What’s the Difference Between Dietitians and Nutritionists? In-Depth Analysis

nutritionist career

Dietitians and nutritionists have a lot in common. They are experts in the use of food and nutrition to promote health and manage diseases.

They advise people on what to eat in order to lead a healthy lifestyle or achieve a specific health-related goal.

The key difference is nutritionists advise people on strategies to live a healthy lifestyle.

A dietician is a specialized nutritionist. Dietitians work with people who need customized nutritional strategies to manage a chronic illness or other medical condition.

Both dietitians and nutritionists are careers where you are expected to think and investigate solutions that may not be obvious. This is also a career where you’ll counsel people and work closely with them to help them reach their goals.

What Nutritionists and Dietitians Do

Dietitians and nutritionists typically do the following:

  • Assess patients’ and clients’ nutritional and health needs
  • Counsel patients on nutrition issues and healthy eating habits
  • Develop meal and nutrition plans, taking both clients’ preferences and budgets into account
  • Evaluate the effects of meal plans and change the plans as needed
  • Promote better health by speaking to groups about diet, nutrition, and the relationship between good eating habits and preventing or managing specific diseases
  • Create educational materials about healthy food choices
  • Keep up with or contribute to the latest food and nutritional science research
  • Document patients’ progress

Dietitians and nutritionists evaluate the health of their clients. Based on their findings, dietitians and nutritionists advise clients on which foods to eat—and which to avoid—to improve their health.

Customized Nutrition to the Client

Many dietitians and nutritionists provide customized information for specific individuals. For example, a dietitian or nutritionist might teach a client with diabetes how to plan meals to balance the client’s blood sugar.

Others work with groups of people who have similar needs. For example, a dietitian or nutritionist might plan a diet with healthy fat and limited sugar to help clients who are at risk for heart disease.

They may work with other healthcare professionals to coordinate patient care.

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Some are Self-Employed

Dietitians and nutritionists who are self-employed may meet with patients, or they may work as consultants for a variety of organizations.

They may need to spend time on marketing and other business-related tasks, such as scheduling appointments, keeping records, and preparing educational programs or informational materials for clients.

Dietitian and Nutritionist Specialities

Although many dietitians and nutritionists do similar tasks, there are several specialties within the occupations.

The following are examples of types of dietitians and nutritionists:

Clinical Dietitians and Clinical Nutritionists

They provide medical nutrition therapy. They work in hospitals, long-term care facilities, clinics, private practice, and other institutions.

They create customized nutritional programs based on the health needs of patients or residents and counsel patients on how to improve their health through nutrition.

Clinical dietitians and clinical nutritionists may further specialize, such as by working only with patients with specific conditions such as kidney disease, diabetes, or digestive disorders.

Community Dietitians and Community Nutritionists

They develop programs and counsel the public on topics related to food, health, and nutrition. They often work with specific groups of people, such as adolescents or the elderly.

They work in public health clinics, government and nonprofit agencies, health maintenance organizations (HMOs), and other settings.

Management Dietitians

These professionals plan food programs. They work in foodservice settings such as cafeterias, hospitals, prisons, and schools.

They may be responsible for buying food and for carrying out other business-related tasks, such as budgeting. Management dietitians may oversee kitchen staff or other dietitians.

Dietitians and Nutritionists at Work

Dietitians and nutritionists held about 67,670 jobs as of 2019.

Work Schedules

Most dietitians and nutritionists work full time. They may work evenings and weekends to meet with clients who are unavailable at other times.

Dietitians and nutritionists typically need a bachelor’s degree, along with supervised training through an internship. Many states require dietitians and nutritionists to be licensed.


Dietitians and nutritionists typically need a bachelor’s degree in dietetics, foods and nutrition, clinical nutrition, public health nutrition, or a related area.

Dietitians also may study food service systems management. Programs include courses in nutrition, psychology, chemistry, and biology.

Many dietitians and nutritionists have advanced degrees.


Dietitians and nutritionists typically receive several hundred hours of supervised training, usually in the form of an internship following graduation from college.

Some schools offer coordinated programs in dietetics that allow students to complete supervised training as part of their undergraduate or graduate-level coursework.

Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations

Many states require dietitians and nutritionists to be licensed in order to practice.

Other states require only state registration or certification to use certain titles, and a few states have no regulations for this occupation.

The requirements for state licensure and state certification vary by state, but most include having a bachelor’s degree in food and nutrition or a related area, completing supervised practice, and passing an exam.

Becoming a Registered Dietitian

A nutritionist advises people about their general health.

Many dietitians choose to earn the Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN) credential.

Although the RDN is not always required, the qualifications are often the same as those necessary for becoming a licensed dietitian in states that require a license.

Many employers prefer or require the RDN, which is administered by the Commission on Dietetic Registration, the credentialing agency for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

RDN Requirements

The RDN requires dietitian nutritionists to complete a minimum of a bachelor’s degree and a Dietetic Internship (DI), which consists of at least 1,200 hours of supervised experience.

Students may complete both criteria at once through a coordinated program, or they may finish their required coursework and degree before applying for an internship.

These programs are accredited by the Accreditation Council for Education in Nutrition and Dietetics (ACEND), part of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

In order to maintain the RDN credential, dietitians and nutritionists who have earned it must complete 75 continuing professional education credits every 5 years.

A dietitian is a specialized nutritionist

Nutritionist Certification

Nutritionists may earn the Certified Nutrition Specialist (CNS) credential to show an advanced level of knowledge.

