If you’ve ever stayed in a hospital before, you would have heard of someone called a registered dietitian nutritionist or RDN. As you’ve probably guessed already, their job goes beyond just telling people what to eat. In fact, there is a very specific difference between a registered dietitian and some random practitioner who calls themselves a “nutritionist.” Kait Richardson, RDN, LD, is a unicorn among those in her profession. Unlike the vast majority of her peers, she chose to run an independent practice – a choice that may not be for everybody, but is certainly very interesting in its own way. Curious about what happens during a day of an RDN’s life? Is it something you’re considering for yourself as a career option? Join in as Kait shares everything with Dr. Richard Marn.
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A Peek At The Life And Career Of A Private Practice Registered Dietitian Nutritionist – Kait Richardson, RDN, LD
Food, most of us love it or like it, at least. It’s essential for everybody. In this episode, we’re going to learn about a career centered around food. That career is that of a registered dietician. We’re going to talk with Kait Richardson. I had the pleasure of reaching out to her and her saying yes. I’m glad she came on because she helped clarify for me what it means to be a nutritionist, a dietician and a licensed dietician. That helped explain a little bit more of what the nutritional world is all about and the food world and diverse careers that dieticians can go into.
This episode is wonderful and you’re going to learn something unique from this, even though you’re not even interested in being a dietician or nutritionist. It’s interesting because Kate also has a very entrepreneurial spirit, and you can tell she’s excited about what she does and she wants to help people out in her career, in her profession. Experiencing and being exposed to that and hearing her sage advice of how she approaches her profession, her career and her life could be useful and valuable to students. I hope that this is something that you could read and take something from, which I think you will. Without further ado, let’s jump into it.
I’m here with Kait Richardson. Welcome.
It’s fun to be here.
Thanks for joining me. Kait, let’s jump into it. Tell me a quick bio about yourself.
I’m a Registered Dietician Nutritionist here in Orlando, Florida. I’m licensed in the state of Florida and I co-own a private practice called Nutrition Awareness, where we see people one-on-one. I got my degree from Missouri State University. I was born and raised in Missouri, and then I moved to Florida for my first clinical job right out of school.
Did I tell you I lived in St. Louis for four years?
Yes, which excites me. I know that you had told me it wasn’t your favorite place on planet Earth and I totally get it.
I have five questions here. What is your job title and what do you do with patients?
I am a Registered Dietician Nutritionist. It’s often seen as RDN. I am also a Licensed Dietician here in Florida, and I specialize in private practice. I help people reach their ultimate health goals using a personalized nutrition approach.
What are the usual steps to achieve your professional degree?
There are a lot of steps, Richard, and this is the biggest misconception. You have to get an undergraduate degree in Nutrition and Dietetics, then you have to apply to a 1,200-hour supervised practice program. It’s extremely competitive. Only about 50% of students get matched. Once you complete that program, you now have to complete a Master’s program, which you can do sometimes with that supervised practice. It depends on your program. From there, you have to take a credentialing exam. There are quite a few steps, and then you’re free.
What’s the best part of your profession?
Making connections with people and helping them think about food in ways that they’ve never thought about it before.
What are the misconceptions people have about your profession?
That I’m going to tell them what to eat and what not to eat, and that it’s that simple because it’s not.
Finally, what professions do you usually work with?
When I worked in a hospital, an endless amount of different professions, now that I’m in private practice, I work with a lot of concierge medicine. I work with a lot of personal trainers or people who are in the fitness industry, people who are doing a lot of personalized wellness services.
That’s a nice, quick summary or at least an introduction to your profession. I want to let people know that. Thanks for doing that, Kait. Diving in, tell me what the difference is between RDN, Registered Dietician and Nutritionist, and LD, a Licensed Dietician.
Licensed Dietician confirms that I have been keeping up with my licensure requirements. To be a Registered Dietician Nutritionist, you have to go through all of those steps that I mentioned, going to school, doing your credentials, making sure you get that 1,200 supervised practice programs done. From there, you have to do continuing education units every five years to maintain that credential of a Registered Dietician Nutritionist. Being licensed, you have to follow certain protocols depending on the state in which you live.
