What is a Registered Dietitian?

Registered dietitians (RD) and registered dietitian nutritionists (RDN) are food and nutrition experts. We have a bachelor’s degree from an accredited university approved by the Accreditation Council for Education in Nutrition and Dietetics (ACEND) or the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and completed 1,200 hours of supervised practice in a dietetic internship program. After completing an internship, we must pass a national examination. Registered dietitians need to complete continuing education for our licenses, and beginning in 2024, we will need to have a master’s degree to sit for the national exam.

Registered dietitians work with patients to create specific, measurable goals that work with their overall health goals. Registered dietitians recognize that every patient is different and has different nutritional needs. We help patients by teaching them a basic understanding of nutrition and how that may impact their specific concerns as well as overall health and well-being. 

What is the difference between a registered dietitian and a nutritionist?

Both registered dietitians and nutritionists try to help patients with their health goals. However, in most states, anyone can call themselves a nutritionist without going through the educational training that registered dietitians must undergo. Overall, when looking for a nutrition healthcare provider, look for what their credentials are. If they have RD or RDN after their name, they have gone through the process of becoming a Registered Dietitian and have qualified education and credentials.

Where do registered dietitians work?

Registered dietitians work in a variety of settings, not just in healthcare. You’ll certainly find us in hospitals, private care practices, public health departments and some pharmaceutical companies. We also work in higher education settings, such as sports nutrition, university dining and food service, or food science and research. We also work with corporate wellness programs and food-nutrition businesses.

What is the difference between inpatient and outpatient registered dietitians?

When we work in a hospital, or inpatient setting, we see patients who are in the hospital and usually acutely ill. A registered dietitian’s role in the hospital setting is for nutrition support, such as tube feeding and diet educations for diabetes, cardiovascular disease, post-surgery, malnutrition, GI issues, and more.

In clinics outside of the hospital, or outpatient facilities, patients come into the office or meet virtually. Patients can see an outpatient RD for the same diseases as an inpatient RD would. The main difference is the level of acuity and how much time is spent. Outpatient RDs typically get an hour or more for a first appointment and then can have follow-ups to reassess goals and address any barriers to change.

How can I find a registered dietitian?

The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics has a database of qualified registered dietitians that you can use to find providers with in-person or telehealth options. Some insurance companies also cover some visits with a registered dietitian. Your primary care provider might also refer you to a clinic to help with the nutritional aspects of your long-term health goals.

Benjamin Nelson, MS, RD, LDN, CPT

Benjamin Nelson, MS, RD, LDN, CPT

Benjamin Nelson, MS, RD, LDN, CPT, is a registered dietitian and personal trainer.