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Wound care nurses treat patients who have both acute and chronic wounds, including burns, pressure ulcers and surgical incisions that have not healed. These registered nurses not only support healing, but they also provide preventative care to ensure infection does not set in and that other complications do not arise. In addition to their hands-on role, they also play a crucial teaching role, educating patients how to care for their wounds after they return home.
To qualify for wound care nursing, nurses must complete either an associate or bachelor’s degree in nursing, in addition to earning a registered nurse license by passing the NCLEX-RN exam administered by the National Council of State Boards of Nursing. In addition, many achieve certification in wound care nursing through a professional association such as the Wound, Ostomy and Continence Certification Board. The board requires candidates to have a bachelor’s degree, hold RN licensing and either complete a wound, ostomy and continence education program or have 1,500 hours of clinical experience in wound care within the previous five years.
Develop Treatment Plans
Wound care nurses work as part of a team, coordinating care with other health care professionals to ensure the patient receives everything he needs for healing. They start by evaluating the patient so they can determine how to proceed. They then consult the patient’s physician and offer suggestions for a long-term care strategy. In addition, they frequently bring in other experts to address factors such as diet, which is crucial to supporting healing. They might also recruit social workers and case managers to oversee the patient’s at-home care, especially in cases where the patient has no one to act as a caregiver or his family needs additional support.
Clean and Dress Wounds
Proper wound care is often complex, especially in the case of serious burns or when a wound won’t heal. Wound care nurses begin by thoroughly cleaning the patient’s wound, to slough off dead skin and prevent bacteria from entering the injury and sickening the patient. Some wounds require multiple layers of bandages, and the entire process can take an hour or more. A wound care nurse must know what type of dressing and bandage each type of wound requires, because what helps an abscess heal might not work for another type of wound or injury.
Patients typically return to the wound care clinic once a week so the wound care nurse can assess their progress and evaluate the efficiency of the medications and other treatments administered. When a wound does not heal as expected, the nurse searches for the underlying cause and adjusts the treatment protocol until she finds a strategy the patient responds to. In addition to directly treating the wound, she also considers pain management and mobility issues. Pain can prompt a patient to become sedentary, exacerbating the injury and causing other complications. Wound care nurses attempt to minimize pain and improve the patient’s quality of life.
Because nurses at a wound care clinic see patients on an outpatient basis, they cannot monitor the patient’s healing every day or administer continuous care. They must educate patients and family members on the proper ways to care for their wounds at home, including how to prevent infection and how to change bandages. This might also include proper nutrition and hydration, in addition to how they should move, sit or stand. Too much sitting, for example, can place pressure on the wound and make it worse or cause new wounds such as pressure ulcers.