What is a Registered Dietitian?

What is a registered dietitian (RD), is it the same thing as a nutritionist? Yes and no. 

An RD can call themselves a nutritionist - but the fact is, ANYONE can call themselves a nutritionist.

In order to become a dietitian, one must complete college level science courses, a supervised internship with rotations in hospital setting, pass a rigorous comprehensive examination, and maintain continuing education hours. 

[FYI - Although you can spell it dietician or dietitian, most RD’s prefer dietitian!]

A dietitian must complete formal studies
In my case, after studying Neuroscience at MIT I returned to school to take the prerequisite classes to enter an accredited graduate program. Most people who go back to school have to complete something called a Didactic Program in Dietetics (DPD) which is a set of classes required to become an RD (think of it like Pre-Med). Lucky for me, I had taken all of the science classes already, and was accepted into a combined program at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health where I received both a Masters Degree in Public Health Nutrition and also my RD after completing my internship at the hospital.

The internship is intense
I don’t want to underemphasize the difficulty of the internship and the courses that we went through to get our letters. Those were difficult months, making rotations through the Intensive Care Unit (ICU), surgical units, the neurology floors, learning about tube and intravenous feedings, working with newborns at WIC, counseling HIV/AIDS patients, counseling bariatric surgery patients. Of course the ‘schooling’ didn’t end there because to get the RD you also must study and pass a major exam (not to mention the 8 hour comprehensive exam for my Masters degree).

I don’t hate on anyone who calls him or herself a nutrition or health coach, because I think there is a place for that as well, but a registered dietitian:

  • has gone through years of schooling in anatomy and physiology, biology, chemistry, nutritional biochemistry, and food safety

  • has completed a supervised internship in hospital and public health settings

  • has passed a comprehensive examination by a certifying body

  • satisfied ongoing continuing education requirements to stay up-to-date

Because the RD term doesn’t include the word ‘nutrition’ there has been a movement (with success) to change the name, and now some people use the recognized term RDN (registered dietitian nutritionist). 

If you are looking for trustworthy evidence-based nutrition counseling please make sure that you find a Registered Dietitian. You can find more information at the Academy of Nutrition and Dietietics website at www.eatright.org