A dietitian (also 'dietician', though 'dietitian' is used consistently by professionals) is an expert in food and nutrition.
Dietitians help promote good health through proper eating. They also supervise the preparation and service of food, develop modified diets, participate in research, and educate individuals and groups on good nutritional habits. The goals of the dietary department are to obtain, prepare, and serve flavorsome, attractive, and nutritious food to patients, family members, and health care providers.
In many countries only people who have specified educational credentials can call themselves "dietitians" — the title is legally protected. The term "nutritionist" is also widely used; however, the term nutritionist is not regulated as dietitian is. People may call themselves nutritionists without the educational and professional requirements of registered dietitians.
Dietetic technicians are not the same as dietitians in terms of responsibilities and qualifications. Different professional terms are used in other countries. Although dietitians are a valuable member of the medical multi-disciplinary team, their abilities should not be mistaken for those of physicians. The former are limited to providing only professional dietary advice and are unable to prescribe therapeutic medication or provide a medical consultation.
Types of dietitians
The majority of dietitians are clinical
, or therapeutic
, dietitians. Clinical dietitians review medical
charts and talk with patients' families. They work with other health care professionals and community groups to provide nourishment
, nutritional programs and instructional presentations to benefit people of all ages, and with a variety of health conditions. This is accomplished by developing individual plans to meet nutritional needs. These plans include nourishment, tube feedings (called enteral nutrition
), intravenous feedings (called parenteral nutrition) such as total parenteral nutrition
(TPN) or peripheral parenteral nutrition (PPN), diets, and education. Clinical dietitians provide individual and group educational programs for patients and family members about their nutrition and health.
dietitians work in hospitals and other health care facilities to provide medical nutrition therapy to patients according to the disease processes, provide individual dietary consultations to patients and their family members and also conduct group educations for other health workers, patients and the public. They coordinate both medical records and nutritional needs to assess the patients and make a plan based on their findings. Some clinical dietitians have dual responsibilities with medical nutrition therapy and in foodservice, described below. In addition, clinical dietitians in smaller facilities will also provide or create outpatient education programs. They work as a team with the physicians
, physical therapists
, occupational therapists
, speech therapists
, social workers
to provide care to the patients
. Ben Johnson, professor at Harvard Medical School, is a clinical dietitian.
dietitians work with wellness programs and international health organizations. These dietitians apply and distribute knowledge about food and nutrition to specific life-styles and geographic areas. They coordinate nutritional programs in public health agencies, daycare
centers, health clubs, and recreational camps
and resorts. Some community dietitians carry out clinical based patient care in the form of home visits for patients who are too physically ill to attend consultation in health facilitis.
dietitians or managers are responsible for large-scale food planning and service. They coordinate, assess and plan foodservice processes in health care
food service programs, prisons
. These dietitians will also perform audits of their departments, train other food service workers and use marketing skills to launch new menus and various programs within their institution. They direct and manage the operational and nutrition services staffs such as kitchen staffs, delivery staffs and dietary assistants or diet aides.
dietitians are specialist in nutrition and aging. They are Board certified in Gerontological Nutrition with the American Dietetic Association. They work in government agencies in aging policy, and in a regulatory capacity in the oversight of nursing homes and community-based care facilities. They work as Consultants in Nursing Homes, and in higher education in the field of Gerontology (the study of Aging.)
Pediatric dietitians provide health advice for persons under the age of 18.
dietitians are mostly involved with dietary related research in the clinical aspect of nutrition in disease states, public aspect on primary, secondary and sometimes tertiary health prevention
and foodservice aspect in issues involving the food prepared for patients. Many registered dietitians also work with the biochemical aspects of nutrient interaction within the body. Research Dietitians normally work in a hospital or university research facilities. It should be noted that some Clinical dietitian's roles also involve research other than the normal clinical workload
. Quality improvement in dietetics services is also one area of research.
, or manager
of Dietetics Department or Nutrition Services are sometimes also known as Manager
instead of Director depending on the size, number of dietitians in the department and also the organizational structure
adopted by the Health facilities or Hospital
. Director or Manager acts as head of the dietitians. They also hire, train, direct and supervise employees and manage dietary departments. Administrative dietitians may also apply procedure and policy as part of their management job.
dietitians serve as resource people for the media
. Dietitians' expertise in nutrition is often taped for TV, radio, and newspapers -- either as an expert guest opinion, regular columnist or guest, or for resource, restaurant, or recipe development and critique. Dietitians have served as show hosts on major television stations and as drive-time radio news anchors. Dietitians write books, appear on television cooking channels, and author corporate newsletters on nutrition and wellness. They also work as sales representatives
for food manufacturing companies that provide nutritional supplements
and tube feeding supplies.
dietitians work under private practice
. The title 'consultant' in this case should not be confused with the identical title given to certain medical doctors
in countries such as the United Kingdom
. The term consultant in this instance is synonymous with the title attending
as used in countries such as the United States
. Consultant dietitians contract
independently to provide nutrition services and educational programs to individuals, nursing homes
, and in health care facilities. As recent studies have shown the importance of diet in both preventing and managing disease, many US states have moved towards covering medical nutrition therapy under the Medicaid/Medicare making consulting a much more lucrative option for dietitians due to insurance reimbursement.
