What a hot topic this one is! I get so many questions about not only where I studied but also what I recommend when considering a career in Nutrition. There is also a lot of confusion surrounding what a Nutritionist does verses a Dietician, with some loaded debate as to which side is ‘better’ or more ‘accredited’. I’ve wanted to take the time to discuss this topic with you for ages, so today I have finally sat down to put virtual pen to paper.
First and foremost, when it comes to deciding on which pathway to take in the arena of Nutrition and Dietetics, you need to think about what it is that attracts you to industry to start with. Do you want to be in private practice and love the idea of working one on one with clients? Do you see yourself in more of a hospital environment; devising dietary plans for the convalescent and those with common dietary related health conditions? Perhaps you see yourself working behind the scenes in research or consulting? You may not know the answer to these questions right now; however choosing the right path of study that opens the door to a multitude of opportunities is key.
For instance, if you want your Nutritional studies to provide you with a career and not just some basic self-education for you to use at home on your kids, then you need a course that will provide you with accreditation recognised by Associations here within in Australia. Accreditation is what will define you as Nutritionist or a Dietician. These association bodies provide recognition to specific level education in the field of Nutrition and Dietetics. Here in Australia we have either the Dietitians Association of Australia (DAA) or Nutrition Society of Australia (NSA) for those students graduating under the model of Dietetics based courses offered at multiple universities. We then have associations such as Australian Natural Therapies Association (ANTA) and Australian Traditional Medicine Society (ATMS), which provide coverage for Nutritionists studying through institutions such as Endeavour Collage of Natural Health (ECNH). Associations such as ANTA and ATMS only provide coverage to Nutritionist who have studied a full Bachelor of Health Science through institutions outside of a university degree and do not provide membership coverage to short courses, diplomas or other types of training outside a full Bachelor degree.
Dieticians trained through the university model and covered by DAA can provide full private health rebates for their clients and can also work with referrals from GP’s on the EPC (Enhanced Primary Care) program allowing Medicare rebates. Nutritionists trained under the same model are also covered by NSA and have access to more limited private health fund rebates for their clients. A Nutritionist with a Bachelor degree (covered by ANTA, ATMS and so forth) through alternative institutions such as Endeavour, have access to a select coverage for their clients of private health insurance depending on the individual insurer. An ANTA or equivalent covered Nutritionist cannot provide health care under the EPC program.
Why? And what are my thoughts on this? Well, I am not going to sugar coat it. As a Bachelor degree qualified Nutritionist who studied at Endeavour its quite annoying at times when your clients cannot claim a percentage of their consultation fee because their expensive monthly payments to private health insurance do not cover it. The reasoning to me is frustratingly outdated and needs revisiting by government bodies.
Nutrition Australia states that:
A variety of different levels of training and qualification can lead to an individual calling themselves a nutrition professional. This is because in Australia, professional nutritional practice is not regulated by the government, and there is no legal protection over the terms ‘Nutritionist’ and ‘Dietitian’ – anyone can call themselves a Nutritionist or Dietitian, no matter their level of training. This situation opens the possibility for misinformation to the public.
When seeking the advice of a nutrition professional, it is therefore important to ensure that you consult with someone who has a credential which is provided and governed by either the Dietitians Association of Australia (DAA) or the Nutrition Society of Australia (NSA). If you are a student, or a potential student wishing to one day work in the field of nutrition, it is important to choose a course that will qualify you to apply for accreditation or registration with one of the above two organisations.
I agree with the above, but lets also make clear that a Nutritionist can also be trained to a government recognised and accredited level through educational institutions outside of those institutions only offering a Dietetics outcome. As long as you as a prospective student are smart and savvy about the type of educational training you are undertaking (e.g. a bachelor or masters degree) and ensure the course will enable you access to coverage with an accredited association, then you can most certainly widen the scope of training outside the dietetics model highlighted by Nutrition Australia.
So what is the difference between a Dietician and a Nutritionist?
