As promised, here is the first post in a series all about becoming a Registered Dietitian. My experience will, no doubt, be different from most as I started at university with the intent to go to law school – nutrition, at age 17, wasn’t on my mind at all. Since graduating college, I’ve met three high school age students (in my area, no less!) that are interested in dietetics. It is definitely a growing and very competitive field so grades and work/volunteer experiences are very important.
But before we can talk about coursework, let’s start with learning the difference between a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and a Nutritionist – because believe it or not, there’s a huge difference.
What (or who) is a Registered Dietitian?
To clear up any confusion, a Registered Dietitian (RD) and a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN) are the same thing. The Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics recently added “Nutritionist (the ‘N’)” to the end of the RD because often times, the average person has no idea what a “dietitian” does (or is for) but they understand what the word ‘nutrition’ means so the ‘nutritionist’ term helps to define the practice. So, a Registered Dietitian is a Nutritionist.
With that said, a Nutritionist is not always a Registered Dietitian and those that have earned the RD/RDN credential will be sure to emphasize that s/he is a RD/RDN. And if you decide you want some extra help in the diet department (and you don’t go through your doctor), make sure the person you decide to see has the RD/RDN credential.
So… what can Dietitians do (that nutritionists can’t)?
It turns out, a whole lot. Nutritionists and personal trainers (PTs), while they may have some knowledge of nutrition, can (and should) only provide basic, generalized information – “you should eat vegetables instead of chips,” or “here are foods high in protein…” Nutritionists (and PTs) cannot (in most states), and should not, prescribe individualized meal plans or dispense medical advice (like taking a specific supplement/vitamin, for example). This is best left to RDs and/or a physician. RDs can also do much more than prescribe meal plans: they can help manage disease and allergies, they can help with weight loss/gain (or maintenance), and they are often specialized in specific care (renal, pediatric, oncology, sports, etc).
I hope Part 1 was helpful for those interested in becoming a Registered Dietitian or seeing one and you’ve learned a lot so far. In order to keep you from getting bored, I’ll discuss my coursework, my dietetic internship, and my exam experience in later posts.