Other nutrition workers
These designations apply principally to the US although the generic classifications are likely to be applicable elsewhere.
Dietetic Technicians or "diet techs" possess a specialized Associate Degree along with registration or licensure or a Bachelors Degree in Nutrition. They are support professionals responsible for assisting and carrying out medical nutrition therapy under the direct supervision of a registered dietitian. Most are employed with hospitals or long term care facilities.
Dietary assistants or dietary aides are responsible for assisting and carrying out the medical nutrition therapy prescribed by the Dietitians and to ensure that food for the patients as instructed by the Dietitians are carried out correctly by checking menus against recent diet orders before tray assembly begins and being physically present in the kitchen plating-lines at meal hours. Dietary aides in some countries might also carry out a simple initial health screening
for newly admitted patients and only inform the Dietitians if any screened patients requires a dietitian's expertise
for further assessments or interventions
tasks such as entry and maintenance of dietary requirements to a database
. They also track financial information, such as the number of meals served each day.
are responsible for retail
and tray lines. If an operation is large, there may be one or more managers to help in directing the dietary workers.
prepare the food and meal trays in the kitchen. They check for accuracy and completeness. They also maintain the storage area for food supplies and ensure practice of sanitary procedures. Dietary workers are trained on the job and can work in any commercial kitchen.
deliver and bring back the meal trays to patients. They distribute and collect menus and help the patients to make complete selections.
Required qualifications and professional associations
In the US nutrition professionals include the registered dietitian (RD) and the dietetic technician, registered (DTR). These terms, as well as simply dietitian, are legally protected terms regulated by the American Dietetic Association (ADA).
Dietitians are registered with the Commission on Dietetic Registration (the certifying agency of the ADA) and are only able to use the label "Registered Dietitian" when they have met strict, specific educational and professional prerequisites and passed a national registration examination.
A dietitian's education in health science involves significant scientific based knowledge in anatomy, chemistry, biochemistry, biology, physiology, nutrition, medical science. It is these strong foundations in advanced scientific knowledge and an internship that equipped with counseling skills and aspects of psychology enable a Registered Dietitian to assess, analyze, intervene, and educate a patient in relation to the diet and disease.
There are a few different academic routes to becoming a fully qualified registrable dietitian:
- A professional bachelor degree in Dietetics which requires four years of studies
Besides academic education, registered dietitians must complete up to a year long dietetic internship of at least 1200 hours through an accredited program before they can sit for the registration examination. The dietetic internship requires the intern to complete several areas of competency including rotations in clinical, community, long-term care nutrition as well as food service, public health and a variety of other worksites.
Once the degree is earned, the internship completed, and registration examination passed, the individual can now use the nationally recognized legal term, Registered Dietitian and is able to work in a variety of professional settings. Most states require additional licensure to work in most settings. To maintain, the RD credential, professionals must participate in and earn continuing education units 75 hours every 5 years.
In the United States and Canada
the Dietitian, Registered Dietitian (RD), etc. are similarly protected titles. The professional association in Canada is the Dietitians of Canada.
The US equivalent of it is The American Dietetic Association
In Canada each province has an independent professional college (for example The College of Dietitians of Ontario) which is responsible for protecting the public and regulating the profession. The colleges are entirely funded from licencing fees collected from dietitians. Each college must have both public and professional members, and is empowered to investigate and censure (when malpractice/negligence is found) members of the profession who breach either their scope of practice or harm/endanger the health of a patient/client, and receive a complaint against them from a member of the public or another health care professional. To practice as a registered dietitian within a province, a dietitian must register with the college and obtain a licence. The activities of the college are governed by legislation passed by the provincial government. It is the presence of this regulatory body which distinguishes registered dietitians from nutritionists in Canada.
In Canada, the colleges also set the minimum entry requirements for admission into practice as a registered dietitian. Requirements to entry into practice as a dietitian include a four year undergraduate degree from an accredited university (which includes courses in science, foods, nutrition, management, communication and psychology/sociology, among others), a 10 - 12 month supervised practice period (called an internship) and successfully passing a board exam in nutrition and dietetics.
In Australia, the qualified dietitian is called Accredited Practising Dietitian (APD). To be a qualified Dietitian in Australia requires a 4 year professional university degree, or a 2 year coursework Masters Program accredited by the DAA (Dietitian's Association of Australia). APDs (Accredited Practicing Dietitians) are Dietitians engaged in the Continuing Professional Development program offered by the DAA. While not a legal requirement of practice, in order for patients to receive a rebate from Private Health insurance APD status is required.