Exploring perceived training and professional development needs of Australian dietetic students and practising dietitians in the area of eating disorders: a focus group study
Journal of Eating Disorders
Background: Timely diagnosis and treatment of eating disorders (EDs) are essential for achieving the best possible outcomes, and dietitians have an important role in the multidisciplinary team. ED-specific training has been shown to enhance the knowledge, mental health literacy and confidence of health professionals in providing patient treatment. However, the ED-specific training needs of dietitians have yet to be determined. This study aimed to explore the perceived readiness of dietitians and student dietitians to treat patients with EDs; to identify the key training components that would enhance their confidence in delivering ED-specific treatment; and to examine any barriers associated with engagement in ED-specific professional development. Methods: A semi-structured question guide was developed by researchers to elicit information from six virtual focus groups consisting of a purposive sample of practising dietitians and student dietitians enrolled in their final year of an Australian tertiary accredited dietetic program. Members of professional organisations were approached to participate via email; and a recruitment flyer was promoted on various social media platforms. Discussions were recorded, transcribed verbatim and analysed qualitatively using inductive thematic analysis. Results: Thirty-eight participants (26 dietitians, 12 student dietitians) were recruited, mean age of 32.5 years ± 11 SD. Three major themes emerged: (1) reluctance to practice in EDs, which was associated with limited ED-specific training at university, lack of clinical guidelines, mental health complexities of patients with an ED, ambiguity regarding the dietitian’s role, systemic complexities with ED care, and beliefs of health professionals; (2) the need for additional ED-specific training and clinical supervision both during and after university, with the focus on identification, assessment, management and treatment, mental health literacy, and counselling skills, identified as an essential component to improving professional confidence and competence; (3) limited awareness and access/supply of ED-specific training opportunities were found, which included the financial cost of training/clinical supervision, and limited access to suitable clinical supervision. Conclusion: Dietitians currently practising in the workplace and dietetic students perceive that enhanced ED-specific training during university and after graduation is essential to work with patients confidently and competently with EDs. This research has implications for Australian university dietetic programs and workforce development. Plain English Summary: This study aimed to explore the perceptions and readiness of dietitians and student dietitians to treat patients with eating disorders (EDs); to identify the key training components that would enhance their confidence and competence in delivering treatment; and to examine any barriers associated with engaging in ED-specific professional development. Twenty-six dietitians and twelve dietetic students participated in six virtual focus group discussions, which identified three main themes: (1) reluctance to practice which was associated with limited ED-specific training at university, lack of clinical guidelines, mental health complexities of patients with an ED, ambiguity regarding the dietitian’s role, systemic complexities with ED care, and beliefs of health professionals; (2) the importance of engaging in ED-specific training, beyond an introductory level, during university and after graduation to confidently and competently work with patients with EDs; (3) barriers to accessing further ED-specific training and clinical supervision were found, including poor awareness of training opportunities, high financial cost of training/clinical supervision, and limited access to obtaining suitable clinical supervision. Results from this study provide insight into the ED-specific training needs of practising and student dietitians. This research has value for university programs and workforce development.
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