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Registered Dietitian or Nutritionist: What Doctors and Patients Need to Know

Lisa Finley, RD, LD
JCMG Weight Treatment Center
(573) 556-5774

As January begins and people turn their thoughts to shedding those extra pounds acquired through the holidays, one may consider working with a registered dietitian or…perhaps a nutritionist. Are they the same? As it turns out, no, not in the state of Missouri anyway.

It is important to realize that registered dietitians like physicians, nurses, pharmacists and counselors have to be licensed to practice in the state of Missouri. Licensing is conducted through the Missouri Division of Professional Registration, an agency whose purpose is to “…protect the public from incompetency, misconduct, gross negligence, fraud, misrepresentation or dishonesty by providing an accessible, responsible and accountable regulatory system that licenses only qualified professionals….” In Missouri, nutritionists are NOT eligible for licensing as nutrition professionals as they do not meet the following requirements:

(1) Completion of a bachelor’s degree by an American Dietetic Association accredited program
(2) Completion of a minimum of 900 supervised practice hours in the areas of management, diet therapy, counseling and research.
(3) Successful completion of a nationally-administered board examination
(4) Completion of 75 hours of approved continuing education credits in their practice area every five years to maintain their registration status.
(5) Compliance with a code of ethics established by the American Dietetic Association which conveys to the patient/client a guarantee of ethical and accurate nutrition advice.

For doctors making referrals or patients seeking nutrition therapy, look for the credentials RD (registered dietitian) and LD (licensed dietitian.) In some cases, registered dietitians may also have acquired specialty training through certification programs or accredited advanced degree programs.

With regard to titles such as “nutritionist” or “nutrition consultant,” one should be aware that as a completely unregulated, unlicensed term in Missouri, ANYONE could “hang a shingle” and call themselves a nutritionist. No education required. No experience required. Nothing…! The use of the term “certified” does not necessarily lend credibility, either; in some cases, a person can send in a minimal fee to receive by mail a “certificate.” Many variables exist regarding the depth or quality of education, whether the curriculum is “accredited,” and what organization is offering the “accreditation.” So many questions to ask So many considerations for the average consumer. It’s so confusing!

But it does not have to be confusing. A savvy consumer will rely on credible resources to help guide them to a qualified professional. In addition to the registered dietitians available at JCMG, local hospitals and the Cole County Health Department, one may also go to or and use the search engines to locate a licensed registered dietitian to ensure quality patient/client care!