My father-in-law teases me for being a dietitian, saying things like “Did you take all the candy bars away from the kids today?” Little does he know about the day-to-day job of a dietitian.
Dietitian vs. nutritionist: What’s the difference?
I’m sure you’ve heard us called many things — “nutritionist,” “dietary” or even “nutritionalist.” To explain the difference, almost anyone can call themselves a “nutritionist” in the state of Wisconsin. But a registered dietitian is the only nutrition professional employed by hospitals, nursing homes, schools and government organizations.
A registered dietitian is a professional who has a Bachelor of Science degree in nutrition, has completed a dietetic internship (similar to how medical students complete rotations), and has passed a national exam (similar to how nurses have to pass their board exams).
What does a dietitian do?
That depends — dietitians are everywhere! Sometimes they work in schools, helping to improve school lunches in line with USDA recommendations. Sometimes they work in nursing homes, prescribing supplements and other diets to keep the elderly healthy. Sometimes they work in the community — at a community clinic educating patients on healthy lifestyle; at your local gym helping athletes reach peak performance; or at your supermarket helping customers navigate the healthiest parts of the store.
At Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin, we have almost 30 dietitians on staff working in over 40 specialty areas. We’re a key part of the medical team. Many times good nutrition is what helps kids leave the hospital early or avoid certain medications.
Here are some snapshots of how we care for kids:
- We make recommendations for IV nutrition for our preemie babies who can’t yet eat for themselves
- We teach kids and teenagers with diabetes how to count carbohydrates so they can dose their insulin the right way
- We make recommendations for formulas for kids, teenagers and adults with genetic or metabolic disorders who depend on the right kind of nutrition to live without brain damage
- We make recommendations for tube feedings for kids or teenagers who are developmentally delayed, who have feeding disorders, who have failure to thrive, or who have wounds or burns to heal
- We make recommendations for supplements for kids and teenagers with cystic fibrosis so they have the best lung function
- We advise and educate families about healthy lifestyle choices, including eating well and doing regular physical activity
A dietitian can perform many tasks, and at Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin our staff is very skilled in the specialty areas we treat. Always keep your eye out for the “RD” or “RDN” credential behind someone’s name — you’ll be getting the best information for your time and money.
- Amber Carbajal, MBA, RD, CD, clinical nutrition manager, Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin
Clinical dietitians at Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin are specially trained to provide the best nutritional care for children.