Celebrating Nutrition Experts in the Community: National Registered Dietitian Nutritionist Day!

by Katelyn Castro

Dietitians, Nutritionists, Registered Dietitian Nutritionists: what’s the deal with all these titles? March 9th marks Registered Dietitian Nutritionist Day, a special day recognized by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Along with clarifying the confusing names used for nutrition experts, this day is meant to recognize the important role of registered dietitians in improving the health of patients and the community through food and nutrition. First let’s clear up the difference between a nutritionist and a registered dietitian nutritionist.

rdnday

What Is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist?

The registered dietitian (RD) credential is a nationally recognized, legally protected title accredited by the Commission on Dietetic Registration (CDR) that can only be used by those who have met the following requirements:

  • Completed a bachelor’s degree in dietetics, nutrition, or nutrition science by an accredited university or met the current minimum academic requirements (Dietetic Program in Dietetics)
  • Completed an accredited dietetic internship program with 1200 supervised practice hours
  • Successfully completed the Registration Exam for Dietitians, administered by the CDR
  • Maintained certification by meeting continuing professional education requirements

While some dietitians may refer to themselves as “nutritionists,” anyone can call themselves “nutritionists” regardless of educational background or experience. According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, registered dietitians have the option of also identifying themselves as Registered Dietitians Nutritionists (RDN) in an effort to clarify that “every registered dietitian is nutritionist but not every nutritionist is a registered dietitian.”

Registered dietitians may also hold specialty certifications (e.g., Certified Specialist in Pediatric, Renal, Gerontological, or Oncology Nutrition) accredited by the CDR and other health organizations. While requirements vary by each specialty certification, they typically include a certain number of hours of experience within an area of specialty and successful completion of a specific board certification examination.

What Does a Registered Dietitian Do?

If it wasn’t clear enough already, RDs are the most credible source of research-based nutrition information for the public. RDs translate nutrition science into practical terms to help individuals and communities in a variety of settings: hospitals, health clinics, schools, nursing homes, food industries, fitness centers, private practice, universities, and research.

As a dietetic intern, I’ve had the opportunity to explore many of the diverse roles of registered dietitians. Seeing the profound, positive impact that dietitians have on individuals’ health and well-being is truly inspiring. But, what better way to explain the important role of RDs than to hear from dietitians themselves? Here is what four registered dietitians from our community shared about their personal experiences:

Helen Rasmussen, PhD, RD, FADA 

Helen has been a registered dietitian at the USDA-Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging (HNRCA) for 33 years. She is now the senior research dietitian in the Metabolic Research Unit at the HNRCA, which focuses on the effects of diet interventions on human aging. Helen is also a Fellow of the American Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics Association (FADA).

What do you do on a daily or weekly basis as a dietitian?

I have two hats in my position at the HNRCA: One is managing the Dietary Services kitchen laboratory, and the other is designing dietary interventions for research studies. HNRCA scientists come up with a research study/proposal, and we create the diet for the research study. We also screen potential research subjects for their eligibility to participate in a study.

What’s your favorite part about being a dietitian?

Two parts, really. I enjoy working with the Dietary Services staff who have to carry out the “food concoctions” that the other research dietitian (Jennie Galpern FS10) and I come up with, and also getting to know the volunteers we have selected to participate in the research studies.

What’s the most challenging part about being a dietitian?

Sometimes the diet that is needed for the particular research study feels like it is impossible to achieve, which makes the job interesting and fun. One example was that I was asked to come up with a low folate diet. Folate is now added to flour, so to include any kind of bread, cereal from commercially-made foods as well as foods we baked with store bought flour was not possible. I contacted a colleague who has done this kind of research, and she gave me the greatest suggestion: to work with a professor in the Midwest who teaches a class in milling. The students were going to learn how to mill wheat into flour. The professor had the students eliminate the folate when they got to the enrichment step. He shipped us a large barrel of the flour to be used in the low folate diet.

If you could only give one piece of nutrition advice, what would it be?

I have three pieces of advice. [First] A vitamin pill doesn’t substitute for a lousy diet. Introduce new fruits and vegetables of varied colors into your diet. [Second] Drink water. [Third] Become your own food and nutrition expert; the information is out there for you to read, and to digest.

What’s your favorite food?

Avocado.

Kelly Kane, MS, RD, CNSC

Kelly has been a registered dietitian for 20 years and holds a specialty credential as a Certified Nutrition Support Clinician (CNSC). Currently, Kelly has three roles as a dietitian at Tufts Medical Center: clinical manager, dietetic internship director, and inpatient clinical dietitian.

