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  • Writer's pictureDanielle Stark

Registered Dietitian Nutritionist vs. Nutritionist — what’s the difference?

As a Registered Dietitian, I frequently get asked, what does it mean to be a Registered Dietitian (RD) / Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN)? Is it the same thing as a Nutritionist? It’s a great question.

I always start off by explaining, every Dietitian is a nutritionist, but not every nutritionist is a Dietitian. What does that mean? Technically, anyone can be a nutritionist. A nutritionist does not require a degree or a certification. While there are many nutritionists and health coaches who take health related seminars or participate in a program to become a nutritionist or health coach, there are no regulations or credentials required in calling yourself a nutritionist. This is not at all minimizing the work of nutritionist. There are many great nutritionists in the field! However it was personally always a goal of mine to receive my credentials and certification as a RDN in order to practice medical-based nutrition therapy and counseling to help individuals reach their health goals.

The terms Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN) and Registered Dietitian (RD) can be used interchangeably. A RDN or RD are food and nutrition experts who have completed extensive schooling in the sciences and internship experience in the field of nutrition.

To break it down:

  • First, you must earn your bachelors degrees and completed your DPD (Didactic Programs in Dietetics) courses from an accredited university.

  • Then, you must apply to a dietetic internship. This is a competitive matched based process but when you match - it is one of the greatest learning experiences!

  • Next, after completing 1,200 hours of supervised practice within your dietetic internship, you are eligible to sit for the RD exam.

  • Lastly, pass your RD exam!

  • Note: by the year 2024, you must also have your masters degree before applying for your dietetic internship.

This is a summarized story in telling the many hours and rigorous science based course work that is required to become a Registered Dietitian. The learning does not stop there. Registered Dietitians must also complete continuing professional education requirements to maintain their credentials. Many Dietitians also further specialize in areas of nutrition such as pediatrics, renal nutrition, sports nutrition, diabetes education, and the list goes on!

Personally, I completed my undergraduate degree at New York University, an accredited program where I was able to complete my DPD courses. From there, I was fortunate enough to match at Northwell Health, working in a quaternary hospital where I had rotations throughout the hospital, in food service settings, in community nutrition settings, and in outpatient settings. I had incredible mentors and learned first hand the important work that Dietitians perform in helping individuals meet their health goals through nutrition. After 1,200 hours of supervised practice, I was able to sit for my RD exam and passed :).

Becoming a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist was a long and difficult journey. Personally, I found it important to continue past my education onto receiving my credentials of RDN. I wanted to be part of a multidisciplinary team and have extensive knowledge on providing medical nutrition therapy and dietary advice to individuals throughout the lifespan with any therapeutic diet for any diseased state. I am proud to learn the science based approach that fuels the field of dietetics delving into the depths behind the foods we eat and the effect food has on our bodies. Fulfilling the credentials of becoming a RDN allowed me to successfully counsel individuals with a personalized nutrition approach that is backed by science and expertise. My clients motivate me and challenge me to become a better Dietitian and I look forward to continuing to learn and educate myself in the field further.

Throughout my journey of becoming a RDN, I had many amazing mentors who have guided me and continue to be great role models for me in the field of dietetics. If working with a Registered Dietitian is of interest to you, please reach out to me with any further questions or if you would like to chat! I’d love to hear from you :)


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