First and foremost, it depends on where you studied. Here is Australia you can study to become a Nutritionist through the university system, which is commonly a postgraduate diploma. Many students go onto complete a full dietetics course from here. Some students leave after the initial diploma and go into education, public health and research; others of course continue their practice to become dieticians.
This type of training definitely provides the cornerstones of biology and biochemistry with a foundation of nutrition pertaining to health and disease. Where things start to deviate from a Nutritionist that studies in an alternative institution is that dietetics courses do not delve into a greater level of gut health and systemic interaction of individualised analysis. Of course there is nothing wrong with this, the dietetics model of practice suits well those wanting to work in a clinical practice devising dietary plans for public health concerns such as obesity, diabetics, cardiovascular disease and so forth. It is not however the path to take if your pull and passion is more towards the foundations of gut health and the interplay of the microbiome.
Conversely, a Nutritionist with a bachelor of health science through Endeavour (or the like) is educated and trained as aforementioned in the foundations of physiology, biology and biochemistry. However, the major divergence is the strong foundation of individualised dietary approach based on the specific underpinnings of a client’s presenting health issues. There is also significant focus on gut health and the importance of the microbiome and its systemic interplay with individual’s health. This type of degree suits a student who feels passionate about the more systemic approach to Nutrition and the interaction of the microbiome and the individualised aspects that affect a person’s health outside a more generalized approach to dietary planning.
Now of course the above is still a generalisation – there are grey zones between each field. However, my intension is to outline the basic fundamentals that one must consider when deciding which pathway to go down. I certainly know some amazing Dieticians that have taken their dietetics degrees and self educated further in the sphere of microbiota health. There are also inspiring dieticians working in the more holistic space doing work that we have come to expect from a more alternative background (an example would be McKel Hill of Nutrition Stripped).
Contrariwise, just because someone studies at an alternative institution to a university does not mean that his or her qualifications automatically came out of a cereal box. We can find good and not so good Nutritionists and Dieticians on both side of the camp, it’s about being passionate and caring in what you do alongside keeping yourself up to date with an every changing world of health research that truly picks the cream of the crop.
Qualifications are also important to help sieve the gold out of the sand. As Nutrition Australia states, anyone can call themselves Nutritionist with a quick online course in ‘holistic nutrition’. As a qualified Nutritionist its easy for me to see the shit splatters as opposed to the well formed stools (for lack of a more appropriate analogy), but for the everyday person after health education its getting harder and harder in a world overrun with health gurus calling themselves Nutritionists on social media and/or podcasts. Ensuring you are qualified is paramount to ensure you don’t end up doing a Bell Gibson. Honestly, the health industry might be a bit wayward still at this point, but I think we are on the verge of some serious crack downs. The onus is on you as prospective student to ensure you choose an educational institution that gives you not only value of education in the areas of nutritional health that you are interested in, but also the accreditation and qualifications you require to practice and be recognised once you finish.
So, that all being said, here’s my three top tips in regards to what to look for in relation to studying Nutrition are:
If you want to be qualified to practice then seek a course that offers you a bachelor or masters degree. This will ensure you are covered by Associations within Australia and recognised as an accredited professional Nutritionist. It will also ensure you have access to offering private insurance cover for your clients if this is important to you. If you are unsure, just get in contact with the applicable associations.
If you are interested in the science and biochemistry of nutrition yet also want to apply this in a holistic manner then ensure you place of study offers this as part of the course structure. The world of Nutrition is so diverse spanning from calories and dietary planning through to research and education through to clinical practice and microbiome restoration. I find most prospective students generally have a pull in one direction when it comes to this.
If you are unsure on what you want to do at the end of your course just ensure that the course of choosing provides you with the accreditation to open all the doors that you may need. Studying Nutrition is super exciting, but also hard work. Therefore you want to get to the end of that hard work and know that all of the potential possibilities lay at your fingertips.
Jessica Cox is a qualified practicing Nutritionist with a Bachelor Health Science (Nutrition) and over 15 years of clinical experience. She is the founder and director JCN Clinic, published author and established recipe developer. Jessica is well respected within health and wellness space for her no fad approach and use of evidence-based nutrition.