By Jacy Dale
While all dietitians are nutritionists, not all nutritionists are dietitians. The best way to tell the difference is to have a better understanding of what a registered dietitian (RD) is and the process involved in earning that credential.
Registered dietictians are required to complete specialized coursework to ensure they are adequately trained to work with all types of patients' nutritional needs. They have a minimum of a bachelor's degree with extensive education in nutrition and have completed a 1,200-hour supervised practice internship.
To obtain the RD credential, they also have passed a standardized national exam administered by the Commission on Dietetic Registration. They are held accountable to continuing professional education requirements, which ensures that they are knowledgeable about the most current, evidenced-based practices in nutrition. Many RDs go on to pursue more advanced degrees, such as a Master of Public Health or a Master in Nutrition.
According to the American Dietetic Association, about half of all RDs hold advanced degrees. In South Carolina, all RDs are also required to obtain licensure from the state.
The term "registered dietitian" is a legally protected term, while the title of "nutritionist" can be used by anyone who considers him- or herself knowledgeable about nutrition. A variety of other nutrition credentialing agencies exist, but the scope of training and measure of knowledge and skills offered by these agencies or programs varies greatly. The intentions of these programs are likely to help others learn to improve health and wellness of clients; however, the programs and requirements to obtain these certifications or credentials issued are not regulated. A candidate's background in nutrition can vary from agency to agency. In some cases, the programs may not require any supervised
Currently, MUSC is conducting research to determine what types of credentialing agencies exist where people can obtain various nutrition certifications. The goal of this research is to ensure that RDs are familiar with other non-RD nutrition training and credentialing programs and can encourage the pubic to seek the highest standard of care.
The issue of dietitian vs. nutritionist is also prevalent in countries outside the U.S. For example, RDs, professional dietitian and dietitian are all legally protected terms in Canada, while "nutritionist" is only legally protected in certain provinces.
Both RDs and non-RDs may call themselves nutritionists, because they specialize in nutrition, and the population can identify with that title. However, RDs, commonly referred to as dietitians, work in the treatment and prevention of disease, providing medical nutrition therapy, (a reimbursable service in some conditions). The RD credential surpasses all other "nutritionist" credentials in terms of the rigor in educational requirements, testing of knowledge and skills, and ongoing professional development.
The RD is prepared in evidence-based clinical, community, research, wellness, and food service systems. For these reasons and others, JCAHO-accredited institutions, state health departments, school districts, dialysis companies and other healthcare agencies only hire registered dietitians.
At MUSC, the dietitians and dietetic interns (in brown scrubs) work in inpatient settings as well as in outpatient settings in many of MUSC's clinics. Others are employed through outside programs such as the MUSC Lean Team. To find out more about RDs at MUSC, visit http://www.muschealth.com/nutrition.