Q&A – What do clinical RDs do?

Question from Sarah:

I dont specifically know what it’s like to be a clinical RD, I tried to google it but didn’t get any good details. can you describe what your typical day is like?

Awesome question! Whether you’re a casual RD covering for workload, ward coverage when a RD isn’t available, or if you’re a full time clinical RD ‘owning’ your own ward, our days all look very similar. Within the health authority I work for in British Columbia, Canada, our days involve seeing patients in the hospital. By screening all the patients on the ward that day, looking into their previous medical histories through physician reports on their medical status, previous dietitian chart notes, etc, we determine which patients were should assess and conduct nutrition intervention/develop nutrition care plans for (in the health authority I’m with, ALL these documents can be found in our online charting system making gathering info super duper easy compared to some hospitals where everything is charted by hand). We also base which patients we’ll see in a day on referrals we get from physicians, staff (nurses, speech language pathologists, and any others in the interdisciplinary team) and what’s noted in the referral (decreased oral intakes, malnutrition, starting tube feeds, diet education, etc). We then list all the patients we should be seeing in that day, prioritize them, and assess them. Our day also involves following up on patients we’ve already see and who require closer help.

Where I work, dietitians are always kept pretty busy – and with the large, acute type of hospital I’m working at, the patients are pretty challenging and interesting from a medical stand point! When it comes to the work we do, it varies from patient to patient – it could be a simple addition of snacks or nutritional supplements to increase intakes, recommending additions of micronutrients based on the patient’s medical status and laboratory values, providing diet education for a variety of things (diabetes education, therapeutic diet teaching, texture and dysphagia requirements, post operative diet teaching.. the list goes on forever!) We also are responsible for determining nutritional needs for tube fed patients, starting tube feeds, and following these patients, and for starting parenteral nutrition/determining the nutritional needs of patients patients requiring parenteral nutrition (typically people who’s GI systems aren’t working so great). There’s a LOT more things that dietitians do in the clinical setting, specifically in the inpatient area, but it’s hard to list them all!

It’s a great question and something I get asked ALL the time. The public sometimes thinks that our job is to make sure people are eating and modifying diets to fit their needs but our job involves more than just that! We have a pretty solid education that requires knowing a lot about different disease states, medical conditions, medications and clinical nutrition in general. By tying together all of a patient’s comorbidities and medical details, we then develop nutrition care plans to meet that specific patient’s needs. It’s a super fun profession if you enjoy problem solving and high paced environments (and a reason I LOVE working in the surgical unit – an area I’ve been covering the past few days as the regular dietitian is off on vacation!) It can be a tiring job, but it’s a lot of fun!

I hope that answers your question!


3 thoughts on “Q&A – What do clinical RDs do?

  1. Shazara says:

    Hi Whitney, I’ve been following your blog for a while now and I really like the layout. For the past year I’ve been debating if I should do dietetics or not. I am a little squeamish and I’m not gifted at sciences, do I stand a chance at majoring in dietetics? Also, I have a suggestion for your q and a web page. Is there a way to add some sort of question box, that way people can ask their question that way instead of asking in the comments. Thanks for your response & again love this blog!!


    • whitneyhussain says:

      Hi Shazara,

      Thanks for the feedback – I just added a contact page to help future readers ask questions!

      As for your question, expect a more detailed post about this next month. In the meantime, I would highly recommend volunteering in areas that are related to Dietetics, touching on all aspects of the profession to see if you like it (Food Service, Clinical, Community, etc). I completed my degree at UBC and although applicant’s academic standing did have to be somewhat higher, I do know of applicants who were accepted into the program with a lower GPA due to their vast amount of work and volunteer experience in the field. I highly recommend boosting that resume of yours and networking with more dietitians if you’re planning to apply! If you’d like more information on what I have been involved with (anything from before 2014 was volunteer experiences I completed in univserity), check out my Linkedin page (https://ca.linkedin.com/in/whitney-hussain-229b443b)

      I’ll post more tips in a blog post but thought I’d reply to your comment in the meantime! Please let me know if you have more questions!



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s