Dietetics professionals are responsible for educating individual clients in developing healthy lifestyles, as well as for providing quality nutritional services to the public. Standards of professional practice have been developed by the American Dietetic Association to ensure that dietetics professionals are the most reliable sources of information regarding food and nutrition.
Registered dietitians (RD) and dietetic technicians (DTR) receive their credentials from the Commission on Dietetic Registration, which ensures that these professionals have fulfilled all academic requirements and completed a registration examination. Dietetics professionals work in a variety of settings involving foodservice management, clinical nutrition, and community nutrition. They work to provide nutrition education classes on topics such as breastfeeding, food safety, and diet fads. They may counsel hospital patients on health-related conditions and facilitating weight loss. They are also qualified to educate the public on proper nutrition for people of all ages including infants and the elderly.
Registered dietitians and dietetic technicians are qualified to work in a variety of settings including hospitals, nursing homes, schools, and health clinics. In hospitals and nursing homes, dietetics professionals usually perform more clinical duties such as assessing the nutritional status of patients to aid in their treatment and recovery. They must demonstrate an understanding of a variety of nutrition topics, including calculating nutrient and tube feeding needs, and various nutrition-related diseases, such as diabetes, Crohn's disease, and cardiovascular disease. In schools, dietitians can provide services to cafeterias in helping them develop healthy meals and snacks, as well as conduct nutrition education classes for
Education and training
To become a registered dietitian, a bachelor's or master's degree in dietetics may be received from a school that is a Coordinated Program (CP) accredited by the Commission on Accreditation for Dietetics Education (CADE) in which academics and supervised practical experience are combined. A graduate of a Coordinated Program may then take the Registration Examination for Dietitians to become an RD. Individuals may also enroll in a Didactic Program in Dietetics (DPD) that is also approved by CADE. After graduating with a bachelor's degree, the supervised practical experience may be completed either at a CADE-accredited Dietetic Internship or a CADE-approved Preprofessional Practice Program (AP4). This also qualifies the individual to take the Registration Examination for Dietitians.
To become a registered dietetic technician, an associate's degree must be received from a CADE-accredited Dietetic Technician Program or a baccalaureate degree from a CADE-approved DPD. DTRs must also participate in a supervised practical experience at the Dietetic Technician Program, but it is not required that they take a registration examination.
The academics involved in the undergraduate study of dietetics includes generalized courses such as biology, chemistry, statistics, and management. More detailed courses are devoted to topics such as general nutrition, food science, nutritional assessment, advanced nutrition, experimental foods, and diet therapy. Undergraduate work also consists of clinical experience in work settings in which students gain a more hands-on experience in the field of dietetics. This allows students to get a new perspective on the field that goes beyond traditional teaching methods. By encouraging active participation, students will gain a better understanding of what is necessary to develop the counseling skills and research capabilities essential to dietetics.
Advanced education and training
Dietitians can further enhance their education and abilities by receiving a master's degree in dietetics or another field related to nutrition. Some CADE-accredited/approved programs also offer graduate coursework that can be completed at the same time as the dietetic internship. Dietetics professionals are also responsible for keeping up to date with the latest information regarding nutrition and utilizing the available technology that can enhance learning.
Dietetics is a constantly changing field in which new information is being uncovered and advances in technology are being made. While technology has become an integral part of nutrition education, it is likely to become even more prominent in years to come. Many dietitians have even designed web sites in order to market their practice. Dietitians have begun utilizing services such as email and the Internet to communicate with clients. This also allows them to communicate with people who travel or are too busy to schedule an appointment. Using the Internet to communicate with clients has its advantages as well as its disadvantages though. While it offers more flexibility for both the client and the professional and allows dietitians to reach a wide geographical range of people, it also limits dietetics professionals in accurately assessing patients because they are not seen in person.
One of the major drawbacks to using the web for nutrition information is that much of the information tends to be inaccurate or exaggerated. This will give dietetics professionals an even bigger role in working to ensure that the public is getting the most accurate and upto-date information from the web and has resulted in more career opportunities for dietetics professionals. Since most nutrition information comes from search engines like <www.yahoo.com> or <www.medscape. com>, these companies have begun hiring dietetics and nutrition professionals to edit content and develop appropriate health-related messages for consumers. Many dietitians also work as consultants for Web sites who may need expert advice on nutrition-related topics. With the advances in technology and development of new computer programs for nutrition education, the role of dietitians will continue to grow as the need for the most upto-date information continues to grow.
Brehm, Bonnie J., Rourke, Kathleen M., and Cynthia Cassell. "Enhancing Didactic Education through Participation in a Clinical Research Project." Journal of the American Dietetic Association (September 1999): 1090-1093.
Palumbo, Christine. "Using New Technology for Nutrition Counseling." Journal of the American Dietetic Association (November 1999): 1363-1364.
Sutherland, Lisa A. "Nutrition Professionals in Cyberspace: Getting Wired for the New Millennium." Journal of the American Dietetic Association (November 1999): 1365-1366.
"Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) about Careers in Dietetics." American Dietetic Association Online 28 April 2001. <http://www.eatright.org>.
"Standards of Professional Practice for Dietetics Professionals." American Dietetic Association Online 28 April 2001. <http://www.eatright.org>.
Lisa M. Gourley