There are specific things related to medical nutrition therapy that I can speak about in Florida because I keep up with my licensure and I follow Florida’s protocols that I couldn’t speak to someone about in Wyoming or a state where I’m not licensed. That depends on the state and the specific topic. I can give general nutrition advice to anybody no matter where they live. I’ve had clients who live in other countries, other states, but if it’s specific to a medical condition, then I have to be more careful and make sure that I only accept clients who fit my scope.An RDN’s job is not just to change people’s diets, but to change how they live their lives and how they see and relate with food. Click To Tweet
Does every RDN need an LD to provide that advice or depend on the state you’re in?
It depends on the state. As far as I know, there are only two states that do not require the LD. One of them being California and off the top of my head, I can’t think of the other one.
LD, if you want to practice in all 48 States, you need an LD for each of those states.
It’s going to depend on that specialty, so yes and no. Let’s say weight loss. I could work with someone who doesn’t have specific nutrition needs related to a medical condition anywhere, but if I had somebody in, let’s say, Texas, reach out to me, and they had kidney disease. They have specific nutrition requirements for kidney disease. I wouldn’t risk my licensure to work with that. I would rather point that person to a Registered Licensed Dietitian in their state.
Since we’re on this topic, how do you differentiate what you’re doing to the other title of a nutritionist? I know we’ve talked about this before, but if you could lay that out a little bit more for clarity here.
Anybody could be a nutritionist. Anybody can call themselves a nutritionist, you can call yourself a nutritionist. You are interested in nutrition, but you don’t have any governed credentials. You’ll often find people who call themselves nutritionists, who probably are very well-meaning. They might have a lot of good information. They might have some good experiences and maybe they found out about being a nutritionist or getting into nutrition later in their life. They wanted to spread the word and they find something online that gives them a certification. Maybe it’s a twenty-hour nutrition course under some business that decided to sell nutrition courses to make money and then they say that they’re a certified nutritionist, but that certification could come from anywhere.
That being said, you’ll see a lot of things popping up now in the industry where people are niched down. They might be a ketogenic nutritionist, meaning they’re nutritionists that specialize in the ketogenic diet or a low-carb nutritionist or a hormone balancing nutritionist or a holistic nutritionist. If you’re seeking out a nutritionist, you have to be careful about who you’re working with and making sure that they have a good background that shows that they know their stuff and they’re not just pulling information out of thin air.
Anybody can be a nutritionist. The higher training is with the dietician and to make sure that they are legit in that state and can practice, and what I’ve read is can provide prescribed nutrition therapy, that’s where you need your license.
To add to that too, when you are working with a registered dietician, we are held to extremely high standards, not only in how we practice. Meaning, we hold ourselves to a standard of providing people with evidence-based nutrition, not just things that we think might be true, that we want to be true, that maybe we’ve seen a few times happen. We give people solid advice that’s based on science and evidence and research. A nutritionist is not held to that standard. An individual might choose to practice that way depending on who they are and what their viewpoint is, but they are not being governed by a body that ensures that they do that. We also have a code of ethics. Our governing body renews our licensure, gives us our certification, makes sure that we are following a code of ethics.
An example of this could be accepting a sponsorship. A nutritionist might have a popular following on a social media platform and they might get offered a lot of money to post about a supplement, but they have no governing body holding them accountable for doing their research on the supplement. They could just be giving you random information and making outlandish claims to make money on the supplement. It’s within our profession to be picky about the types of companies that we’ve worked with because we have an ethical obligation to the people that we serve.
That was clear. Thank you very much, because there’s a lot of people that claim to be a nutritionist and I’m like, “How do you separate that from being a dietician and these other degrees that we were talking about?” What types of patients do you take care of in your practice?
In my practice, we do have a bit of a niche. We have a target population that we work best with. We see a lot of lifestyle clients, people who are looking to improve the quality of their life using nutrition, whether this is getting more energy or changing their weight, changing their meal patterns to fit a specific job or maybe they have physical performance goals. Maybe they do a lot of athletic training. Maybe they want to run a marathon. Maybe they do CrossFit and they want to optimize their nutrition. I would say that’s about 80%. Within that 80% of clients that we see, we will have some people with specific medical nutrition therapy needs. You might have somebody who is doing CrossFit, wants to put on lean muscle mass, have energy and improve their strength, but they also have high cholesterol and they’re pre-diabetic.
