According to the Wound Ostomy and Continence Nurses Society, there are approximately 750,000 individuals nationwide who have ostomies, plus 75,000 new fecal and/or urinary ostomies are created annually. These patients have unique needs for interventions, patient teaching, and may develop wound care problems that require specialized nursing care. Advancing your education within this field can prepare you to provide high level, adept nursing care to this patient population, and is a great way to highlight your expertise.
If you already have experience in a wound care setting, or if you are interested in obtaining further nursing knowledge about this highly interesting field, you may be ready to explore your options for Master’s level WOC Nursing programs. You may be able to earn your MSN with a focus on Wound, Ostomy and Contintence Nursing, gaining certification as a WOC nurse along the way. Find the schools on our site that offer WOC programs and request program materials if you are ready to learn more.
Wound, Ostomy & Continence (WOC) nurses make a profound difference in the lives of the patients they treat. These nurses are highly prepared expert clinicians trained to specifically care for these physical problems. Wounds may be caused by medical treatment for particular diseases or injuries, including those that often require mechanical devices for digestive and urinary health.
WOC nurses typically work with others in the healthcare team by assessing patients, managing devices and monitoring healing, and caring for any wounds these patients may develop. These nurses provide direct care to patients with various disorders of the neurological, gastrointestinal, genitourinary and/or the integumentary system. They work with patients that have abdominal stomas, fistulas, open wounds, burns, drains, pressure ulcers and/or continence disorders.
Some of the practical duties of these nurses include helping to prevent and treat pressure ulcers, abscesses and working with feeding tubes, catheters and wound vacs. They clean wounds and develop wound care plans for their patient. In addition, they act as a resource person for the other nursing staff as they make recommendations for patient care that are evidence-based, cost effective and designed to prevent wound complications.
The wide range of healthcare services you can provide as a WOC nurse include:
- Coordinating patient care across the continuum of the care setting
- Provide education to patients, families and the nursing staff concerning preventing measures, which includes utilizing techniques to optimize wound healing
- Implementing prevention plans to prevent pressure ulcers and other wounds
You can specialize in several different areas of Wound Care Nursing, depending on your career goals and your employer's needs. Nurses who choose this specialty area are caring nurses, and they want to make a difficult situation more tolerable for their patients. Nurses must be empathetic, but also have a sense of humor. Having the skill to meet the emotional needs of these patients is essential, as this is often a very tough emotional problem to cope with for patients and their families. Patients with ostomies may find that body image is changed in a major way, so nurses that understand their patient's varied emotional reactions is very helpful.
Nurses that specialize in wound care must treat skin reactions, prevent skin breakdown, treat and manage vascular ulcers, pressure ulcers and diabetic ulcers. They initiate preventive measures while they provide comprehensive wound management. Educating the patient and their family is also a major function for these nurses.
Nurses that specialize in ostomy care can work in inpatient or outpatient settings. The scope of their practice includes providing self-care, diet, lifestyle education and support for the patient and the family. They work to prevent periostomal/stomal complications and provide rehabilitative care. They assess the stoma site to decrease any long-term complications, and they review and modify system problems as necessary.
Incontinence care is often treated in long-term care facilities or in the home. The nurse will select the proper devices or necessary undergarments. They provide instruction on pelvic muscle exercises, and they teach the patient and their family on hygiene and good skin care. In addition, they provide instructions on self-catheterization, when indicated.
If you are interested in this type of nursing there is certainly professional prestige in becoming an RN WOC nurse, and you will have the potential for higher pay as a WOC nursing specialty practice nurse. You can also earn your Master’s Degree in several different ways while focusing on developing your knowledge base about wounds, ostomies and continence issues in your patients.
The University of Virginia School of Nursing has a Wound, Ostomy & Continence (WOC) nursing post-masters certificate which takes 12 months to complete. The University offers the WOC training within its master's degree programs or as a standalone certificate program with an MSM degree. The curriculum builds on both the theoretical knowledge and the clinical experience of the Master's prepared nurse. There are two didactic courses and a practicum that comprise the WOC specialty certificate, and you must complete 160 clinical hours to graduate.
Many students choose to earn their MSN in the Adult-Gerontology Acute Care program and include the WOC certificate, highlighting this niche talent and interest.
Students in the Adult–Gerontology Acute Care program can pursue Wound, Ostomy & Continence Nursing specialty preparation, which is offered on a full-time or part-time basis. The nurse may be able to sit for theWound Ostomy Continence Nursing Certification Board certification following the completion of this program.
Some of the required courses to complete this WOC Master’s in Nursing program include:
- Role I: APRN Role Acquisition
- Advanced Pathophysiology
- Wound, Ostomy and Continence Nursing
- Advanced WOC Nursing
- Research & Statistical Processes in Health Care
- Advanced Health Assessment
- WOC Practicum
- Role II: Transition
- Epidemiology and World Health
The total clinical hours for this program are 728. The University of Virginia also has an online option for master's level nurses. While they take their courses online, they must arrange their clinical hours with an approved preceptor.
Emory University also offers a WOC program with four online self-study modules, and each module includes learning objectives, suggested readings, core content and learning activities. These assignments are graded and successful completion of the course requires an 80 percent score. The options for the program include wound care, ostomy and continence care. Students may complete one course, or all the courses offered.
The University of Virginia considers all new students in need of aid for $500,000 in scholarships. The Wound, Ostomy and Continence Nursing Certification Board (WOCNCB) also has scholarships available through their society. You can also find those schools designated by the WOCNCB as accredited Wound Ostomy Continence Nursing (WOCN) programs.
The Health Resources and Services Administration provides long-term, low interest loans to full-time, financially needy students. Nurse Corps has a loan repayment program for RNs that work for two years in Critical Shortage facilities and they will pay 60 percent of their unpaid nursing student loans. They have the option of working a third year to have an additional 25 percent of their original balance paid.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics lists the mean annual salary for registered nurses at $68,910 as of May 2013. Education, experience, the type of job and the area of the country all haves an impact on nurse's salaries. Nurse with Master's degrees and extra training, such as the WOC certification, often make above average salaries as compared to the mean average.
Experience is clearly a major factor in your salary as a WOC Nurse. The Wound, Ostomy and Continence Nurses Society state the average salary for these nurses is greater than $75,000 if they have a Master's degree.
The Wound, Ostomy and Continence Nursing Certification Board have been nurses in wound, ostomy, continence and foot care for over 30 years. They encourage nurses to join the organization as it certifies a nurse's commitment to quality and excellence. The exams are rigorous and comprehensive, and a nurse must complete a minimum of 50 contact hours or the equivalent hours in college work through their clinical education to be eligible for the exam.
The certification is good for five years. The recertification may be done through the exam or through the Professional Growth Program, which entails all the activities and projects that you have accomplished during the five year period.
You can be an educator, a consultant, a researcher or an administrator with the proper WOC education and experience. Due to the changing nature of healthcare, many WOC nurses work in long-term care, rehabilitation facilities or home care settings, rather than the acute care hospital settings. Taping into the multitude of resources available from joining the WOC Nurses Society can also open up new opportunities and may provide insight into research findings and funding avenues, as well as uniting you with other WOC nurses across the U.S.
This career is another growing area of healthcare that will offer many new jobs with good salaries due to the nursing shortage. Returning to college for the ability to earn the WOC certification along with your Master’s in Nursing degree, can give you a great deal of satisfaction and provides a valuable service to this patient population.