionist, but a nutritionist necessarily isn’t a dietitian. Say what??  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve walked into a patient’s room or stood at booth and someone asked me if I was the nutritionist.  The difference between the two, dietitians have to meet a very specific standards in education (approved 4-year undergraduate program ), supervised practice (dietetic internship), and accreditation through a national registration. A nutritionist technically has to have...well, nothing. Technically they should taken a basic nutrition class such as the ones that are offered in most colleges/university, but then again someone can just call themselves nutritionists.

The nitty gritty to become a registered dietitian (RD/RDN) is a minimal of a bachelor’s degree in dietetics, nutrition or nutrition science that the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND) has approved.  AND is one of the largest organizations of food and nutrition professionals which oversees the official credential process in the U.S. After passing the exam, RD/RDN’s have continuing education requirements to keep up to date with the latest science-based nutrition information and research.

The title of nutritionist is not a nationally-recognized credential. The definition and requirements for using the term nutritionist can vary from each state. There is also no regulating board for nutritionists which basically boils down to that anyone can classify themselves as nutritionists. Now don’t get me wrong, there are nutritionists that are well-versed, well-education in nutrition. They might have obtained a 4-year degree in nutrition or taken a nutrition certification program.  I recommend though when someone is referring to themselves as nutritionist and charging $$, ask about their specific education and training! Especially if there is wording of CLEAN, RAW, NATURAL....that might just be a hook to get you in and out with less money.

The question should be: Who doesn't carry peppers in their purse at a park?

Ok, ok….so I know I might be a bit biased since I have started my journey of becoming a dietitian about 6 years ago and in a dietetic internship now. Still, my passion in nutrition has grown though out this process, and I get more and more excited to soon add RD to the end of my name.

So, do you want someone who might be knowable in nutrition and/or think they are knowledgeable? OR do you want an expert? I can’t wait to join the ranks of the nutrition experts!

More Information:

Edie, M.S. RD-to-Be

P.S- Hope you enjoy the dog pic of the week.