Our personalization approach is going to make sure that not only are they getting to where they want to be from an athletic standpoint and a performance point of view, but also that they’re optimizing their diet to help get those numbers within helping ranges. That is something that we take seriously, because if I have somebody coming in with high cholesterol and I’m giving them recommendations that aren’t conducive to a heart-healthy diet, then I could be doing more harm than good, regardless of their physical performance pursuits.
I presume you work in coordination with some of their doctors as well.
Yes. We’ll have our clients sign a release form and they will give us permission to speak to their physicians. A lot of our clients, because we are a private practice, work with a lot of concierge medicine. They have doctors that they have close relationships with, which is wonderful because they’re more available to speak to us, I find. We also talked to their trainers, endocrinologists, and specialists. Oftentimes, they’ll bring in their own lab work and we can help them work through it.
That’s great that you are able to coordinate that with your clients. What’s your typical day like?
My days are different every day. The difference between a lot of other dietitians and me is that me and my business partner are two dieticians that work together. We are a private practice. We are the minority of where dieticians end up working. Most dieticians are going to go into a clinical position. That’s where I started. I thought it was an incredible experience where you work in a hospital as a dietician, either at an intensive care unit or on a step-down unit and you work with acute care patients. Many dieticians also go into acute care or long-term care facilities where there might be an older population, geriatric. Many go into a culinary route where they are dieticians for specific companies, like Taco Bell has a registered dietician for instance, or they might be going into food service, which would be something like a school that needs a registered dietician to make sure that the food that they’re offering their students is in line with certain guidelines and fitting the budget.
There are a lot of options. That’s the cool thing about being a dietician. Where there’s food and where there are people, you can make a job. You might have seen in certain grocery stores, there are dietitians. I thought that was something up my alley for a while. My job is different now because not only am I a Dietician and I’m providing dietary services and counseling patients and coaching to people, but I am a partner at a business. We have to do a lot of our marketing. We have to get out there and we have to let people know that we are an option and that they don’t have to turn to bogus medical weight loss spas or things that restrict people from eating a whole healthy diet. We are a different option for them, so we have to do a lot of our own marketing.
To answer your question, my average day is not going to be 9:00 to 5:00. Every other day is different depending on when I’m seeing clients, how booked my calendar is that day, I might have one client that day, I might have six, and then my follow-up work with them. I always make sure my documentation is clear. I’m answering emails because they hired me to give them a service. I need to be available for them when I say I’m going to be available. A lot of marketing, we do a lot of presentations, a lot of speaking, we have a podcast. A lot of our time is spent doing media work to either record our podcast, market our podcast, share the podcast and get on social media. We are a one-man band, to say the least. My days are divided, split up differently. I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Can you give a taste of what it’s like when you’re one-on-one with a client?
It’s emotional. My job isn’t for somebody who doesn’t like tears, who is uncomfortable. I have a box of tissues on our desk because people cry. It’s crazy. You asked me about a specific client story. I get this a lot. When people book their appointment on our website, we ask them, “What’s your goal for this appointment?” I’ll read something generic. Sometimes people pour their heart out right there, and at least then I have a little bit of a warning like, “This is going to be a deep one. This is going to be a lot.” Sometimes it’d just be one sentence like, “Lose 10 pounds, improve energy and feel healthy.” The first thing I ask anybody when we sit down is, “I read your goals for this appointment, but expand on that for me. What made you decide this is it, I’m going to invest the time, the money and energy to work with the dietician. You’ve had to hit some breaking point to be here right now.” Sometimes that question releases the flood gates.
People tell me something that personally happened to them. They might be having an experience with an interpersonal relationship. They might be feeling so badly about themselves. They might be struggling for years and years of yo-yo dieting and they gain weight and lose weight and gain weight and lose weight, and they don’t even know how to eat without following some basic meal plan that makes them feel they’re missing out on life. They feel horrible about themselves. They feel like a failure. They look back at pictures of them in high school and they’re like, “How was I so thin then or so happy then?”
