Waging a professional turf war: an examination of professionalization as a strategic communication practice used by registered dietitians

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Sarah N. Heiss *
Kristin K. Smith
Heather J. Carmack
(*) Corresponding Author:
Sarah N. Heiss | sarah.heiss@uvm.edu


In 2012, the American Dietetic Association changed its name to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. The following year, the association allowed their members to select between two titles: registered dietitian (RD) or registered dietitian nutritionist. Based on interviews with dietitians, we argue that these semantic changes added fuel to a pre-existing discursive struggle for professional legitimacy. As of June 2017, there were over 100,000 registered dietetic practitioners, globally. Approximately 74% of RDs are members of the Academy, a notably high percent of representation, suggesting the influence of this professional organization on the occupation. Academy members work in a variety of occupational settings and fields, including hospitals, nonprofit organizations, and the food industry, and as such make significant contributions to patient health and public health outcomes.The Academy and its members have established a discursive turf war to strategically establish and defend boundaries within the field of nutrition and dietetics. Their discursive turf war has implications on the day-to-day work life of registered dietitians and other nutritional professionals as well as perceptions of professionalism made by audiences outside the field.

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