A registered dietitian is a food and nutrition expert who helps individuals make smart dietary and lifestyle choices. He or she may set guidelines for restaurants and cafeterias or offer private consultations to individuals concerned about their health. A dietitian might also work in a clinical setting to plan specialized diets for patients who are diagnosed with particular conditions. The American Dietetic Association (ADA) in the United States grants registered dietitian credentials to people who complete the requisite education, training, and examinations. Governing boards in other countries, such as the National Health Service in the United Kingdom, offer similar credentials successful dietitians.
Registered dietitians generally possess expert knowledge of human anatomy, metabolic processes, nutritional needs, and public health. Clinical dietitians apply their wisdom in health-care settings, such as general hospitals and nursing homes. They communicate with doctors and nurses to learn about the special needs of patients. Dietitians meet with individuals to explain which foods they should eat and in what quantities. For example, a registered dietitian can help a diabetic patient learn which foods can normalize blood sugar levels and provide important nutrients.
Some dietitians work in private practices, where they help people with any number of health concerns. An individual might seek the help of a registered dietitian to learn about losing weight, lowering cholesterol levels, or building muscle. The professional can help the client identify goals and create a custom diet and exercise plan. Clients often meet regularly with their dietitians to analyze progress and make any necessary adjustments to their plans. A knowledgeable consulting dietitian may also help food service establishment and restaurants build healthier menus for their customers.
In the United States, a person who wants to become a registered dietitian is typically required to earn a bachelor's degree in a nutrition-related field, gain internship experience, and pass certification exams. During an internship, a new dietitian has the opportunity gain practical experience by assisting and observing established professionals in the field. Most U.S. states administer a written licensing exam that must be passed before an individual can begin working independently. The ADA offers an additional certification test, which may be written or computer-based, that grants the actual title of registered dietitian.
Gaining certification by the ADA is not absolutely necessary to find work in the field in the United States, though it can greatly improve a person's chances of finding long-term work and advancement opportunities. Registered dietitians who gain several years of experience are often successful at opening private practices. Some professionals decide to pursue continuing education so they can become health researchers or university professors.