The other day I was asked, “What’s the difference between a nutritionist and a dietitian?” I think current and future registered dietitian nutritionists can agree that this is a common question. It is helpful to know and explain the difference clearly.
It may be helpful to begin the conversation with a few questions:
- If you need blood drawn and tested, who would you go to?
- If you broke a bone, who would you want to look at your X-rays?
- If you were having a baby, who would you want to deliver the little one?
- If you had a toothache, who would you see for help?
Chances are, they would say a doctor, a radiologist, an OBGYN and a dentist. It is unlikely that a patient would seek help from someone without extensive training.
This lends well to the conversation concerning the difference between an RDN and a nutritionist. An RDN has a degree, has completed an internship, passed an accreditation exam and must maintain continuing education credits in addition to their work experience. A nutritionist has not completed all of those qualifications. As an RDN-to-be, we have gone through some of the education and experience that an RDN has but not all, which qualifies us as nutritionists.
If you are an aspiring RDN, remind those who ask you that, just like the medical student or intern, are a nutrition student or intern. You can tell them what you’ve learned in your classes concerning overall wellness, but if they are seeking medical nutrition therapy, be sure to refer them to a registered dietitian nutritionist.