Our job as registered dietitian nutritionists is to translate the science of nutrition into applicable information for the public.
I LOVE my job. I love working with parents, children, and families.
Kids are different, and that’s only one aspect that is exciting. At every visit, the child has grown, has different energy needs, and different feeding challenges that keep you on your toes.
So, what is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist?
A Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN) is a food and nutrition experts who can translate the science of nutrition into practical solutions for healthy living. RDNs use their nutrition expertise to help individuals make unique, positive lifestyle changes.
RDNs have to meet very strict standards to become board certified:
• Bachelor’s degree
• Graduate degree* (preferred by most jobs, will be required by 2024 to become a RDN just like every other allied health profession- physical therapy, speech therapy, occupational therapy)
• Internship– Generally year long and split between clinical, community, and food service rotations. Must be at least 1200 hours of supervised practice in order to then sit for board certification
• Board exam- Again, a rigorous exam similar to every other medical profession to become licensed.
• Continuing edition- Dietitians must complete 75 hours of approved (through the Commission of Dietetic Registration) continuing education
• Specialty Certification (optional)- these can be in Pediatrics (CSP), Pediatric Critical Care (CSPCC), Sports (CSSD), Oncology (CSO), Renal (CRS) and a few others
Registered Dietitian versus Nutritionist
There are many differences, but the greatest is the education gap between a dietitian and a “nutritionist”. Anyone can call themselves a nutritionist, this is not protected term like “Medical Doctor”, “Physical therapist”, “Registered Nurse”, or “Registered Dietitian”. This is why the trainer at the gym can call himself a “sports nutritionist” and having paying clients without legal action (in most states, see here article from NC). States vary in their licensure laws, but most require dietitians to be licensed by the medical board just like other health professions. A “registered dietitian” is a protected term, not just anyone can call themselves a dietitian.
What is a Pediatric Dietitian Nutritionist?
Pediatric dietitians are specifically trained to work with children, ages 1-18 and I’d even argue up to 21 years of age. Much of dietetic training is focused on adults, although some internship programs (similar to medical residencies) are providing more pediatric focused training instead of 1-8 weeks of rotations (yes, it really varies between programs!).
Pediatric dietitians are feeding experts: the how, what, when, and where of eating. We excel in math, get excited about watching electrolyte trends, are super nerds when it comes to formula mixing, and are really militant about properly measuring and tracking growth. These things matter greatly because children are not little adults. Sure, an adult could go a few days without nutrition while ill and be (mostly) OK, but that has a much greater impact on a small child.
Some of us work in hospitals, where children are may be admitted to the NICU a premature infants, general floors as infants with failure to thrive, or to the pediatric ICU with critical wounds and diseases, many of which you won’t see in adults. Children often cannot tell us what’s wrong, which places even more responsibility on their parents and care team.
Others of us have worked in outpatient clinics, where longer relationships with patients can be formed and children are not (usually) acutely ill. Clinics such as pediatric gastroenterology, pulmonary, and nephrology all usually employ a full time pediatric dietitian and other specialties like cardiology, neurology, adolescent, and general pediatrics also have at least some part time support (though if dietitians are recognized for their full potential every clinic would have at least a full-time dietitian, but most of the time it comes down to the money & insurance game at the end of the day).
Then there are pediatric dietitians who have their own private practices or work in a group practice with other dietitians or therapists like speech, occupational, and physical. These pediatric clinics see a great overlap in care for special needs children with developmental delays, physical disability, and feeding tubes. There is a huge opportunity for pediatric dietitians to pair with these clinicians that is often overlooked.
Pediatric dietitians will also be found in multi-disciplinary clinics like feeding clinics, where they work directly in real-time with feeding therapists (can be speech or occupation) and physicians.
This list is not exhaustive, pediatric dietitians may work with brands, in the school system, etc.
Can I take my child to a Nutritionist?
There is a reason that registered dietitian nutritionists go through the training they do, just like medical doctors, physical therapists, etc. We are held to an ethical standard of practicing evidence-based medicine to keep you safe. Sure, there are bad dietitians just like there are bad doctors or bad nutritionists. You should always use care when selecting a clinician to work with, but registered dietitians have an educational backing that nutritionists likely do not. For really complex medical needs, you would always want to see a specialty trained pediatric dietitian, not just any dietitian.
How do I become a pediatric dietitian?
Through training, mentoring, and supervision. A dietetic internship will provide some pediatric experience, but not enough. Most new dietitians will have a more senior dietitian orienting them and supervising if they start out working in the hospital or outpatient clinic. For those who take a job outside those locations or a private practice with other dietitians, they must seek out education for themselves which is the more difficult route.
I hope this gives you a good overview of the differences between dietitian and nutritionist.
If you are looking for a pediatric dietitian/nutritionist to work with you and your child, I do see clients in-person (if in WY) and virtually. You can apply to work with me by scheduling here.
I also offer a pediatric dietitian (or dietitian-to-be) mentoring and supervision program that gives new graduates and dietitians the foundation they need to be a pediatric dietitian. You can find out more information here.