Featured Food & nutrition

An introduction to dietitians and how they can support your nutrition goals

Written by Sunnybrook

March is Nutrition Month, and March 15 is Dietitian’s Day, an opportunity to recognize registered dietitians (RDs). Sunnybrook has more than 40 clinical dietitians, who are experts on diet, nutrition and help improve or maintain patients’ health.

Learn more from Sunnybrook’s dietitians about their education, how you can access a dietitian’s services and how a dietitian might be able to support you.

“Ingredients” of a Dietitian

In order to become a registered dietitian in Canada, an individual will first finish a four-year accredited Bachelor’s degree, typically in Nutrition and Dietetics, followed by an accredited dietetic internship or an integrated Master’s program, which includes a practicum component.

During their dietetic internship or as part of an integrated Master’s degree, dietitians complete a minimum of 1250 hours of supervised practical training. The practical training provides a variety of rotations in clinical, community and food service settings that allows students to meet the requirements for their dietetic education and practice. Students learn from RDs working in a variety of inpatient and outpatient settings where they become a part of the interprofessional team gaining the hands-on experience and skills needed to provide competent patient centered care.

After completing their post-graduate internship or Master’s degree, students must pass the Canadian Dietetic Registration Exam before they officially receive their independent practice license as a registered dietitian. In Ontario, they must also pass the Jurisprudence Knowledge and Awareness Test at graduation and every 7 years. Every year, RDs must file a “self-directed learning tool” and provide evidence of ongoing learning to maintain their registration with the College of Dietitians of Ontario.

The pathway for internationally trained dietitians can be found here: https://www.collegeofdietitians.org/applicants/internationally-educated.aspx

What can a dietitian do for me?

Registered Dietitians are food and nutrition experts. There are many different ways that an RD can help support you in your health and nutrition goals. Some examples include:

  • Healthy eating for health promotion and disease prevention
  • Chronic disease management (diabetes, heart disease, kidney disease, cancer care, gastrointestinal disorders, and more
  • Nutrition for different stages of life from prenatal nutrition to infancy and childhood, through to older adults and palliative care
  • Food allergies, intolerances and sensitivities
  • Eating disorders and disordered eating
  • Sports nutrition

In a hospital setting, clinical RDs provide medical nutrition therapy for a variety of inpatient and outpatient medical conditions. RDs might screen patients for nutritional risk, provide nutritional assessments and develop nutrition care plans. They assess for nutrition therapy provided orally, through enteral feeding tubes and via IV. They also provide nutrition education for patients and families. 

Accessing a dietitian

Outside of the hospital setting, you may wish with work with a dietitian to learn about how to make the most of your food and nutrition.

 There are dietitians who work for public health units, diabetes education centres, community health centres and with family health teams. In some of these cases, they may accept self-referrals (e.g. this is the case for the Sunnybrook diabetes education centre), while other clinics may require a referral from your doctor. You may also be able to access a dietitian through long-term care homes or home care service agencies.

Some extended health care plans cover private dietitian services. In order to access a dietitian who works in private practice, you may be required to have a referral from your physician in order for insurance to cover their services, so check with your insurance company before booking an appointment.

You can find a dietitian in your area by visiting the Dietitians of Canada website and clicking on “Find a Dietitian.”

Finally, you can visit Health Connect Ontario’s website to speak with a local registered dietitian. This service is free and does not require a doctor’s referral. It can be a great starting point for anyone looking to speak with a dietitian since it is free for the public, and there are translators available for more than 100 languages. Dietitians at Health Connect can address many concerns related to chronic diseases and can assist in offering resources if they are not equipped to speak to a specific concern.

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