A Dietitian is a health professional who has a Bachelor's degree or a Masters degree specialising in food and nutrition, as well as a period of practical training in a hospital and a community setting. It takes at least four years of full-time study at a university to qualify as a Dietitian at an undergraduate level. There are also now a number of fulltime Masters programmes (2 yrs) which allow those with a suitable primary degree to qualify as a Dietitian. Many Dietitians go on to further their knowledge by pursuing a Master's or Doctoral degree. Dietitians apply the science of nutrition to promote health, treat and prevent malnutrition and provide therapeutic dietary guidelines for patients, clients and the public in health and illness.
Dietitians are the only qualified and regulated health professionals who assess, diagnose and treat dietary and nutritional problems at an individual and wider public health level. The title "Registered Dietitian” and "Dietitian/Dietician" is protected by law so that only qualified practitioners who have met the required education qualifications and continue to maintain their knowledge and skills through continuing professional development, can use that title. CORU is responsible for regulation of health and social care professionals under the Health and Social Care Professionals’ Act, 2005, in Ireland.
Whilst the INDI recognises the choice of the consumer and patients to use complementary or alternative therapies, a key role of the INDI is to ensure that the public are protected from unregulated or inappropriate advice on nutrition. For more information on the regulation of health care professionals in Ireland see www.coru.ie.
Many people claim to be experts in nutrition yet have very limited knowledge, are unregulated and do not offer protection to the public. Unfortunately, for those who use the services of these unqualified ‘nutrition practitioners’, the advice or therapy provided may be ineffective, inappropriate and potentially unsafe. The term nutritionist is currently not protected by law so people with widely different levels of training and knowledge can call themselves a "nutritionist". The title nutritional therapist is also unregulated.
The key differences between the roles and functions of Dietitians, nutritionists and nutritional therapists are outlined in the table below: