Nutrition Counseling

Benefits of Staying in Your Lane

We’ve all been there: We’re reading through a dietetic practice group’s (DPG) LISTSERV, and we see an e-mail from a colleague stating that a potential client asked them to quote a project in a scope of practice they don’t work in, and they’d like some advice on how to do the project because “they don’t want to turn down work.” When I was thinking of starting my business, I vetted the idea with some colleagues who’d ventured out on their own before me. One of the most consistent pieces of advice I heard was to say no to work that’s unrelated to your niche or specific scope of practice. Essentially, “stay in your lane.” While it may seem counterintuitive to turn down work or refer it out, doing this can be beneficial. Here are some benefits that can come from taking a pass on or referring out work that’s not in your area of expertise.

  1. Provides time to hone your skills in your specialty area. Accepting work you’re unfamiliar with comes with a huge learning curve and means you must spend your time learning the minimum about a new subject area instead of honing your skills and obtaining long-term clients in your actual scope of practice. You know the old saying, “jack-of-all-trades, master of none”? Someone who tries to do everything can never be a master at anything.
  2. Avoids ethical and liability issues. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (the Academy) Code of Ethics addresses dietitians practicing beyond his/her qualifications, capabilities, and experience. Per Principle 8 of the Code of Ethics, “The dietetics practitioner recognizes and exercises professional judgment within the limits of his or her qualifications and collaborates with others, seeks counsel, or makes referrals as appropriate.”
  3. Lets others know your area of expertise so they refer work back to you. While it may seem like referring out or turning down work takes money out of your pocket, this isn’t always the case. Contacting the person to whom you referred the client and letting them know you sent some work their way because it wasn’t in line with the area in which you practice can increase the likelihood that the colleague will send over related clients to you in the future.

I think it’s safe to presume that most RDs cringe when they hear someone who’s not an RD giving authoritative nutrition advice. RDs collectively, and rightfully, think we should be called upon as the nutrition experts. However, nutrition is a vast topic area with always-evolving science. It’s one of those fields that requires specialization, which is why there’s an increasing number of certifications offered by the Academy and an array of DPGs and member interest groups from which to choose. While we all must pass our credentialing exam, this only means we’ve demonstrated minimum competence for entry-level practice. It doesn’t mean we’re immediately an expert in anything related to nutrition. Whenever I’m tempted to take on work that’s beyond my practice area, I recall the sage advice to stay in my lane. If we all stay on course, keep moving forward, and keep our goals in sight, we’re sure to advance our businesses and our profession at the same time.

— Jessica Levings, MS, RDN, is a freelance writer and owner of Balanced Pantry, a consulting business helping companies develop and modify food labels, conduct recipe analysis, and create nutrition communications materials. Learn more at, Twitter @balancedpantry, and

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