What Is a Dietitian?
A dietitian is a trained and qualified practitioner of dietary health. They will have completed university and practical training in dietetics and undertake regular revalidation and updated professional development training. They work in a variety of settings including general practice, outpatient clinics, specialist nutrition centers, and hospitals. They take referrals for patients with complex dietary and nutritional needs.
Dietitians in hospital settings may be attached to specialities where there are likely to be lots of people with complex needs, for example, the swallowing difficulties sometimes associated with stroke that may require alternatives to oral nutrition. Diabetics and people with cancer also commonly require dietitian input.
Dietitians can manage illnesses related to nutritional deficiencies through poor diet or malabsorption conditions. They can also work in public health promotion, weight loss programs, or in rehabilitation settings, for example with people who need to gain weight after serious illness.
Some dietitians work professional sports settings, giving sports nutrition advice and monitoring the health and diet of people with increased calorific expenditure.
What Does a Dietitian Do?
Dietitians see patients in a hospital or hold community or outpatient clinics for people with complex nutritional needs. They can also be involved with larger scale health promotion, for example identifying groups of people at risk of specific diseases and giving advice, providing classes or facilitating peer support groups. They may also be involved in understanding the nutritional needs of people in institutions like schools, prisons, or care homes, and creating appropriate meal plans.
If you need to see a dietitian in a clinic, you can expect a full, holistic assessment of your health your dietary requirements, as well as your lifestyle and ability to comply with their recommendations. They may recommend that you see them, or a dietary or nutritional assistant in their team for ongoing progress evaluation and advice. Dietitians work closely with nutritionists and the nurses and carers involved in the needs of their patients. Dietitians also have close links with social work and occupational therapists, as they will also consider their patients’ ability to meet their own dietary needs at home, and may get advice on appliances or carers to help with food preparation and feeding.
Dietitians help to look after people at risk of malnutrition. Their caseload may include people undergoing cancer treatment whose appetite and sense of taste or smell can be affected, people with a history of eating disorders, and people who are unable to take food by mouth and need feeding by other means. People with special care needs because of illness or disability can benefit from nutritional advice and professional input.
Dietitians work closely with nutritionists in hospitals and general practice help to care for individual patients at risk of malnutrition, with complex dietary or feeding needs, or with modifiable dietary risk factors for disease. They can also give staff training on recognising patients with increased nutritional needs, for example patients with communication or swallowing difficulties, and ensuring that their needs for nutrition are met.