The Role of a Dietician

A dietitian is an individual who possesses special training and education in nutrition. The position focuses on aiding the implementation of healthy eating choices, development of appropriate menus, and participates in nutritional research; they are regulated by the American Dietetic Association (ADA).

The term dietitian is a broad title, this profession can be further broken down into a community, clinical, or management dietitian, there are also simply consultants. These people work in hospitals, schools or private practice promoting wise nutritional food habits and continuing research.

  • Community dietitians work in public health, home health, or maintenance organizations.  These professionals focus on the needs of the individual, providing nutritional plans which may include education for food preparation and grocery shopping.
  • Clinical dietitians can be found mainly in medical institutions such as hospitals, nursing care, or correctional facilities. The role of the dietician is to evaluate and report the nutritional needs of the individual been cared for, which includes coordination with other medical providers like physicians and nursing staff to ensure optimal results.
  • Management dietitians work at large facilities such as prisons, schools and cafeterias. This type of management position has the responsibilities of purchasing and budgeting for the supplies, food and equipment used; maintain the safety regulations; prepare the required reports and records for review.
  • Consultants work from private practices and are occasionally contracted by large healthcare institutes to address the nutritional requirements of the clients. The groups this class of dietician works with is a wide variety including patients with acute or chronic illness, diabetics, athletes, nutritional businesses, supermarkets, and wellness programs. The areas they deal in may include menu planning, budgeting, health safety issues, and sanitation.
  • Nutritionists are individuals with a serious interest in nutritional science, diseases associated with nutritional deficiencies, preventative nutrition, and the use of food as a means to heal ailments. Unlike dietitians, a nutritionist does not have a governing entity which regulates the education or training of the person practicing.

According to the US Department of Labor, in the United States there are only 46 states which have implemented laws regarding the practice of dietetics. The requirements of a dietician vary by state; 1 state requires registration, 12 have statutory certification, and 33 have licensure guidelines.

A dietician usually has a minimum of a bachelor’s degree specific to dietetics, food service, or food and nutrition. These degrees focus in food and nutrition, chemistry and biochemistry, biology and microbiology, as well as physiology. Additional course work in psychology and sociology, business, statistics, economics, and computer science is also a good idea as the position of a dietician requires a wide basic knowledge.

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