What’s Behind All Those Initials?

See my name in the byline to the right? You might wonder why I use all those initials and what they actually mean.

Alli at AND with Del Monte Mascot
My colleague and Guiding Stars RD, Alli at the AND’s Food & Nutrition Conference.

If you’ve ever been looking for someone to help you or a family member with nutrition or an eating issue, you’ve probably noticed that there are quite a few choices available—and most of these folks have a set of initials behind their names. Some of these credentials are suspect (my tactful way to say that they are easily obtainable online with a credit card). Others are on the level, but how will you figure out which is which?

First off, you’d be silly not to check out whomever you are planning to consult. Wouldn’t you want to know that the person you are going to entrust with your health has some actual scientific background and isn’t just spouting “advice” he or she read on the internet the day before your appointment? Do your research, check backgrounds online, and don’t trust recommendations from friends just because they come from friends—do your homework. There are many types of nutrition counselors out there; it makes sense to look into what’s behind these nutrition counselors, including their education, experience and overall philosophy, before choosing someone to help you.

My credentials differentiate me from others who haven’t had the same nutrition education and training that I have had. Here is a quick look at what’s behind the Registered Dietitian credential and a little information about Dietetic Technicians as well.

Registered Dietitian (RD)/Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN)

There are several versions of the RD credential that are in use currently. These are the simple RD, which is the one that I use, and there is the RDN, which is Registered Dietitian Nutritionist. They are the same thing, and using RDN instead of RD is a personal choice that some registered dietitians make because they value the use of the word “nutritionist” in their credential or title. Lots of consumers call anyone in the nutrition field a “nutritionist” and so this helps consumers know that RDs actually do nutrition counseling. Sadly, the word “dietetics” or “dietitian” is not that well know among the public. (And no, a dietitian doesn’t just deal with weight-loss diets—people sometimes find that confusing).

People who use the RD/RDN credential have at least a 4-year degree from an accredited school, plus have completed a specially designed, accredited nutrition curriculum that includes extensive supervised practice in a variety of settings such as hospitals, nursing homes, community agencies and foodservice organizations. A rigorous registration examination must also be passed in order to obtain the credential, which is conferred by the Commission for Dietetic Registration. Continuing education hours (75 every 5 years) are required to maintain the credential. About half of all RDs have graduate degrees and many have additional certifications in specialized fields such as pediatric, renal, gerontology and sports nutrition. Membership in the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND) is not required, but as the largest organization of nutrition professionals, many RDs do maintain membership.

Nutrition and Dietetic Technician, Registered (NDTR)

This credential also can show up with the “N” for nutrition, so more simply, DTR. A DTR works under the supervision of an RD, but depending on their worksite, may operate very independently on a daily basis. The schooling for a DTR is similar to that of an RD, but shorter and less in-depth. After completing either a two-year associates degree in dietetic technology (which includes at least 450 hours of supervised practice), candidates must pass a national registration examination to earn this credential. Some DTRs have bachelor degrees fro an accredited nutrition program, but have not yet fulfilled their practical experience requirements for the RD credential. DTRs work in settings such as public health/government nutrition offices, gyms, foodservice organizations, long term care facilities and healthcare organizations of all types.

What does the “LD” mean?

In my state of Maine, we have dietitians and dietetic technicians are licensed to practice clinical nutrition by the state. In our state, only the licensed RDs and DTRs are legally allowed to practice clinical nutrition counseling. This is not the case in every state. So, in my state, most professionals who are licensed do use the credential to further show the public that they have met the state’s requirements to practice nutrition counseling—including continuing education required by the state. In addition, being licensed means there is state oversight, and therefore a measure of consequence if he or she is found to be practicing unethically, falsely or has misrepresented his or her credentials.

Health coaches, trainers and the like…

These people, though they might be highly trained in their own discipline, are generally NOT highly trained in nutrition—unless they carry an additional nutrition credential (that you have researched and found to be credible). That doesn’t mean that they won’t give decent, general health advice, but they are likely not who you’d want to see for any nutrition advice beyond the basics (for example, if you have diabetes or if your child is not gaining weight normally).