While some people use the terms “nutritionist” and “dietician” interchangeably, there are distinct differences between these career paths. For example, there are far more regulations in place for those who want to describe themselves as “registered dietitians” vs. “nutritionists.” What the two paths have in common, however, is that those who pursue these fields have a passion for using their understanding of food and diet to enact positive change in the overall health of their clients.
We compare the nutritionist vs. dietician career tracks below.
What is a Clinical Nutritionist?
Clinical nutritionists analyze a person’s diet, along with medical history, to determine how their nutritional intake can impact their health, prevent disease, or mitigate the symptoms of a chronic illness. Depending on their education and licensing, clinical nutritionists may use laboratory tests to do their work and assist the work of a client’s larger medical team.
What is a Registered Dietician?
Registered dieticians, sometimes called registered dietician nutritionists, are also food and nutrition experts who dedicate their career to keeping clients healthy. These professionals educate clients about diet, assess clients’ nutritional needs, create individualized meal plans, and provide counseling as it relates to dietetics. Registered dieticians earn their credentials via the Commission on Dietetic Registration.
Education and Licensing Requirements
Two of the key differences between a clinical nutritionist and dietician are their education and licensing requirements.
The journey to becoming a nutritionist begins with a degree program. At the minimum, those who want to become a nutritionist must earn a bachelor’s degree in a related field, such as Food Science, Dietetics, Nutrition, or Health Science. A bachelor’s degree qualifies graduates to pursue certification by the American Association of Nutritional Consultants. Certified Nutritional Consultants educate clients on their lifestyle and dietary habits and how these factors can influence their health.
Those who want to become a Certified Nutrition Specialist must earn a master’s degree in Nutrition and complete 1,000 hours of supervised experience. Only then can they sit for the Board of Certification for Nutrition Specialists’ CNS exam. At University of Bridgeport, those pursuing the MS in Nutrition complete the Virtual Clinic, which provides 255 hours of the 1,000 hours required by the CNS. This cuts down the required experiential hours and speeds up the pathway towards a certified nutritionist career.
Prospective nutritionists who want to work in a clinical environment such as a hospital or outpatient clinic should highly consider earning their master’s degree and earning their CNS licensing. Certified Nutrition Specialists have higher earning potential and are generally preferred by employers due to their specialty and expert training.
In order to work as a registered dietitian nutritionist (RDN), the first step is to earn a degree in nutrition and obtain a verification statement from an Accreditation Council for Education in Nutrition and Dietetics (ACEND) accredited program. Additionally, interested parties must earn hands-on clinical experience by going through an internship after completing the nutrition degree. Internships can last from 8 to 24 months and you can work on a part-time or full-time basis. The most important thing to know is that you must complete 1,200 hours of supervised clinical time under the tutelage of a licensed professional. This internship, in addition to a bachelor’s degree, is a minimum requirement for sitting for the Commission on Dietetic Registration (CDR) exam. Passing the CDR exam and earning a national RD credential qualifies you to hold licensure and work in most states. Those interested in working as a dietician, however, should be aware that starting in 2024, a graduate degree will be required to sit for the CDR exam.
Job Requirements and Opportunities
Though nutritionists and dieticians both work to improve patients’ health through nutrition, there are some differences in what they’re qualified to do in the capacity of their jobs.
In many states, it’s possible to work in the nutrition arena without licensing. However, those who want to work in a clinical capacity, including clinical nutritionists, must earn certification as a CNS. Those who earn certification are qualified to provide their patients with medical nutrition therapy. The primary industries that employ clinical nutritionists include private practice physicians, the food and supplement industry, research facilities, government agencies, and outpatient clinics. Clinical nutritionists may also open their own private practices in which to provide care.
Registered dieticians are board certified experts in food and nutrition. Through their licensure, they’re qualified to practice in a variety of settings including hospitals, outpatient clinics, research institutions, or in community outreach programs. There are four areas of practice that most dietitians work in: clinical, food service, community health, and research. Both inpatient and outpatient dietitians support a medical team to help treat and prevent illnesses. They also provide nutrition education.
Those who want to use their knowledge of nutrition, biology, physiology, and health science to improve the overall health of their clients and patients can choose to pursue work as a nutritionist or dietician. However, there are key differences between a dietician and a nutritionist. Dieticians must complete more internship hours and earn credentialing in order to work. Nutritionists, however, can work without earning a license in most states. Of course, those who want to work in a clinical setting must earn licensing. Whichever path you decide to pursue, earning a master’s degree in Nutrition can help you realize your dreams.
Interested in pursuing a career in nutrition, or learning more about your options in this field? Contact us online to get more information about University of Bridgeport’s online MS in Nutrition.