A lot of what we talk about is not only just changing their diet but changing how they live their lives and how they see food and not relying on some cookie-cutter fad diet to tell them how to eat. Some people don’t want to hear that. Some people want me to tell them how to eat. I’ve found that when I do that, I don’t help them. They need to learn how to eat, and then they need to learn to execute on those goals and those practices but also do a lot of inner reflection to know what’s truly best with them. I’m often facilitating a lifestyle change rather than writing a prescription of how to eat for people.
It’s interesting how people have a unique connection to food and how it affects them.
When you were a kid, how did your parents or your guardian speak about food? How did they speak about their body? How did they speak about your eating habits? I’ll tell you a story. This one sticks out to me, but I hear these things all the time. I had a woman come in in her 60s. When you look at her, she’s a healthy size. She doesn’t look like someone who’s got a problem with food, which is the case quite often, believe it or not. She would share with me, she had this supportive husband, it was just them two, and he never made comments about her food or her body. He never made her feel ashamed. When she was a kid, she was adopted and her mother was naturally thin-bodied but conscious about food. She was constantly talking about food in the house.
Whenever this specific client of mine would eat something that did not fit the idea of her mother’s picture of health, she would make comments. One thing she would do is she would sniff my client’s breath to see if she was sneaking peanut butter. As a 60-year-old woman, she was still doing this. Her husband would leave the house, and she, all of a sudden, gave herself permission to eat everything and anything that she wanted. She would eat a bunch of peanut butter. She like candy. She loved gelato. She’d be eating gelato at 10:00 AM because, “My husband left for work. Now it’s safe. I won’t be judged.” Even though she consciously knew in the front of her brain, her husband wouldn’t judge her. He had no complexes with food. He had a neutral relationship with food. Hers was traumatic and tumultuous, and it stemmed from her mother always being on her rear about it. One of the things we’ve worked on was allowing herself to eat food in front of her husband, in front of other people, without shaming herself for it.
It’s not just which foods to choose but knowing when to do it and sometimes who to do it in front of.
What your fears are that are triggering unwanted eating behaviors. Everyone knows, eating gelato at 10:00 AM every day is not conducive to most people’s idea of a healthy lifestyle, which living it up in Italy. We know this consciously. A lot of people who are trying to change their health consciously know, “I need to do more of this, less of that.” Part of my job is helping them break down the barriers of why you won’t do it and how can we get you to do the things you know you need to do without throwing you for a loop.
How would you describe your work-life balance?
I prioritize work-life balance. When I worked in the hospital, my work-life balance was effortless. You clock in, clock out. You don’t think about work. I had to work one weekend a month, but I got weekdays off that week. Work-life balance was not a problem. I never thought about it. When you are in private practice and you pay your bills, you don’t get a paycheck, you pay your own health insurance, you do everything on your own. I like to think of it as work-life integration. I know how to read myself. If I’m feeling burnt out, maybe all I do that day is see clients and I spend the rest of the day doing things I need to do to relax. There are days, this is more often than not, where I’m jazzed and I’m ready to kill it.
I’m up early doing my job. I’m working a lot. I don’t get tired. I take breaks when I need to. I don’t forget to eat. I don’t forget to drink water, but I can work late into the night doing things marketing-wise or responding to correspondences, doing a lot of social media work, writing podcasts, creating content for my clients and handouts because I want to. My work-life integration is exactly where I want it to be right now and there are lots of flexibility, but I choose to do that. I know that there’s a lot of people who own businesses that struggle with this because they tell me about it. It’s a choice.
A nice word to describe what you’re doing, integration. What percentage of dieticians do you think are in private practice like you are versus the other avenues?
It’s growing. I don’t know if I could tell you a percentage, but if I look at all the dieticians I know, and I look about at the industry and the profession, I would say single digits. There is no way it’s more than 10% because it’s hard.
Shifting gears a little bit, about your professional outlook. What do you think the future of not your career necessarily, but the profession itself looks like as a dietician?
It’s going to be extremely specialized. You have to tell me if you see this in your profession, in your realm, but people are looking for specialists in a lot of areas of health instead of one-man bands, people that do everything. Jack of all trades is the expression I’m trying to think of. Dieticians need to niche down and become specialists as they go through their education. I’m hoping to see it become more diversified. It’s mostly white women. It seems to be diversifying more, but that’s the trend right now. That’s what I’m hoping will happen.
