Psychiatric Nurse Treating Eating Disorders

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Learn about the Psychiatric Nurse Career

According to the South Carolina Department of Mental Health, nearly half of all Americans personally know someone with an eating disorder.1

The pervasiveness of eating disorders has led the medical and mental health industry to develop health care services specifically designed to treat individuals with eating disorders.  Medical doctors, mental health specialists, and dieticians are the key players in this field of health-care, but nurses also play a critical role in providing the care people with eating disorders require to get well. 

Treating eating disorder patients is largely a mental health issue, so nurses who attend to these patients are usually referred to as psychiatric nurses.  However, nurses in this field provide both psychological and physical care.  For example, a nurse working at a residential eating disorder treatment center is usually responsible for new patient assessment.  Patient assessment requires completing vitals, weighing patients, administering medication, and appraising the mental health of the patient. 

With patients who are already in treatment, nurses use their expertise to determine how to treat patients in emergency situations, or stabilize patients until a medical doctor or mental health specialist arrives.  For instance, many eating disorder patients experience intense anxiety (see Anxiety), and may lapse into an anxiety attack.  Nurses use their psychiatric skills to calm the patient, or make the decision to alert a therapist if the patient requires advanced treatment.

In addition, eating disorder specialized nurses also provide direct support to doctors and mental health specialists.  Nurses often assist medical doctors during follow up patient examinations and procedures, and provide psychiatric supervision to at risk patients when mental health specialists are treating other patients.

The support nurses provide to patients and health-care specialists allows for the specialized system of eating disorder treatment services to operate fluidly and effectively. Most nurses who work with eating disorder patients need to have strong interpersonal skills. They must both manage the psychological demands of their patients, and interact easily with the various health providers caring for eating disorder patients.

Nurses working with eating disorder patients usually work in inpatient residential clinics, hospitals, university health clinics, and outpatient treatment centers.  If you have a strong desire to help individuals with eating disorders recover, and to provide essential support to health-care professionals treating eating disorder patients, a career as a psychiatric nurse may be for you. 

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1South Carolina Department of Mental Health

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