The need for Workforce Development is essential for a nationally consistent approach to the prevention and management of Eating Disorders. People with eating disorders have serious and complex illnesses which require treatment that is specific to their disorder, specific to the severity of their illness and specific to the clinical stage they are in, from risk to recovery.
Why Workforce Development?
A highly trained and specifically trained workforce is required for the effective treatment of eating disorders (ANZAED, 2011). At present few clinicians are specifically trained to diagnose and treat eating disorders. Almost half (82) of clinicians consulted by the NEDC, 2014, indicated that they received no formal instruction about eating disorders. Walker & Lloyd, 2011, suggest that health professionals feel they do not adequately understand the eating disorders experience and fear worsening the condition.
In many instances a patient will seek help or treatment for another issue, when the real and underlying illness is the eating disorder (Hudson and colleagues 2007). Individuals with eating disorders are typically first seen by their family or primary care physician Clarke & Polimeni‐Walker, 2004, even if they may not receive treatment for their eating disorder from these health care providers. GPs, pediatricians and nurse practitioners are therefore a priority group for access to training.
For specific at-risk groups, specialist health services providers may represent the first point of contact. For example, for women presenting with eating disorder symptoms later in life, the first point of contact may be a gynaecologist or midwife (Newton & Chizawsky, 2006); for people seeking treatment for diabetes or obesity, an endocrinologist or a diabetes educator may be the first point of contact (Pereira & Alvarenga, 2007). Athletes may first seek help from specialists in sports medicine or physiotherapy, whilst people who frequently use self-induced vomiting purging techniques may first be identified and access help through a dentist.
Eating disorders are struggling to be identified as ‘core business’ for frontline services, which has contributed to a barrier to early intervention and referral pathways. The goal of workforce development is to make the treatment of eating disorders ‘core-business’. A nationally consistent and standardized approach is necessary to ensure a skilled and knowledgeable workforce trained to participate in the multi-disciplinary treatment of eating disorders.
What is Workforce Development?
Workforce Development is essential for a nationally consistent approach to the prevention and management of Eating Disorders. Workforce Development aims to identify existing workforce needs and proposes a workforce model to address these needs. Workforce Development can be broken down into three major components: Professional Development, Service Development, and Standardized Systems of Delivery.
A skilled workforce includes not only specialists in eating disorders but also other health professionals, teachers and educators and those from other relevant fields such as the fitness, fashion, modelling, advertising and weight loss industries. These various groups can be summarized into the following five core categories: Early Identifiers, Initial Responders, Tertiary Level Clinicians, Shared Care Treatment Providers and Recovery Support Providers.
Workforce development can provide a basic foundation for all professionals and ensure that persons with eating disorders have access to a continuum of care from prevention to early intervention, treatment and recovery.
While some knowledge and skills may be profession specific, there are also foundation skills or competencies that are shared across all disciplines. The basic foundation is the knowledge and ability to identify someone at risk of an eating disorder. As roles increase in their responsibility and intensity of involvement with a person with an eating disorder, professions require different training to add competencies to this basic foundation.
At a national and state level, it is important that service development and professional development is coordinated and planned together to ensure consistency between states and to make effective use of limited resources.
Australia and New Zealand Academy for Eating Disorders (ANZAED), (2011). Submission to the Senate Community Affairs Committee regarding the Inquiry into Commonwealth Funding and Administration of Mental Health Services. ANZAED, Sydney.
Clarke, D., & Polimeni-Walker, I. (2004). Treating individuals with eating disorders in family practice: A needs assessment. Eating Disorders, 12, 293–301.
Hudson, J. I., Hiripi, E., Pope Jr, H. G., & Kessler, R. C. (2007). The Prevalence and correlates of eating disorders in the national comorbidity survey replication. Biological Psychiatry, 61(3), 348-358.
Newton, M. S., & Chizawsky, L. L. K. (2006). Treating vulnerable populations: The case of eating disorders during pregnancy. Journal of Psychosomatic Obstetrics & Gynecology, 27(1), 5–7.
Pereira, R. F., & Alvarenga, M. (2007). Disordered eating: Identifying, treating, preventing, and differentiating it from eating disorders. Diabetes Spectrum, 20(3), 141-148.
Walker, S., & Lloyd, C. (2011). Barriers and attitudes health professionals working in eating disorders experience. International Journal of Therapy and Rehabilitation, 18(7), 383-390.
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