The wound care, ostomy, or continence and foot care nurse (also referred to as a WOC nurse) specializes in assessing and treating skin breakdown and wounds, especially pressure ulcers. They often cross-train in the care of ostomies. This nurse is commonly consulted during a patient’s stay in the hospital when a wound or pressure ulcer (bedsore) is discovered, or if the patient has an ostomy. The wound care nurse is responsible for determining the proper course of treatment to promote healing and continually assess the patient’s skin.
Once a nurse completes their degree and passes the NCLEX-RN, they may decide to go into wound care nursing. This will typically require some additional training and education, and nurses may decide to focus on a particular sub-specialty of wound care nursing, such as ostomy or foot care. Many RNs enter into wound care nursing after treating patients with chronic wounds in other nursing areas, such as oncology, med-surg, or critical care. It is not common for a new graduate RN to be hired directly into this position without gaining some bedside experience first.
What Are the Education Requirements for Wound Care Nurses?
Most wound care nurses hold a Bachelor’s of Science in Nursing degree or higher. This is because the requirements for Certified Wound Care Nurse (CWCN) certification include a BSN stipulation. Nurses must also hold an active RN license and complete some additional training in order to become certified. Most hospitals and healthcare employers also like WOC nurses to have some prior professional nursing experience.
Eligibility for these certifications varies, so be sure to carefully review each certification before applying. Read more for further clarification on wound care nurse certifications.
Wound care nurses generally work in hospitals in different units:
- Operating Room (OR)
- Critical Care
- Inpatient settings where patients are bedridden
They may also work for home health care agencies, nursing homes, hospices, or public health agencies. There is a growing need for WOC nurses in long-term care settings to help with complications from diabetes in particular.
What Does a Wound Care Nurse Do?
Wound care nurses utilize a variety of techniques to assess, treat, and care for patients with wounds. This includes wound debridement, cleaning, bandaging, and working with the doctor and care team to determine if other treatments like surgery or antibiotics are necessary. They often work with patients who have ostomies, diabetes, or pressure ulcers. WOC nurses also offer education to patients and their caretakers on how to care for wounds at home and how to prevent infection and further injury.
What Are the Roles and Duties of a Wound Care Nurse?
- Assess and monitor wounds
- Debride, clean, and bandage wounds
- Work with the care team to determine if antibiotics, surgery, hyperbaric oxygen therapy, or other treatments are needed
- May work in a specialty capacity to care for ostomies, diabetic foot care, and more
- Educates patients and caretakers on wound care, infection and injury prevention, and pressure ulcer care and prevention for those who are bedridden or have limited mobility
- Completes proper documentation for Medicare reimbursement and writes orders to promote wound healing and the prevention of skin breakdown
Wound Care Nurse Salary & Employment
Things like location, education level, and experience will undoubtedly affect the salary of a WOC nurse. With that said, the median salary of a wound care nurse is $64,076 with a range of $41,701 – $83,160.
The employment outlook for a wound care nurse is excellent, due to the high demand for this specialty in a variety of settings (acute care, nursing home care, etc.). The aging population and the prevalence of obesity and diabetes make wound care nursing a stable nursing specialty. WOC nursing is also a fairly independent specialty, and has a wide variety of applications, making it a versatile area of nursing.
Do Wound Certified Nurses Make More Money?
Oftentimes, yes! Certified nurses have been shown to earn on average $9,000 more per year than their uncertified colleagues, according to the American Nurses Credentialing Center. Wound Certified Nurses not only report higher salaries but also greater job security and more career opportunities because wound care expertise is increasingly sought-after.
Wound Care Nurse FAQs
Below are examples of complex wounds that wound nurses may treat:
Pressure ulcers usually form in patients with impaired mobility. Treatment depends on the stage; a Stage I might just need relief of pressure or barrier cream to protect the skin. A Stage III pressure ulcer needs much more aggressive care. Irrigation and chemical or manual debridement may be indicated along with frequent dressing changes.
Diabetic patients present a unique set of challenges. Impaired circulation can lead to ulceration in the skin, most often in the feet or legs. Lower extremity edema can also cause the skin to blister and break open, and wound nurses need to focus on reducing edema to promote healing.
Burns are another type of wound that wound care nurses treat. Depending on the severity of the burn, nurses are responsible for cleaning the wound, debriding, applying and changing dressings, and sometimes managing skin grafts.
Many wound care nurses are cross-trained to perform ostomy care. They are responsible for changing the ostomy supplies and assessing the stoma as well as the surrounding skin, in addition to educating patients.
Wound nurses manage various other types of wounds. Lacerations, for example, may occur with varying degrees of severity. Gunshot wounds, knife wounds, and animal bites are all things a wound nurse may need to manage. In some cases, surgical wounds may need the expertise of a wound care nurse.