Dietitian vs Nutritionist – what’s the difference?

Tuesday, 24 Jul 12

This is a question I get asked a lot as it can be incredibly confusing deciphering between the two. In a nutshell, the practitioner needs to be ‘accredited,’ whether it’s an accredited practising dietitian (APD) or an accredited nutritionist (AN).

The media in particular tends to use both words interchangeably. Often a dietitian who is in the media will call themselves a nutritionist as it’s a more pleasant and less clinical sounding word, whereas ‘dietitian’ is known to sound more serious and less approachable, so it’s no wonder it can be quite confusing. However there are very distinct differences between the two and in order to get the appropriate nutrition care, it is important to choose the practitioner with suitable qualifications.

A number of health professionals such as naturopaths and personal trainers with human nutrition knowledge can call themselves a ‘nutritionist’ where they may have completed as little as a 6 week nutrition course. An accredited practising dietitian (APD) or accredited nutritionist (AN) must have completed a minimum of 4 years university degree, often including a masters. APDs and ANs specialise in medical nutrition therapy and have completed theory and supervised practical assessment in clinical nutrition, food service, community and public health nutrition. This means that an APD can work in a hospital, whereas a nutritionist can’t. APDs and ANs can choose which name they call themselves however a ‘nutritionist’ cannot call themselves an APD or AN without the further qualifications and meeting accreditation requirements.

There is no association or professional body that governs and assesses the qualifications of a nutritionist. APDs and ANs on the other hand must be accredited by the Dietitians Association of Australia (DAA), spend their first year in the work force being mentored by an accredited practicing dietitian (APD), and complete continuing professional development hours every year to maintain and build on their professional knowledge. APD or AN are the only nutrition credentials recognised by Medicare, the Department of Veterans Affairs and most private health funds. Medicare provides rebates for patients who see an APD or an AN covered by Enhanced Primary Care (EPC) and GP Management Plans put together by their GP.

With the additional qualifications, Dietitians are regarded as the experts in nutrition because they have had the extensive university training and continuing education to stay on top of the rapidly changing and building body of nutrition science.

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