Dietitians are qualified experts who specialize in the science of nutrition. They assess, develop, implement, and evaluate nutrition care plans in order to improve people’s diet and eating habits, thus, ensuring a positive impact on their overall health and quality of life. Unlike Nutritionists, Dietitians also work with patients suffering from eating disorders, diabetes, and other medical conditions.
The main difference between a Dietitian and a Nutritionist is what each can legally do. In Canada, Dietitians are members of a provincially regulated profession, meaning their title is protected by law, while the title “Nutritionist” is not—except in Alberta, Québec, and Nova Scotia, where “Nutritionist” is a protected title as well, usually used in place of the term “Community Dietitian”. Unlike Nutritionists and other Nutritional Therapists, Dietitians have more strict regulations regarding education and licencing.
Both Dietitians and Nutritionists may be self-employed, usually running their own clinic. However, Dietitians are often hired by government institutions dedicated to public health and welfare, as well as healthcare centres. Nutritionists, on the other hand, are usually working in community health centres or in food producing companies as advisors or counsellors.
Here’s a non-exhaustive list of common tasks Dietitians are required to complete.
- Maintaining and improving patient’s overall health by providing them with individual nutritional counselling and/or group nutrition sessions:
- Assessing patient’s nutrition status by administering questionnaires and laboratory tests to find out which nutritional factors are affecting the patient’s health;
- designing menus, taking into consideration their nutrition value, as well as the patient’s nutritional preferences and restrictions;
- providing practical nutrition recommendations to help patients meet their goals;
- preparing nutrition assessment report for patients; and
- addressing patient’s questions and concerns.
- Maintaining patient records and statistical data reports.
- Developing catered menus for schools, healthcare centres, or retirement homes, aiming to meet their respective nutrition requirements:
- Fighting and preventing malnutrition by implementing specialized nutritional programs designed to tackle the needs of several population sectors.
- Giving nutritional advice and recommendations to government agencies dedicated to healthcare, as well as holding nutrition-related conferences in community centres and schools:
- Participating in clinical program development and research initiatives.
- Staying updated on nutritional best practices, constantly analyzing current scientific nutritional studies and conducting research in order to better inform patients and healthcare professionals.
- Conducting regular check-ups in order to determine the nutritional status of individuals.
- Maintaining patient records and collecting data.
- Holding conferences and demonstrations on the proper methods to prepare foods.
- Developing catered menus for schools, healthcare centres, or retirement homes, aiming to meet their respective nutrition requirements.
- Advising healthcare colleagues in matters of nutrition.
- Holding public speeches and conferences aimed towards educating a certain population in matters of good nutrition.
- Staying updated on nutritional best practices.
The average Dietitian salary is $58,951 per year or $30 per hour. This is around 1.8 times more than the Median wage of the country. Entry level positions start at $41,000 while most experienced workers make up to $83,000. These results are based on 102 salaries extracted from job descriptions.
- Strong interpersonal, communication, and assessment skills:
- Communicating clearly, both in writing and verbally, and being able to simplify and contextualize complex scientific jargon in order to effectively impart knowledge to patients and other health professionals;
- displaying strong customer service skills, setting high standards of patient care and safety, treating every patient with dignity and respect;
- using tact, professionalism, and optimism when communicating with patients and health professionals in order to maintain effective and collaborative relationships; and
- being able to negotiate and advocate for both patients and the Dietetic profession.
- Strong sense of empathy and compassion:
- Demonstrating sensitivity to individual needs of patients; and
- being able to work within a multicultural environment, showing consideration and respect to a diverse range of cultural beliefs which may influence eating habits.
- Optimistic, can-do attitude, and a strong ability to motivate others.
- Analytical, problem-solving, and decision-making skills:
- Being able to analyze, assess, and diagnose the patient’s condition in order to provide him with the proper treatments;
- being able to use initiative and intuition in decision making, as well as to exercise good professional judgment;
- using creativity and imagination to develop new insights and to apply innovative solutions to problems; and
- referring patients to other medical professionals, as required.
- Organizational and time management skills:
- Strategically structuring and customizing treatment programs and educational sessions; and
- multitasking; being able to prioritize tasks and responsibilities.
Aside from the skills listed above, Dietitians must have completed a bachelor’s degree with major credits in Nutrition and/or Dietetics from a Dietitians of Canada (DC) accredited university program, along with a dietetic internship program. Most Dietitians perfect their skills and deepen their knowledge of the field by pursuing a higher level of education (e.g. master’s and doctoral degrees). This allows them to apply for higher positions, especially in the public health and clinical fields. One could also become a “Registered Dietitian” by obtaining a certification from the Commission on Dietetic Registration (CDR).
Additional credentials are usually required and will vary according to the Dietitian’s location and specialization. In Canada, these credentials include, but are not limited to, the following:
- Dietitians of Canada (DC) Membership;
- Registration with the provincial/territorial regulatory body; and
- Diabetes Educator Certification from the Canadian Diabetes Educator Certification Board (CDECB).
Dietitians also need to demonstrate a thorough understanding of the following: clinical nutrition theory and practice, including research processes and methodology, as well as any related medical branch; food preparation, food safety, food allergies, and nutrient analysis; enteral and parenteral nutrition; nutrition issues related to cancer, diabetes, and other diet-restrictive diseases; eating disorders and chronic disease management; disease prevention and health promotion; adult and children education principles and methods; as well as relevant acts and regulations with regards to nutrition requirements, standards of practice, and guidelines.
Most Dietitian positions require a minimum of 1 to 2 years of experience working in a similar environment (e.g. within a healthcare or community setting). Pediatric and/or gerontology experience are often considered strong assets, as well as proficiency in Microsoft Office Suite.