The CNS credential or exam is accepted in several states for licensure purposes.

To qualify for the credential, applicants must have a master’s or doctoral degree, complete 1,000 hours of supervised experience, and pass an exam.

The credential is administered by the Board for Certification of Nutrition Specialists. To maintain the CNS credential, nutritionists must complete 75 continuing education credits every 5 years.

Specialty Certifications

Dietitians and nutritionists may seek additional certifications in an area of specialty.

The Commission on Dietetic Registration offers several specialty certifications in topics such as oncology nutrition, pediatric nutrition, renal nutrition, and sports dietetics, among others.

A Nutritionist or Dietitian is a Good Job Fit for

O*NET Interest Profiler Results

investigative job

If your O*NET Interest Profiler results listed investigative as the primary interest and social second, a job as a dietitian or nutritionist could appeal to you. See other investigative jobs.

You can learn more about the free career test here. 

According to O*NET Interest Profiler categories, investigative occupations frequently involve working with ideas, and require an extensive amount of thinking.

These occupations can involve searching for facts and figuring out problems mentally.

As a nutritionist or dietitian, you’ll have to research and develop customized plans for people.

The job falls into a secondary interest of social.

Social occupations frequently involve working with, communicating with, and teaching people. 

These occupations often involve helping or providing service to others. You’ll be counseling individuals or groups on how to improve their health through nutrition.

The third interest, enterprising, means this job frequently involves starting up and carrying out projects. Enterprising occupations can involve leading people and making many decisions. Sometimes they require risk taking and often deal with business.

Nutritionist Personality Type

INFJ personality type

If your Myers-Briggs personality type is INFJ, a job as a dietitian or nutritionist should be on your list of possible occupations.

As an INFJ you love helping people and connecting with them on a deeper level. 

INFJs enjoy having meaning in their work, so helping people learn to be healthier and teaching them to feel and look better by changing the foods they eat can be a rewarding line of work. 

A job without meaning for an INFJ is just a paycheck. Don’t know your personality type? You can take a free personality test at 16Personalities.

Related Healthcare Careers for INFJ

Soft Skills Needed to Be One

Analytical Skills

You must keep up to date with the latest food and nutrition research. They should interpret scientific studies and translate nutrition science into practical eating advice.


You must be caring and empathetic when helping clients address health and dietary issues and any related emotions.

Listening Skills

You must listen carefully to understand clients’ goals and concerns.

They may work with other healthcare workers as part of a team to improve the health of a patient, and they need to listen to team members when constructing eating plans.

Organizational Skills

Because there are many aspects to the work of dietitians and nutritionists, they should stay organized.

Management dietitians, for example, must consider the nutritional needs of their clients, the costs of meals, and access to food.

Self-employed dietitians and nutritionists may need to schedule appointments, manage employees, bill insurance companies, and maintain patient files.

Problem Solving

You must evaluate the health status of patients and determine the most appropriate food choices for a client to improve his or her overall health or manage a disease.

Speaking Skills

As part of the job, you must explain complicated topics in a way that people with less technical knowledge can understand.

They must clearly explain eating plans to clients and to other healthcare professionals involved in a patient’s care.


The average annual wage for dietitians and nutritionists in the United States was $62,330 in May 2019. The median hourly wage was $29.46 or $61,277, based on a full-time work schedule.

The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less.

Dietitian and Nutritionist Median Salary for All 50 States

These are the median salaries as of May 2019 from the highest paying to the lowest paying state. California employed the most nutritionists and dietitians, followed by Texas and New York.

New Jersey2,15069,110
District of Columbia42068,030
New York4,64067,740
Rhode Island25062,410
New Hampshire33061,500
West Virginia50060,810
North Dakota24057,920
New Mexico38056,920
North Carolina2,16056,370
South Dakota23054,570
South Carolina87054,270
Puerto Rico60036,210

Most dietitians and nutritionists work full time. They may work evenings and weekends to meet with clients who are unavailable at other times.

Job Outlook is Better Than Average

Employment of dietitians and nutritionists is projected to grow 11 percent from 2018 to 2028, much faster than the average for all occupations.

In recent years, interest in the role of food and nutrition in promoting health and wellness has increased, particularly as a part of preventative healthcare in medical settings.

Obese Americans

According to the Centers for Disease Control, more than one-third of U.S. adults are obese.

Many diseases, such as diabetes and heart disease, are associated with obesity.

The importance of diet in preventing and treating illnesses is now well known. More dietitians and nutritionists will be needed to provide care for people with these conditions.

Aging Population

Moreover, as the baby-boom generation grows older and looks for ways to stay healthy, there will be more demand for dietetic and nutrition services. In addition, there will be demand for dietitians and nutritionists in grocery stores to help consumers make healthy food choices.

Job Prospects

Dietitians and nutritionists who have earned advanced degrees or certification in a specialty area may enjoy better job prospects.

More Resources

For more information about dietitians and nutritionists, visit

Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics

For a list of academic programs, visit

Accreditation Council for Education in Nutrition and Dietetics

For information on the Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN) exam and other specialty credentials, visit

Commission on Dietetic Registration

For information on the Certified Nutrition Specialist (CNS) exam and credential, visit

Board for Certification of Nutrition Specialists

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Job description and salary information are from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook.

Tracey Lamphere

Tracey Lamphere, M.S. IMC is the editor of Job Affirmations, a publication that provides information and ideas to use mindfulness, positive affirmations, and visualizations to transform your career.

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