What do you do on a daily or weekly basis as a dietitian?

On the clinical side, I cover for other dietitians, and I see a wide variety of patients from children to adults from generally healthy patients to those that are critically ill. When I am seeing patients, I have to screen which patients would benefit most from a nutrition visit. Then, I review their medical record, check labs, talk with the medical team, and then visit the patient where I gather information, provide education, and make a nutrition plan. Then I communicate that plan to the patient and to the medical team.

What’s your favorite part about being a dietitian?

One of the best parts of being a dietitian is helping a patient understand his or her diet. When I educate families with children with diabetes, they are often extremely worried about how to feed their son or daughter. After meeting with them, their relief is visible and they are reassured that eating will remain an enjoyable experience since they now have the tools they need to manage the disease.

What’s the most challenging part about being a dietitian?

Without a doubt, the most challenging part is trying to educate a patient who has no interest in learning about his or her diet or no interest in making any changes.

If you could only give one piece of nutrition advice, what would it be?

Relax! People tend to overthink about food. Michael Pollan’s advice of “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” is great advice and reminds us that eating should be simple and enjoyable.

What’s your favorite food?

My favorite food is Thanksgiving stuffing, a recipe I learned from my mother made with milk crackers and lots of butter. It is a rare treat that I make once a year. It is absolutely delicious!

Annie Paquette, MS, RD, CSP

Annie has been a registered dietitian for nine-and-a-half years and is also a Certified Specialist in Pediatrics (CSP). She currently works as a pediatric clinical dietitian at the Frances Stern Nutrition Center, covering inpatient pediatric units at the Floating Hospital for Children.

What do you do on a daily or weekly basis as a dietitian?

I work daily in the pediatric hospital setting with children (aged newborn to adolescent) and their families/caregivers. I provide MNT [medical nutrition therapy] to children throughout their acute and chronic illnesses to support their overall healthy growth and development. This includes (but is not limited to) providing nutrition support regimens, modified formula recipes, and specialty diet educations.

What’s your favorite part about being a dietitian?

I love working as part of a multidisciplinary medical team each day with patients and their families. Nutrition, growth, and development are an integral part of the daily plan of care and I get to play an important role in a child’s care. It’s very rewarding to see children improve with the help of the nutrition we are providing.

What’s the most challenging part about being a dietitian?

Helping patients and families make sense of all the confusing nutrition messages they hear (from outside sources).

If you could only give one piece of nutrition advice, what would it be?

All foods can fit into a healthy diet.

What’s your favorite food?

Pizza!

Ally Gallop, RD, CDE

Ally has been a registered dietitian for three-and-a-half years and is also a Certified Diabetes Educator (CDE). Previously, Ally worked as an outpatient dietitian in areas of diabetes, cardiac, gastrointestinal surgery, and cystic fibrosis. She is currently a second-year Friedman student, studying nutrition communications, public relations, social media, and marketing.

What did you do on a daily or weekly basis as a dietitian?

As an outpatient diabetes dietitian, my day revolved around conversing with patients to design a care plan that incorporated a patient’s needs with the most healthful diet that supported their diabetes medical plan. Beyond individual counselling, I attended and participated in medical rounds with the interdisciplinary team, led group education classes for newly-diagnosed patients with type 2 diabetes, and was self-motivated to continue my own education on current research surrounding diabetes and nutrition care in diabetes.

What’s your favorite part about being a dietitian?

I love talking to people! But I become an avid listener when I put my dietitian hat on. Being a dietitian requires adept interviewing skills. You need to gain a person’s trust quickly, probe for information appropriately, and learn to only ask questions that lead to useful answers. Consultations with patients is challenging and exciting. The best part is when that patient has the “ah-hah!” moment; they finally understand and are motivated to become actionable about the topic at hand (or what you were trying to get across).

What’s the most challenging part about being a dietitian?

The most challenging factor is the lack of follow-up with patients in the clinical realm. Behavior change is difficult and frequent follow-up is imperative to progress, yet in the real world this rarely exists.

If you could only give one piece of nutrition advice, what would it be?

Focus on eating more fresh vegetables at meals.

What’s your favorite food?

Does wine count? If not, my favorite food is creamy peanut butter.

Katelyn Castro is in the process of becoming a registered dietitian as a first-year student at Friedman and a dietetic intern at the Frances Stern Nutrition Center. She is both overwhelmed and excited about all of the opportunities in the field of dietetics and cannot wait to follow in the footsteps of her dietitian mentors.

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