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Dietitians provide nutrition information

Stop by Health 1st’s Wellness Wednesday table in the Children’s Hospital lobby between 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. March 12 to to get your nutrition questions answered by MUSC’s dietetic interns.

by Amanda Behring
MUSC Dietetic Intern
Registered dietitians (RD) are defined by the American Dietetic Association as being food and nutrition experts who possess the expertise, training and credentials that are vital for providing accurate nutrition information. The term nutritionist is not professionally defined, which allows anyone to be identified by that title. A nutritionist, however, is commonly defined as a person who advises people on dietary matters relating to health and wellness.
Dietitians must meet very specific criteria to earn the RD credential, beginning with the completion of a minimum of a bachelor’s degree at an accredited university or college with course work approved by the Commission on Accreditation for Dietetics Education (CADE) of the American Dietetic Association. Undergraduate programs include a variety of subjects, ranging from food and nutrition sciences, food-service systems management, business, economics, computer science, culinary arts, psychology and communication to science courses such as biochemistry, physiology, microbiology, anatomy, and even organic chemistry with lab requirements.
Upon graduation, one must complete a CADE-accredited supervised program or internship involving extensive practice in the field of nutrition that typically runs six to 12 months. MUSC offers one of the more than 250 accredited internship programs in the country by taking eight interns per year via a formal matching process, much like that performed for medical residency placement. The matching process is extremely competitive. MUSC has historically received more than 80 applications per year vying for these spots. Only after this requirement is completed can the intern qualify to sit for the national registered dietitian examination. In fact, MUSC’s intern graduates have greater than a 95 percent first-time pass rate for this exam. Once this credential is obtained, one must continue to earn professional educational credits to maintain registration.
Some RDs also hold additional certifications in specialized areas of practice. These certifications may include pediatric or renal nutrition, nutrition support and diabetes education. Often RDs eventually go on to earn a master’s degree or a PhD. Most of MUSC’s RDs have these additional certifications and/or advanced degrees. Furthermore, our dietitians provide lectures to medical students, present at national meetings, conduct their own research, author peer-reviewed papers and book chapters, and more.
This extensive and specialized training allows an RD to work in a wide variety of employment settings. These may include, but are not limited to, health care, business and industry, community and public health, education, research, government agencies and private practice.
So, if dietitians are the “food and nutrition experts,” what exactly is a nutritionist and what qualifications must he or she  fulfill? There is no legal definition for the term nutritionist and no minimum qualification. Self-identified nutritionists may have varying levels of education and have not received the same specialized, formally accredited education and training as an RD.
Until the term dietitian is more universally understood, dietitians may refer to themselves as nutritionists. Dietitians often are referred to as nutritionists because the public is more likely to understand and recognize the term. Nonetheless, the credential to look for is the RD when seeking nutritional advice. So when you need food and nutrition information based on fact, or need to know how a healthy diet improves health and fights disease, rely upon qualified professionals in the field.
To obtain more information, make an appointment to meet with an MUSC dietitian by calling 876-0888.

Friday, March 7, 2008
Catalyst Online is published weekly, updated as needed and improved from time to time by the MUSC Office of Public Relations for the faculty, employees and students of the Medical University of South Carolina. Catalyst Online editor, Kim Draughn, can be reached at 792-4107 or by email, Editorial copy can be submitted to Catalyst Online and to The Catalyst in print by fax, 792-6723, or by email to To place an ad in The Catalyst hardcopy, call Island Publications at 849-1778, ext. 201.