Registered Dietitian (RD) vs Nutritionist, and Why It Matters

Registered Dietitian
07/20/23  12:20 PM PST
picture of clinician in scrubs in a clinical setting, with a Shield HealthCare nametag. registered dietitian vs nutritionist.

In the age of social media, it’s hard to avoid scrolling past someone who is trying to promote the latest nutrition fad. These people are often boasting a “nutritionist” or “health coach” title. When trying to find someone to rely on for nutrition support and education, it is important to know who to turn to for your given needs. You have probably heard of the term nutritionist, health coach or dietitian; but did you know there are sigificant differences between these titles?

Read below for a breakdown of the different requirements for each title.

Educational Degrees:

Registered Dietitian Nutritionist
4+ years of university education with a degree from an accredited dietetics program  No formal education or credentials necessary
Master’s Degree (beginning 2024) No formal education or credentials necessary


Registered Dietitian Nutritionist
Dietetic Internship (900+ supervised practice hours in clinical, food service management, and community settings)  None. Anyone can call themselves a “nutritionist”

Regulation and Oversight:

Registered Dietitian Nutritionist
Must pass a national exam No exam required
Regulated by a governing body Are limited in where they can work


Registered Dietitian Nutritionist
Able to provide medical nutrition therapy to individuals Cannot provide services covered under health insurance

Continuing Education:

Registered Dietitian Nutritionist
75+ continuing education credits required every five years No continuing education requirements

Is There a Difference Between Registered Dietitian (RD) and Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN)?

Great question! There is no difference between clinicians with the title “Registered Dietitian (RD)” and “Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN)”. In 2013, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics added the RDN credential and gave dietitians the option of using either the RD or RDN title. This change came about in part because of the confusion over the term Nutritionist, which is a title anyone can call themselves without formal education or training. If you are uncertain, look for “RD” in the title. If a person’s title contains Registered Dietitian, then they are held to a much higher standard of education, training and licensure in dietetics.

What Does an RD Do?

A Registered Dietitian can specialize in many areas. Some specialties include:

  • Working in a gastroenterology (GI) clinic helping patients who need tube feeding support.
  • Helping patients who have been diagnosed with an eating disorder.
  • Supporting patients who have been diagnosed with cancer and need to maintain their weight in preparation for treatment.
  • Working in a hospital as part of the interdisciplinary care team.

You will see some of those specialty credentials listed after an RD title, such as: gerontological nutrition (CSG), sports dietetics (CSSD), pediatric nutrition (CSP), renal nutrition (CSR), or oncology nutrition (CSO). Board-certified specialists are credentialed by the Commission on Dietetic Registration, the credentialing agency for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

Shield Healthcare’s dietitian team contains both generalists (RD credential) and specialists (RD credential plus additional specialty certification), however every single RD who works at Shield is well-qualified to help patients needing tube feeding care with the transition from the hospital to home. Let’s look at how a Registered Dietitan with Shield might treat a hypothetical patient: Maria, for example. Maria is being discharged from the hospital soon and will be going home on tube-fed nutrition. Maria’s Shield Healthcare RD works with her hospital dietitian team to ensure that her tube feeding regimen is realistic for home. Her Shield HealthCare RD educates Maria’s family or caregiver on how to operate her tube feeding pump. Once Maria discharges from the hospital, her Shield Healthcare RD is also available for any additional support or education that Maria or her family needs.

Not everyone needs nutrition support, but if the need does arise it’s important to know whom to go to. By choosing the right healthcare professional to support you, you can ensure that you are getting the best care possible.

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