I see the profession gaining more competition with the trend we’re seeing in business with the coaching industry. You see a lot of people being health, life and money coaches. Anybody with a credential or a degree in anything is going to get a little offended and competitive when they see people who just decide that, “I know how to eat healthy and I lost weight, so now I can charge other people for information.” I see us having to pivot to meet the needs or the understanding of the consumers to compete with people. Our perspective cannot offer the same type of evidence-based qualified nutrition. I see a lot of us going to the virtual, to specialization, and hopefully, diversifying.If you're looking for a job where you just talk to people about facts without actually trying change their life, don't be a dietician. Click To Tweet
There’s a growing aspect of being a specialist in many aspects of medicine. Even several of my guests themselves have said that being a specialist has been helpful or maybe even provide them a little bit more security and/or even more intellectual curiosity. I’m not like you can’t make it as a generalist, but more people as populations growing, as the science grows, being a specialist is something that a lot of people could allow them to get a niche.
In my profession and this is a sad truth if you are interested in finances. When you first got out of the gate as a dietician, there are salary caps. It is not easy to make a lot of money as a clinical dietician even if you specialize in the clinic. If you want to make a lot of money as a dietician, you have to be able to offer something incredible that people will pay money for and will say, “This keeps me up at night. I need this problem solved.” If you’re a general dietician who isn’t niched down, you’re more of a dime a dozen and people aren’t going to be as invested. The beautiful thing about being a niche dietician who has a practice, who can offer an incredible personalized service is that you will get people who will take your recommendations and do what needs to be done.
I don’t know who coined the phrase, but I heard it from a guy named Dean Graziosi, and he said, “People who pay money, pay attention.” One of my biggest personal frustrations in a hospital setting was sitting with somebody, I was a cardiac-pulmonary dietician, who had gotten open-heart surgery. They’re barely hanging on. I’m in there from their doctor’s orders, trying to open up a conversation about diet changes for healthy hearts. They either wanted nothing to do with me or they politely took my information. I knew they weren’t going to do anything about it, or maybe they genuinely cared, but I’d never get to follow up with them again once they were discharged from the hospital. Who knows what happened? Nobody was there holding them accountable. When someone sees a niche that you can solve a problem that they think that you can only solve and you charge money for it, they will pay, and then they will show up and they will change your life, and your job will be more satisfying.
What type of students do you think best flourish in this profession?
Dieticians are split. In my experience in college, I was a black sheep. The dietician profession is notorious for being type A, people who are extremely doing it by the book, textbook, organized or maybe a little anal. I would watch these girls and I was like, “How do they always have their ducks in a row?” It always made me feel self-conscious. Those types of girls I find are so successful in their clinical jobs. They are the best in intensive care units because you have to be. You have to be detailed-oriented when somebody is hooked up to TPN and that which stands for, Total Parenteral Nutrition. Getting nutrients in your blood through an IV, you got to be meticulous if you don’t want to kill someone or shoot their blood sugars up through the roof. Therefore, they do well. That’s probably 75%, 80% of what dieticians do. For my specific job, you have to be somebody who loves people.
You have to be somebody who cares about people, but you have to have high emotional intelligence, the EQ because people will share their feelings with you and they will spill out their guts. They’ll tell you their problems or maybe they don’t know exactly how to phrase their problem, but if they sit there and tell you, “I want this, I need this. This is what I struggle with,” and you get so caught up in the textbook way of doing things and you’re like, “Eat 30 grams of protein.” You can’t meet them halfway. You’re just giving them facts, then they’re going to leave there feeling misheard. They’re not going to feel understood and they’re not going to change. They’re not going to get to their goal. You have to be someone who’s emotionally intelligent. You have to love people. You have to have some flexibility and understand that not everyone geeks out on nutrition, the same way you do. You have to be able to break things down in layman’s terms for the average person to be able to understand and use.
Is there any advice you could give students who are thinking about being a dietician? If they’re like, “I’m not sure if I want to do this, or maybe I do want to do this but I’d like to find out more information?” What advice would you give a student that wants to learn more?
