Are Dietitians Doctors?
No, registered dietitian nutritionists are not medical doctors. Dietitians are healthcare professionals and experts in nutrition, but they have not gone to medical school.
Dietitians vs Doctors: Education
Dietitians must complete a minimum of a bachelor’s degree through a program that is approved by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Starting in 2024, a master’s degree is required as well. They must also complete an approved internship that is a minimum of 1,200 hours.
Doctors, after getting a bachelor’s degree, go to medical school for 4 years. This is then followed by 3-7 years of residency training in their chosen specialty.
Dietitians vs Doctors: Job Functions
When working with patients, dietitians evaluate and assess nutritional status, recommend therapeutic diets, and provide nutrition education. They may collaborate with the healthcare team to make sure the patient’s nutrition-related needs are met.
Doctors diagnose medical conditions based on symptoms, physical examinations, and medical tests. They prescribe medications, perform surgeries, and recommend therapies to manage and cure diseases.
Should I Meet with a Doctor for My Nutritional Needs Since They Have More Education?
Ideally, patients are working with an entire healthcare team to manage their nutrition-related medical conditions. This team may include physician(s), a dietitian and other medical professionals.
While doctors have more training overall, dietitians have significantly more education in nutrition specifically. On average, less than 20 hours is spent on nutrition in medical school, and there are generally no specific nutrition requirements for residency programs.
In fact, in a 2017 survey of cardiologists, 90% reported that they had not received adequate education on nutrition to counsel their patients. In this same survey, 31% stated they received no nutrition education in medical school.
Why Do Some Dietitians Have “Dr.” Before Their Name?
While it is not a requirement, some dietitians choose to get a doctoral degree. Based on information from a 2021 survey, about 4% of dietitians have a doctoral degree. With this level of education, professionals can use the title “Dr.,” despite not being a medical doctor.