Join us in celebrating WOC Nurse Week

Did you know the third week in April kicks off WOC Nurses Week? Most people tend to have the same question, what is a WOC nurse?

While it may not be a very well-known specialty, WOC nurses make up a vital component of care as experts in wound, ostomy and continence care. They hold advanced degrees and are one of the only sub specialties that needs to be board certified. In fact, WOC nurses are required to have at least five years experience in a hospital setting and maintain a board certification which must be renewed every five years.

The Wound, Ostomy, and Continence Nurses Society (WOCNS) shines a light on WOC nurses and encourages them to come together and celebrate their positive impact on patients. They are counselors, coaches, and caregivers who are dedicated to helping patients heal and return to their best life.

“I think it’s great to acknowledge the specialty. Because it’s very challenging work and people should feel good knowing that we’re here for them,” says Elaine Stewart, WOCN at St. Clair Health.

Not every patient needs a WOC nurse, but for the ones who do, the expertise they bring to patients, their families, other nurses, and even physicians helps optimize outcomes.

“In ostomies alone, there are thousands of different products to choose from. Each one has its pros and cons. Since we specialize in this, we’re able to fit patients for the absolute best application geared toward their needs. This is not a one-size-fits-all situation,” says Stewart.

Those devices, like a colostomy bag, are usually a large adjustment for the patient. If they are having problems with their gastrointestinal tract and an appliance is needed, it’s a big change and it comes with a learning curve.

“We’re a resource for patients and their families. Some patients struggle on more of a psychological level than a physiological one. We’re equipped to handle that too,” assures Stewart.

Leveraging and sharing that expertise is especially helpful for patients who are making the adjustment to life with a new application or patients working through a difficult wound. WOC nurses offer coaching and consultations to patients, their families and other people in their support system, so they can continue to care for the patient after they’re released from the hospital.

While WOC nurses are trained to help heal all types of wounds, they’re also responsible for preventing them.

“A very big part of what we do is work to prevent pressure ulcers in patients,” confirms Stewart. “They happen when patients fall, or if they’re immobile for too long. Sometimes it takes a fairly simple dressing and in some cases require negative pressure wound therapy, which takes extra training and expertise with advanced equipment.”

Part of the value that a WOC nurse brings to patients is to monitor patients and work with their care teams to prevent or minimize the impact of wounds that can develop while in the hospital.

St. Clair Health has several WOC nurses on staff, but there’s always room for more. Nurses who want to explore this career path have to be board certified and hold a certificate from a specialized WOC program. “This was a great career decision for me-it’s challenging, yet rewarding. I get to spend time with patients and help them heal,” says Stewart.

For nurses wanting to get started, you can focus on either wound, ostomy or continence as you work your way to a full WOCN certification.

Everyone should feel assured that even on challenging days, the staff at St. Clair Health is highly trained and just as compassionate. Most WOC nurses understand that they’re seeing patients on what might be one of the toughest days of their life.

“We get that. And that challenge is exactly what brings out the best in us,” assures Stewart. WOC nurses are a great example of St. Clair Health staff living up to the promise of delivering expert care from people who care.

We can all feel better about that.