Dietitians vs Nutritionists: The New RDN Credential

There is already significant public confusion over the difference between a Dietitian and a Nutritionist, but now the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics is throwing another term into the mix. Effective immediately, Registered Dietitians (RD) are able to identify themselves as Registered Dietitian Nutritionists (RDN). This new title is optional, and there is no difference between the practice, experience or skill set of an RD vs an RDN. According to the Academy, the change is meant to remind the public that “All Dietitians are Nutritionists, but not all Nutritionists are Dietitians”. But lets back up first…

What is the difference between a Dietitian and a Nutritionist?

I have covered this before, but here’s a quick recap. Registered Dietitians (RDs) are experts in the field of nutrition that have met the requirements in order to hold the legal title of “RD”.  Although some RDs may consider themselves nutritionists, do not assume that all nutritionists are RDs. In many states, almost anyone can call themselves a “nutritionist”, regardless of education or experience. Requirements to become an RD include:

  • a Bachelors degree in nutrition, dietetics, or a related field
  • Completion of 1200 supervised practice hours through an accredited program
  • Passing the registration exam given by the Commission on Dietetic Registration
  • RDs must then keep up with continuing education requirements in order to maintain their certification.

How does the RDN fit into this puzzle?

Personally, I think that “Nutritionist” is a much better description of nutrition practice, but because it is so unregulated, I prefer to be called a Dietitian. I worked hard to become a Dietitian, not just a Nutritionist, and I’m glad that my title reflects that. I don’t have strong opinions one way or another on the new title, but by making it optional, I believe that the Academy is creating divisions where such divisions don’t exist.

What about Licensure?

Licensure is an entirely different can of worms. Licensure is state regulated, so by becoming licensed, Dietitians are identified as state regulated nutrition professionals. Licensed Dietitians are identified by having “LD” or “LDN” following the RD (or RDN) in their title (example: Jane Doe, RD, LDN). There is no difference in meaning between LD and LDN. Some states (such as Texas) use LD, while other states (such as Massachusetts) use LDN. Many employers request that Dietitians become licensed, because licensed Dietitians qualify as providers by insurance companies, are recognized by JCAHO, meet the criteria for Medical Nutrition Therapy, and are the only professionals that can provide nutrition counseling.

So what’s all of the controversy about? Even though many states have licensure in place, recent persecution of a nonlicensed blogger providing nutrition counseling has sparked the debate that licensure is just a tool for the Academy to limit competition for RDs. On the other hand, the Academy sees licensure as protecting public health and setting a minimum standard for education and experience. As a recent article so eloquently put it, “just as there are licensed physicians and dentists, whose license ensures they’ve met a rigorous set of standards, so should there be licensed dietitians”.

For those that would like to learn more:

– Kelly