by Cheryl Weddle, RD/LD
Q: What is the difference between a dietitian and a nutritionist and what are the job opportunities in this profession?
A: Registered dietitians are food and nutrition experts who meet academic and professional requirements, including earning at least a bachelor’s degree from a nutritional program at an accredited college or university followed by a six month to one year intensive internship. To become a registered dietitian, a person must pass a national exam and complete continuing education requirements for recertification. Registered dietitians offer a wide array of professional knowledge and experience in a variety of settings from clinical to community and public policy to media communications.
When consulting with a registered dietitian, people can feel confident that the nutrition information they are receiving is accurate and credible. While the term nutritionist is used frequently, it is important to remember that many states do not have licensure regulations for this term, so anyone can call themselves a nutritionist without the appropriate qualifications.
The following are some career options available to dietitians:
1. Clinical Dietitian: A majority of dietitians work in the clinical setting as part of the medical team caring for patients. Work often involves assessing patient’s nutritional needs followed by developing specific diets for various health conditions.
2. Private Practice Dietitian: Dietitians in private practice typically work under contract, offering clients advice on diet-related concerns such as weight loss and cholesterol reduction. Some work for wellness programs, sports teams, supermarkets or other nutrition-based businesses. They may also serve as consultants with food service managers, providing expertise in sanitation, food safety, budgeting and planning.
3. Food Service Dietitians: Dietitians who work in food service oversee large-scale meal planning and preparation in health care facilities, company cafeterias, prisons and schools. This role often requires a business background as well, as managing budgets, equipment and supplies is also part of the job.
4. Food Industry Dietitian: Dietitians can also be involved as consultants to the food industry on food law, food safety, nutrition research, product development, marketing and public relations.
5. Community Dietitian: These dietitians work in settings such as public health clinics and home health agencies, developing nutritional care plans and instructing individuals and families. They often help with grocery shopping and food preparation for the elderly or people with special needs.
For nutritional counseling, Norman Regional Health System offers the guidance of registered dietitians. Those interested can schedule an appointment for an assessment with a referral from their family physician.