Over the years, there has been a lot of confusion surrounding the profession of dietetics. We get a lot questions, such as, “don’t dietitians just write menus at hospitals?” or, “is there any difference between a dietitian and a nutritionist?”
For years, dietitians have been trying to separate themselves from nutritionists, mostly in terms of the level of education required. In years past, just about anyone who wanted to call himself or herself a nutritionist could do so, as there was never any governance concerning this term. Registered dietitians complete a four-year undergraduate degree and an extensive internship, and must pass a national exam, not to mention completing 75 hours of continuing education every five years to maintain their title.
So, what has changed?
In March, 2013, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, the professional organization for dietitians, added the option of using the title “registered dietitian nutritionist” (RDN) by registered dietitians (RD). In many states—Illinois included—the term “nutritionist” has been listed on the licensure provided by the Department of Professional Regulations, with registered dietitians obtaining the majority of this licensure. The option of offering Registered Dietitian Nutritionist as a credential was established to further enhance the RD brand and to more accurately reflect who registered dietitians are and what they do. Dietitians are the experts in nutrition, so adding the term “nutritionist” to the title is consistent with a lot of the work that dietitians do.
The broader concept of wellness, including the prevention of health conditions through proper nutrition, as well as the treatment of diseases using medical nutrition therapy, can only be done by registered dietitian nutritionists. This differentiates the rigorous credential requirements and highlights the major difference between the two titles.
So, remember: all registered dietitians are nutritionists, but not all nutritionists are registered dietitians.
Written by Gayle Jennings, MS, RDN, LDN, Lead Clinical Dietitian at Memorial Medical Center