Oct 17, 2023 • 4 min read

Are Nutritionists & Dietitians Doctors?

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Most people have heard of dietitians and nutritionists, but are they doctors?

No dietitian or nutritionist is required to be a doctor, and most of them are not. However, it is possible for a doctor to become a nutritionist or dietitian. It is also possible for nutritionists and dietitians to switch careers and get into medical school to become a doctor. 

Dietitians and nutritionists play very similar roles. They both specialize in food and nutrition and help people adopt healthy eating habits. However, there is a big difference between the two when it comes to required education, training, licensure, and certifications. 

Doctors also help people improve their health by diagnosing, treating, and preventing medical conditions through medicine. Nutrition education is very limited in medical schools. However, some doctors may choose to further their nutrition knowledge on their own to also become nutritionists. 

This guide goes over what dietitians and nutritionists are and how they are different from doctors.

What are dietitians? Are they doctors?

A dietitian is a healthcare professional who specializes in human nutrition. They obtain the credentials of Registered Dietitian and Licensed Dietitian to legally practice. Depending on their work setting and specialty, they may have a more specific title such as a Clinical Dietitian or Sports Dietitian. 

To become a dietitian, there are some specific formal education and training requirements. Dietitians are trained to provide detailed guidance on foods to eat depending on one’s stage of life, medical condition, and personal nutrition needs. 

Dietitians can work in a variety of settings including universities, hospitals, government agencies, professional sports, and private practices. They often specialize in certain areas such as oncologypediatricsweight managementdiabetes, or sports nutrition

Dietitians help patients with a variety of nutrition-related issues such as nutrient deficiencies, poor digestive health, and weight management issues. They are also the only healthcare professionals who are legally allowed to practice medical nutrition therapy, which is a scientific, individualized nutrition care process to help manage a certain medical condition. 

Dietitians are not doctors and doctors are typically not dietitians. While doctors receive several years of education and training in medicine, very little of that training centers around nutrition. Dietitians often work closely with doctors as a part of an interdisciplinary team in which the dietitian focuses on nutrition therapy and the doctor focuses on diagnosing and treating disease through medicine. 

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Comparing dietitians’ education requirements vs. doctors’ education requirements

To become a dietitian, one must first complete a four-year bachelor’s degree. As of 2024, earning a master’s degree is also a requirement for dietitians. Once the mandatory education is completed, future dietitians must complete 1,200 hours of supervised practice through an internship approved by ACEND.  

These internships can take around one year to complete. However, some internships are combined with a master’s program and can take up to two years to complete. This internship is required to sit for the national RD exam, and passing this exam is the final step to becoming a registered dietitian. 

Once dietitians have earned their RD credentials, they must complete a certain amount of continuing education hours every five years. If an RD does not earn at least 75 approved hours in a five-year cycle, they lose their RD credentials and need to pass the national exam again to earn their credentials back. 

Becoming a doctor in the United States could take anywhere from 11 to 14 years of education and training. Like dietitians, the first step to becoming a doctor is earning a four-year bachelor’s degree. This is followed by four years of medical school. 

After medical school, students must complete a residency, where they continue their training, working like a doctor. A residency program could last anywhere from three to seven years depending on the specialty. 

What are nutritionists? Are they doctors?

Like dietitians, nutritionists also counsel people on healthy eating and focus on food and nutrition to promote good health. However, not all nutritionists are dietitians because they have not completed the specific coursework and training that is required to earn RD credentials. 

Some nutritionists may earn a Certified Nutrition Specialist (CNS) title. There is required coursework and supervised practice experience to become a CNS, making it a more advanced nutrition certification. In many states, it is legal for a CNS to provide nutrition counseling, but it is not legal for a CNS to practice medical nutrition therapy. 

Nutritionists typically work in settings like fitness centers, grocery stores, or private practices. Most of the time, nutritionists are not doctors. However, some doctors may decide to become a nutritionist as well by earning a nutritionist certification. 

Comparing nutritionists’ education requirements vs. doctors’ education requirements

Because there is no formal governing body that regulates nutritionists, there are no education requirements for someone to become a nutritionist. However, most nutritionists have completed some sort of education, like a bachelor’s degree, or have earned a nutritionist certification. 

As mentioned above, doctors are required to have a four-year degree, go through medical school, complete a residency, and continue their medical education. Although these education requirements take several years to complete, not much nutrition education is provided in most medical schools.

Sometimes, doctors will seek out a nutritionist certification to enhance their nutrition knowledge. For example, a Physician Nutrition Specialist has completed extra training in nutrition to become a clinical nutrition expert. They will use nutrition strategies with their patients to prevent and treat disease.

How Zaya Care helps you book registered dietitians covered by your insurance

Here at Zaya Care, we’re dedicated to helping people find the care they need based on their preferences, needs, and insurance. Many dietitians are covered by insurance

When you request an appointment with one of our Registered Dietitians, we’ll check your insurance so you know exactly how much you’ll have to pay, if anything at all.

It’s worth noting that 90% of Zaya Care patients pay $0 for nutrition care with a registered dietitian as we are in-network with many major carriers.

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Kamryn is a Registered Dietitian who specializes in performance nutrition and weight management. She has experience in a variety of settings as a dietitian, including sports, clinical, and private practice. She currently provides individualized nutrition and fitness coaching to adult men and women. Kamryn is passionate about using evidence-based nutrition strategies to help people achieve long-term success with their fitness goals and to maintain a healthier lifestyle.