How to Become an Eating Disorder Nurse

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When patients seek treatment for eating disorders, nurses are often among the first caregivers they encounter. Consequently, it’s important for registered nurses (RNs) interested in working with this patient population to develop the advanced knowledge and skills to identify and treat the psychological and behavioral symptoms of these disorders.

RNs interested in learning more about how to provide proactive, evidence-based treatment for patients struggling with anorexia, bulimia, and binge eating disorder, among other disorders, are likely to find that completing an advanced education, such as an online Master of Science in Nursing (MSN), can prepare them with the specialized skills to help patients recover.

a nurse talking to a patient

Working with Patients with Eating Disorders

Eating disorders affect people of all ages, ethnicities, and socioeconomic backgrounds. Not only do they affect people around the globe, but the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders (ANAD) estimates that approximately 9% of Americans will have an eating disorder at some point in their lifetimes.

RNs interested in working with patients with eating disorders are employed in various settings, such as intensive outpatient treatment centers, residential treatment centers, hospitals, doctor’s offices, and psychiatric clinics. Although some eating disorder nurses, such as those employed by physician’s offices, may work Monday through Friday during standard business hours, RNs working at facilities that provide 24-hour care may need to work nights, weekends, holidays, and on-call shifts.

What Is an Eating Disorder Nurse?

An eating disorder nurse is an advanced practice registered nurse (APRN) who’s received additional training in how to treat patients struggling with psychiatric and mental health disorders, such as anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge eating disorder.

These master’s degree-prepared nurses often complete specialized coursework, such as evidence-based practice in nursing, ethics for advanced nursing practice, psychopharmacology and mental health assessment, and psychiatric-mental health diagnosis and management.

Steps to Become an Eating Disorder Nurse

Students interested in becoming an eating disorder nurse need to start by completing a bachelor’s degree in a related field, such as an online Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) or an online RN to BSN. Other steps toward pursuing this career path include the following:

  • Pass the National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses. Upon completing a bachelor’s degree in nursing, graduates need to pass the NCLEX-RN to become licensed. This primarily multiple-choice exam tests aspiring RNs on their critical thinking skills in addition to the knowledge they gained in nursing school.
  • Consider an advanced degree. Licensed RNs interested in learning how to provide care for patients with eating disorders are likely to find that completing an advanced degree, such as an online Master of Science in Nursing (MSN), with a concentration in psychiatric mental health, can prepare them with the skills and knowledge to provide compassionate, holistic care to patients struggling with eating disorders.
  • Consider certification. Licensed nurses who have accrued at least 2,500 hours of eating disorder experience under a supervisor approved by the International Association of Eating Disorders Professionals (IADEP) can apply for IADEP certification. Other certification requirements include completing an application, becoming an IADEP member, completing core coursework, and passing a final exam.

Job Outlook and Salary Ranges for Nurses Specializing in Eating Disorders

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) doesn’t have a standalone category for eating disorder nurses, classifying professionals working in this field under the blanket category of RNs. Data from the BLS shows that employment of all RNs, including those specializing in eating disorders, is projected to grow by 9% between 2020 and 2030, 1% faster than projected for all other occupations.

The BLS further estimates that approximately 194,500 annual job openings for RNs are expected, on average, during that same period. Many of these openings are expected to become available due to the need to replace RNs who leave the workforce for various reasons — for example, to retire, to care for an aging family member, or to start a family — or who transfer to alternate professions.

Eating Disorder Nurse Salary

BLS data indicates that the median annual wage for all RNs, including eating disorder nurses, was $77,600 as of May 2021. However, salaries can vary based on experience level, employer, and the position’s location.

For example, RNs working in states with a high cost of living, such as California, often receive higher levels of compensation than nurses working in states with a low cost of living, such as Mississippi.

Resources for Eating Disorder Nurses

Many online resources offer future eating disorder RNs up-to-date information and data about how to treat patients of all ages, genders, and gender identities who struggle with body dysmorphia and eating disorders. These resources include the following:

Become an Eating Disorder Nurse and Provide Care for Your Community

ANAD estimates that roughly 30 million Americans struggle with an eating disorder. Consequently, the need for knowledgeable and compassionate nurses who are passionate about helping patients toward recovery remains strong.

Are you ready to take the next brave step in learning how to provide treatment for individuals living with eating disorders? Discover how Maryville University’s online MSN program can prepare you to help patients maintain a healthy relationship with food.

Recommended Reading

Psychiatric or Mental Health Nurse Practitioner: Alternate Paths to Mental Treatment

Your Future in Nursing: RN vs. BSN vs. MSN

Regional vs. National Accreditation for Nursing Programs

Sources

Healthline, “6 Common Types of Eating Disorders (and Their Symptoms)”

International Association of Eating Disorders Professionals, Certification Checklist

Kaplan, What Is the NCLEX-RN?

National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorder, Eating Disorder Statistics

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Registered Nurses