Dietician or nutritionist? This will help you to decide

August 10, 2016

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Dieticians and nutritionists have expert knowledge on the impact of food on our overall health. These specialists give their patients and clients advice on how to choose foods and eating patterns to be healthier and happier.

If you love learning about the relation between food and health and are interested in using that knowledge to help your patients, a career as a dietician or a nutritionist may be perfect for you. Although both careers overlap in several areas, there are a few very distinct differences between the two in terms of qualification and scope of practice.

The role of a nutritionist

Job description – As a nutritionist, you will spend most of your days at work providing individual guidance and general advice to clients on dieting and health subjects. Because nutritionists aren’t qualified to provide medical nutrition therapy, there are fewer hospital work experience opportunities for nutritionists. Clinical interventions are rare.

Work settings – In this role, you have a wide range of job options open to you, including that of a public health officer, community development officer, media spokesperson or nutrition consultant. With additional qualifications in public and community health, nutritionists you could also be employed by organisations in an advisory or consultancy capacity where you would help to design, implement and evaluate dietary guidelines or meal plans.

Qualifications – There are no strict qualification guidelines for nutritionists and no official accrediting body.  The Register of Nutritionists in Australia is a voluntary organisation established by the Nutrition Society of Australia (NSA) to provide professional support to nutritionists and also provide the public with a list of qualified professionals. Nutritionists who are registered with the NSA have a wide variety of qualifications, from Bachelor’s degrees in nutrition to postgraduate degrees specialising in nutrition. 

The role of a dietician

Job description – Dieticians are able to work in the same fields as nutritionists within the food and health industries but their additional qualification allows them a wider scope of practice. As a dietician, you are qualified to practice in private clinics, hospitals, and the medical nutrition industry where you would offer expert nutrition advice to clients of all ages.

Work settings – In private practice, you would be able to carry out both individual and group dietary interventions. Your clients would mainly consist of individuals looking for advice on health issues ranging from weight loss/gain and managing energy levels to developing dietary plans to manage chronic and underlying medical conditions such as diabetes, cancer, heart disease, and food allergies.

Qualifications – To become an Accredited Practising Dietician (APD) in Australia, you must complete a course of study approved and accredited by the Dieticians Association of Australia (DAA). The course curriculum includes topics such as food and nutrition theory, medical nutrition therapy and food management. Dieticians also gain ample clinic and hospital work experience right through their education and training, as they must have had supervised professional practice before earning the title of a qualified APD.

Should you choose to become a dietician or a nutritionist?

Trying to choose between a career as a dietician or nutritionist can be daunting. What you need to take into consideration is not just the tasks you will do but also your ultimate career goals.

When you are trying to make a choice between the two, it is a good idea to get firsthand work experience by spending some time shadowing or interning with a nutritionist and a dietician. This will allow you to get a better idea of what to expect in each field and will help you make a more informed decision.


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Gap Medics provides year-round hospital work experience for people aged 16 and over. Our shadowing placements offer a unique insight into the work of doctors, nurses, midwives and dentists – helping students to focus their career aspirations before embarking upon medical training.