Ostomy nursing is part of a broader specialization of nurses within wound, ostomy and continence (WOC) care. These nurses provide treatment for patients with disorders of the digestive, urinary and skin systems. Part of the role is to assist in care of ostomies, wounds, stomas and incontinence.
A WOC nurse will frequently work with patients who have active open wounds. Those wounds may have resulted from surgical ostomy creation, which may be permanent or temporary as a a result of a number of health conditions. Some of those illnesses include cancer of the bowels or reproductive organs, diverticulitis, trauma, volvulus, necrotic bowel or as a result of radiation treatments.
Because of the exposure of internal organs to the outside environment through an ostomy, ostomy nurses must be particularly attentive and detailed, to ensure wounds heal well without infection. They must also be able to adequately determine whether an individual with an ostomy is able to self-care in a responsible manner to ensure safety and prevention of infection.
Ostomy patients typically require comfort and support of their nursing team, particularly as their physical wounds do not heal completely as part of ongoing treatment. Having an ostomy or incontinence is difficult for many people and is a life change which requires attentive participation of a nurse to help the patient through mental, physical, social and emotional hurdles, particularly in the beginnings of their care.
Ostomy nurses, and WOC nurses in general, provide frequent counseling as part of their medical career. They help ostomy patients in ways many other fields of nursing do not have to help patients, over emotional hurdles and through personal grief. These nurses must also be able to adequately assess when other professionals are needed, as part of patient well-being. It is common for psychiatrists, psychologists, occupational therapists, social workers and physical therapists to be referred by WOC nurses for complete patient care.
Procedures and Services Provided by WOC Nurses
WOC nurses help patients manage multiple aspects of wounds, ostomies and incontinence. Some commonly treated issues are pressure ulcers, surgical incisions, draining and traumatic wounds, and fistulas and tubes.
For ostomy care, nurses are called upon to provide pre- and post-operative support and education for patients and their loved ones. This is for individuals with colostomies, ileostomies or urostomies. This treatment may occur within inpatient environments, outpatient settings, or both.
Ostomy nurses have a variety of duties as part of each work day. If working with home health care agencies, in long term facilities or other expansive environments, there will likely be a lot of mobility involved within each work day. WOC nurses should be able to move effectively, lift and handle open wounds and sensitive patient needs with the utmost of professionalism.
Specific activities as part of a WOC nurse’s workday may include:
- Checking patient skin for signs of tears, stress, ulcerations or infection
- Education of patients regarding skin issues and care
- Design and communication of wound care plans
- Prevention of skin ulceration and bed sores for immobile patients
- Treatment of surgical wounds
- Outpatient visits or rounds
- Patient counseling and education
- Staff education and updates
- Wound dermabrasion and other specialized treatments
- Patient counseling on emotional, personal or social matters
Where Does an Ostomy Nurse Practice?
There are a multitude of settings in which an ostomy nurse may practice. As part of their nursing career, WOC nurses have traditionally been employed in hospitals and other acute medicine settings. However, as quality of care for the aging and those with long term illnesses improves, more and more ostomy nurses are working in private homes and long term facilities. Outpatient care is much more commonly provided by ostomy nurses now, thanks largely to changing standards of healthcare.
Education of a WOC Nurse
Most nursing degree programs require candidates for WOC nursing to hold a bachelor’s degree. Once that is achieved, it is most typical for prospective nurses to gain a Master of Science in Nursing. Following the graduate nursing degree, a certificate program in wound, ostomy and continence care is generally the next step.
Some nursing schools offer WOC care as part of their graduate training, but most offer a second certificate for post-graduate pursuit. As part of the WOC nursing certification education, nurses can expect both classroom training and clinical experience.
At the end of WOC certification training, qualified graduates may specialize within specific areas relative to wound, ostomy and continence care. Or, they may receive a generalized certification. The Wound, Ostomy and Continence Nursing Certification Board (WOCNB) governs these programs, providing national certification to graduates who pass the required examination.
Nurses who gain WOC certification have an excellent occupational outlook as part of their nursing career. This is because the general population is aging and experiencing longer lifetimes than ever before. With a longer life span comes higher propensity toward medical procedures performed to extend life despite major obstacles once considered untreatable.
Income of an ostomy nurse is quite healthy and provides a good quality of life. Many WOC nurses achieve income comparable to general physicians working within small practice environments. The greater the nursing career focus upon certifications, experience and specializations, the higher financial potential becomes for that nurse.
Ostomy Nurse Personal Characteristics
Education, experience and certifications are important as part of a WOC nursing career. Also very important are the general disposition and personality characteristics of a nurse considering becoming an ostomy nurse. Bedside manner is extremely key in WOC nursing, for both patient well-being and the nurse’s career development.
Standard characteristics of successful WOC nurses include:
- Ability to lead and direct others
- Inclination toward taking initiative
- Unstressed by change or role diversity
- Unafraid of difficult or challenging patient issues
- Ability to communicate effectively
- Strong teaching skills
- Empathy and patience
- Technologically inclined