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, allergies, diabetes, and/or other medical conditions. They may specialize in areas such as administrative dietetics, clinical dietetics, community dietetics, public health nutrition, or research dietetics.
In fact, the main difference between a Dietitian and a Nutritionist lies in the legal limitations associated with each of these titles. 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 must meet national standards for education and training.
Both Dietitians and Nutritionists may be self-employed and work as private consultants, running their own clinic. However, Dietitians are usually employed in hospitals, healthcare institutions and agencies, extended care facilities, governmental and educational institutions, and sports organizations, or may work within the food and beverage or pharmaceutical industries. Nutritionists, on the other hand, are usually working in community health centres or may act as nutritional consultants for food companies.
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:
- Evaluating patient’s nutrition status by administering questionnaires and laboratory tests to find out which nutritional factors are affecting the patient’s health;
- planning, implementing, and overseeing menus, taking into consideration the nutritional value, taste, appearance, and preparation of food;
- 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 and implementing nutrition and food preparation services/programs in schools, hospitals, nursing homes, and other healthcare facilities:
- Preventing and treating inadequate nutrition by planning and conducting nutrition educational programs and developing educational materials for various audiences.
- Providing nutrition expertise, information, consulting, and education to health professionals, community groups, government, and/or the media in areas of nutrition interpretation, intervention, and policy:
- 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.
- Evaluating nutritional status of individuals and planning therapeutic diets and menus accordingly.
- Maintaining patient records and collecting data.
- Developing and implementing food preparation services and programs in healthcare facilities.
- Providing nutrition guidance and consulting to health professionals.
- Planning, evaluating, and conducting nutrition education programs, including educational material development.
- 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, with a 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 other healthcare disciplines and their role in client care; 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.