Nutritionist vs Dietician Career Differences

Are you interested in how people can live healthier, longer lives? Do you have a desire to work in the medical field but believe that prevention is better than medication, and that what people put in their bodies can have a huge impact in the quality of their lives? If so than a career as a dietician or a nutritionist may be right for you.

Both the field of registered dietitians and nutritionists are growing, but what is the difference? Both titles are used interchangeably, which contributes to the confusion. Is a dietitian also a nutritionist, and vice versa?

What Is A Dietitian?

A dietitian is someone who has completed a bachelor’s degree in nutrition or other related subjects, and has fulfilled the educational requirements that are approved by the nutrition and dietetics accreditation council. In order to call yourself a dietitian, you must be registered and certified to do so. If you are a dietitian, you may also refer to yourself as a nutritionist, but it doesn’t work the other way around. Here’s why:

What Is A Nutritionist?

This answer has a bit more flexibility. This is because the title “nutritionist” is not regulated as much as the title “dietitian.” For this reason, there are nutritionist’s who have not completed the education required to become a dietitian, but still consider themselves nutritionists.

There is a difference, however, when you are talking about someone who actually has credentials to call themselves a nutritionist. In this case, the person has completed coursework, often including an advanced degree (master’s or Ph.D.) in nutrition. In some cases, the individual is a registered nurse or even a doctor who has chosen to complete coursework to become a registered nutritionist.

Do They Do the Same Thing?

Again, this largely depends on whether the nutritionist is a Certified Nutrition Specialist (CNS). This is a protected role, and a person must have completed the proper education and take tests in order to call themselves a CNS. The certified nutrition specialist may work in hospitals, long-term care facilities, outpatient clinics or even have their own practice. The dietitian may also work in these settings.

Nutritionist Is Not A Protected Term

What does this mean? It means that a person can refer to themselves as a nutritionist without having the proper certification. The nutritionist may indeed be an educated individual who is knowledgeable in nutrition and diet, and how foods and supplements can help an individual lead a healthier lifestyle, but you won’t find this person working in a clinical setting. A nutritionist may work in a more holistic setting helping clients make better food choices.

What Do Dieticians And Nutritionists Do?

This is a field that allows you to help your clients and patients heal and prevent illness through diet and supplementation. You may work in an outpatient setting working with patients who are experiencing chronic health issues such as diabetes. You may work in a nursing home to help create diets that are rich in nutrients and address a variety of health concerns. You may work in  holistic setting helping people who have cancer.

Because food is such an integral part of human health and quality of life, the dietitian’s role is very important. Dietitians may also work as consultants, helping schools determine what foods to offer their students.

Are These Growing Careers?

Yes, these are both growing careers. This is especially true now that people are becoming more aware of the connection between diet and health. More recent research has shown that we can prevent a wide variety of illness through diet. It may surprise some people to realize just how technical this field can get, and many dietitians have an in-depth knowledge of biochemistry and a deep understanding of things like gene expression and disease.

If you look at the many types of diets that people practice today, you can see why the dietitian or nutritionist plays such an important role. What about people who are vegan, but have serious medical issues? What about the person who is diabetic? How do you make sure that a patient with dietary restrictions still gets the proper nutrition?

Because we have a better understanding of the role that diet plays in health, more and more medical facilities are incorporating nutrition into patient care. A doctor may refer his patient to the nutritionist for a variety of reasons, for example, the doctor may see an adolescent brought in for an ADHD evaluation. He may suggest that the child see a nutritionist to have his diet evaluated. Pregnant women, athletes, the elderly and persons with mental health issues may all benefit from a nutritionist.

The salary of the dietician can range but the average amount is approximately $56,000, although you can certainly make more or less. There is obviously going to be higher pay for those who have advanced degrees, and the setting in which you work will also make a difference. For example, a dietitian working in a public health clinic may make less than a certified nutritionist working in a food service corporation creating new foods for sale.

Both the registered dietitian and the certified nutritionist have extremely good outlooks in their careers, with plenty of opportunity for growth. What type of career you choose will largely depend on what type of work you want to do. Do you want to work one on one with patients helping them become healthier through diet? Or, would you prefer to work in a more technical setting, helping companies develop menus for employees, students and patients in hospitals?

The Future Of Medicine

The future of medicine is food. While this isn’t entirely true, it is becoming a more widely held belief that diet plays a big role in health. For this reason, a career in nutrition and diet is a smart choice for anyone wishing to have a stable, secure and lucrative career in the health industry.

Robert Sanchez
Written by Robert Sanchez
Robert Sanchez is HealthGrad.com's Chief Editorialist. Robert Sanchez has over 10 years experience in the Healthcare field and more recently has become an avid writer advising on career and job topics in this exciting field.

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