I’ll share two. The first one is to know your why. If you’re going into the field of dietetics because you like to follow diet plans or you have an interest in nutrition. Remember this is your job, and your job is to change people’s lives using nutrition, not just talk at them. If you’re looking for a job where you talk to people about facts without trying to help them and change their life, please don’t be a dietician because you’re not going to help anyone. You’re going to confuse people and you are going to break down the integrity of being a dietician.
Get crystal clear on what kind of field that you want to work in by getting real experience. Talk to dieticians from different perspectives and pay attention to their attitudes. If you’re talking to someone who’s got a bad attitude about their job, it’s not because of the profession, it’s just of who they are. Get diverse perspectives from people in every single field of dietician that piques your interest, whether it’s clinical, whether it’s a community dietician, somebody in a hospital or a grocery store or a sports dietician. Ask if you can sit or talk to them or even shadow.
Those two principles can be applied to a lot of professions, gain experience talking to different people for sure. If you’re getting a lousy experience with somebody and they’re just not mentally in it, find somebody that is. At least you understand someone that enjoys their career and then see if it matches you. I want to change the topic now, a little bit more lighthearted. This is what I’d like to call my rapid-fire questions. What’s your favorite ice cream flavor?
What’s your favorite vegetable?
Brussels sprouts, only if they are roasted with parmesan.
I saw a video on how to make Brussel sprout chips. What’s something you could eat straight for a week?
Cheese from the bag, shredded cheese.
For a week?
Would that be my only food?
Let me retract that answer. That’s so hard because I started going into the nutrient content. I’m like, “No way. There is too much mercury.” Almond butter. It’s got a lot of different nutrients.
That’s a cerebral decision, isn’t that for you?
This is hard for me.
Let’s get off the nutrition questions. What kind of book do you like to read?
Personal growth and business.
What kinds of musical instruments have you learned to play?
Cello, barely in 5th grade. It was my orchestra teacher’s worst nightmare.
Was there a chore you hated doing as a child?
I still do. I had to clean up the cat litter box and I will not get a cat for that reason.
What comes easily for you that is more difficult for other people?
If I was starting in your business, what is the most important piece of advice you’d give me?
Don’t give up. It’s hard. The highs are high, and the lows are low.
Where can the readers go to reach you and learn more about you, Kait?
If you’re interested in nutrition information, out of curiosity, we have a podcast, the NUTRITION AWARENESS podcast, me and my partner. If you are interested in learning more about how to be a dietician, you could send us a direct message on Instagram, we are @Nutrition.Awareness. We also have a website, www.NutritionAwareness.com.
What is your partner’s name?
It has been great to get to talk to you. I’m so glad we connected. Thank you so much.
I’m so glad you found us. This has been a lot of fun.
Thanks for tuning in. To learn more about our guest or other past guests, check out my website, HealthCareersWithDrMarn.com or HCWithDrMarn.com. If you like what read, then please go to my website, add your name and email to my email list. That way, you can get the latest announcements and news as they arise. You can also find me on Instagram @DrRichardMarn. Thank you so much for reading. I’ll catch you on the next episode.
- Kait Richardson
- @DrRichardMarn – Instagram
About Kait Richardson
After passing her board certification exam and officially becoming a registered dietitian nutritionist, Kait accepted a position as a clinical dietitian at the Florida Hospital (now AdventHealth) in Orlando. She worked in many areas of the hospital from oncology to intensive care before specializing in cardiopulmonary nutrition. Kait began working on the side at Nutrition Awareness until March 2019 when she left the hospital to work full time in private practice.
Since starting at Nutrition Awareness, Kait co-hosts the Nutrition Awareness Podcast and has been featured on 1520 WBWZ, Keeping it Positive Podcast, The Culinati Podcast, Marky Mark and the Fitness Bunch Podcast, Interested Eater Podcast, and The Nerds Adulting Podcast.
Kait hosts a show (Nutrition) Date with Kait on The TĒM app.
Kait has been a guest speaker for local events and organizations including Anytime Fitness, The Florida General Baptist Church Annual Convention, A Tribe Called Venus, Gainesville Academy of Nutrition And Dietetics, F45 Downtown Orlando, and Primus CrossFit.
Kait has been featured in Food and Nutrition Magazine, Parade Magazine, & she served on Central Florida’s Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics as the Communications Chair for two years.
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