I get called a lot of things in my profession: “dietary,” “nutritionist,” “diet lady,” and occasionally, on a good day, “dietitian.” Here is what I am: a registered dietitian nutritionist (RDN). I am often asked the difference between a nutritionist and a dietitian. I thought it might be useful to provide the answer to that question here.
Let me begin by saying there is no standard definition for a nutritionist. In theory, one can simply take a two-hour online course, print out a certificate and stamp ‘nutritionist’ on a business card.*
In order to become an RDN, I obtained a Master’s Degree in the Science of Nutrition from Bastyr University. Next, I procured a highly competitive (unpaid) nine-month internship at a hospital where I was exposed to a variety of environments, facilities, and professions within the field of food service, community nutrition, and outpatient/acute patient care (“clinical nutrition”). Finally, I passed a national registering exam. Colorado does not certify or license RDNs for a host of political reasons, but in some states certification is also required.
Those other things people call me, they could mean anything, but I put in a lot of time, money, blood, sweat, and tears into becoming an RDN, so I feel extra invested in my title of Dietitian. Unfortunately, there are a lot of misconceptions when it comes to my role — ones that lead to some resistance when I encourage patients to call to make an appointment with me.
I’d love to dispel some of those misconceptions here. RDNs play many roles within their communities: they work in government nutrition agencies, teach in a wide range of environments, conduct research, create school lunch menus, provide nutrition counseling, develop corporate health and wellness programs, work with farm to school programs, consult with a variety of organizations, feed patients via their veins or via tubes, run kitchens, and teach in classrooms.
My goal as an RDN is to provide the tools people need to thrive. I am lucky enough to do that in the outpatient setting for patients diagnosed with cancer undergoing treatment at Swedish. As an Integrative and Functional nutrition aficionado I get to talk about food, in addition to evaluating environmental exposures, sleep and stress. There is so much I can offer clients, and most importantly, I offer patient-centered recommendations based on each unique individual.
I think RDNs have an important role to play in our society and so I jumped through the necessary hoops in order to get those three consonants behind my name. I am dietitian. Hear me roar!
*This is not to say there are not highly qualified and exceptionally savvy nutritionists out there — becoming an RDN is not only rigorous, but it is highly bureaucratic, expensive and time-consuming. There are many routes to becoming a passionate, educated nutrition professional
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