Registered Dietitian vs. A Nutritionist
I’ve often been referred to as “Natalie the Nutritionist”, so it’s only fitting that my first blog post describe the difference between a “Nutritionist” and a “Registered Dietitian”. When I tell people that I am studying Nutrition, they often say, “Oh, so you will be a Nutritionist!” I correct them and say I will eventually be a Registered Dietitian (RD). Usually, they are unfamiliar with that job title.
My hope is to educate my readers on the difference between a Nutritionist and a Registered Dietitian so you are fully equipped to know what is a reliable nutrition source. First off, anyone can be a Nutritionist. One does not need any schooling or experience to be titled a Nutritionist. I cannot call myself a Registered Dietitian until I go through a Dietetic Internship and sit for a licensing exam. Registered Dietitians are food and nutrition experts that are certified by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. In order to become an RD, one must complete a bachelor’s degree, complete a supervised practice program (Dietetic Internship) for 6-12 months, pass a national RD exam, and complete continuing professional education requirements to maintain licensure.
In order to be eligible to apply for a Dietetic Internship, a student must complete the DPD (Didactic Program in Dietetics) courses. These include Basic Chem, Organic Chem, Biochemistry, Anatomy & Physiology I and II, Microbiology, Food Science, Food Service Management, Advanced Nutrition I and II, Medical Nutrition Therapy I and II, Statistics, a Communications Course, an English course, a Research course, Community Nutrition, and Life Cycle Nutrition. Taking those courses (and possibly a few more depending on the school), allows a student to apply for a Dietetic Internship. A Masters degree in Nutrition is not necessary to apply, but it makes a student more competitive as an applicant. While in school, students are also encouraged to volunteer or intern in the Nutrition field to strengthen their resume and increase their chances of being matched to an internship. Sadly, only 50% of applicants are accepted into Dietetic Internship programs, and one cannot take the exam to become an RD without completing the Dietetic Internship (DI). Consequently, being accepted into a DI program is critical for a Nutrition student’s future.
Once accepted into a Dietetic Internship, an Intern completes different rotations in various Nutrition fields to gain practical experience. The DI is anywhere from 6-12 months and includes a clinical rotation (in a hospital or healthcare setting), a community rotation (some sort of Public Health organization), and a food service management rotation (like the cafeteria of a hospital or school). Some DI’s also have an elective rotation, where the intern can work a few weeks in their field of interest. After an intern completes all these rotations, they are eligible to sit for the exam to become a Registered Dietitian. Lastly, once a person passes the Registered Dietitian exam, they must complete 75 hours of approved continuing professional education credits every 5 years to maintain registration status. Since Nutrition is an ever changing field, these education credits ensure that RDs are up to date on new and emerging Dietetic topics.
Whew! That seems like a lot of work, right? Now my friends and family will understand why I’ve been in school for SO long! The main takeaway, though, is that Nutrition information is more reliable and trustworthy if it comes from someone with an Masters of Science (MS), an RD, or an RDN*. Always check the author when reading about Nutrition; if the article is written by a “Nutritionist”, be weary of the source. If the author of the article has MS (Masters of Science) and/or RD (Registered Dietitian) after their name, you can rest assured that they went through a great deal of schooling and practice to be able to give out reliable information. For now, I am just a Nutritionist, but I will be Natalie Rizzo, MS in 1.5 months and Natalie Rizzo, MS, RD in 1.5 years, so you can trust the information on this site!
*RDN is a new title that the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics recently added for RDs. A person can choose to be an called an RD (Registered Dietitian) or RDN (Registered Dietitian Nutritionist). It is the same exact thing, but different titles.