Answer: This is the most common question I got through school, internship and as a dietitian. I’ve gotten it from family, new friends and even on dates.
According to Wikipedia, the simple answer to this question is “an expert on diet and nutrition.” While yes, that is true, there is a lot more to being a dietitian than just knowing about food. One of the coolest parts of being a dietitian is that there are SO MANY things you can do.
One of the most common roles for a dietitian is to work in a hospital or other clinical setting. Those clinical dietitians work in assessing the nutritional status of patients when they are admitted into the hospital, help with diet educations for new or old disease states, and make recommendations for nutrition support including tube feeding (enteral) or IV feeding (parenteral).
Another role for a dietitian is to work in an outpatient or private practice setting, like me! We provide nutrition counseling, which basically means we make suggestions to help you reach your nutrition goals, and come up with strategies to help you make it a reality! One of my favorite parts of being a private practice dietitian is that I wear SO many different hats. In addition to seeing patients, I coordinate social media for the practice, blog, oversee the billing practices of our offices, and serve as comedic relief on occasion.
Some dietitians work with athletes, serve as consultants for food companies, have their own cooking shows, blog professional, do research, work in public policy and so much more! The possibilities are endless.
“What is a difference between a dietitian and nutritionist?”
This is probably the second most common question that I get after I explain what a dietitian is. I often hear the words “Oh! Isn’t that basically like a nutritionist?” No. It isn’t. The main reason why is that dietitians are actually licensed, when most nutritionists are not. In certain states, the state of Maryland being one of them, the term nutritionist is a protected term, which means that people without valid credentials (such as RD or CNS) can not call themselves a nutritionist. To become a dietitian or a certified nutrition specialist takes schooling and is contingent on passing an exam, so it is important to look for a professional who is credentialed when looking for someone to provide nutrition advice.
“How do you become a dietitian?”
Becoming a dietitian starts with completing required coursework in a Didactic Program in Dietetics (DPD) that is certified by the Accreditation Council for Education in Nutrition and Dietetics (ACEND). This can be done through undergraduate or graduate level coursework. To find a list of accredited programs, click here.
Once you have graduated/ completed your DPD coursework, students generally apply to a dietetic internship program. Applications are accepted twice a year, for Fall Match and the more popular Spring Match. Students submit their application through DICAS, and then find out on a preset day if they matched to a dietetic internship. Unfortunately, the national ranking average is less than 50%. However, don’t fret! There are plenty of great resources to help you get matched. I personally used All-Access Internships when I applied, and I am so glad that I did. They were so helpful and supportive during the matching process. And I honestly recommend them to everyone I meet who is talking about applying. A dietetic internship lasts anywhere between 6 months to 2 years (if you are doing a combined internship and Master’s program). An average programs lasts between 9-12 months.
After finishing internship, there is one teeny, tiny little exam to pass. Then, you are all set! Again, there are a lot of great resources out there to help you with your studying, I personally used Jean Inman review for my studying needs.
“What can a dietitian do for me?”
A dietitian can do a lot for you! From the more obvious things like providing diet recommendations based on your specific needs, to providing accountability and support in making lifestyle changes. We can give you specific product recommendations to try, or help you come up with ideas when you are struggling to get dinner on the table.
Whatever you need, one of our dietitians is here to help! Check out some of the Frequently Asked Questions we get about coming in to see a dietitian. Click here to schedule an appointment, or call 301-474-2499.
Whether you are a novice in the kitchen, or a seasoned chef, Dietitian Klara will work with you to help you reach your nutrition goals. Co-author of Nourished: 10 Ingredients to Happy, Healthy Eating, Cooking with Diabetes and Cooking with Food Sensitivities Guide.