How to Become a Certified Wound Care Nurse
Certified wound care nurses (CWCNs) work in a unique healthcare niche—wound management. They are the specialists who assess, treat and monitor patients’ wounds and promote health management practices that prevent recurrence. Their work helps to minimize suffering and loss of function as well as serious and even life-threatening complications.
When a patient presents with a wound, a certified wound care nurse performs a careful assessment and develops a treatment plan to be carried out by the care team. This might include debridement (a wound cleaning process that removes dead tissue and contaminants), cleaning and bandaging. The CWCN also works with the patient’s physician to assess the appropriateness of antibiotic therapy, surgery or hyperbaric oxygen therapy.
In addition to providing direct care, certified wound care nurses educate patients, caretakers and other medical professionals on the management and prevention of wounds. They serve as key resource people for physicians, nurses and other members of the care team in hospitals and other inpatient settings. These professionals also provide continuing education for certified nursing assistants and other front-line professionals who care for bedridden patients, as bedridden patients are prone to complex pressure ulcers called bedsores, which can be very resistant to healing. In community settings, certified wound care nurses support and educate people living with diabetes, those receiving certain cancer treatments, people with limited mobility and others who are at risk for developing chronic wounds.
As leaders and consultants within the health care industry, wound care nurses make an enormous difference in the quality of their patients' lives by minimizing the potentially severe consequences of wounds. These professionals take great satisfaction in seeing their patients heal from their wounds and return to their homes, families and jobs.
Certified wound care nurses work in hospitals, wound care centers, home health care services, nursing homes, long-term care facilities, hospices and public health agencies. Because their services are rarely needed on an emergency basis, they generally work daytime hours with evenings, weekends and holidays free.
To be eligible for a Certified Wound Care Nurse (CWCN) certification, a candidate must hold a bachelor’s degree, a current RN license and meet one of the following additional requirements:
- Complete a wound care education program accredited by the Wound Ostomy and Continence Nurses Society.
- Complete a graduate level nursing program with documented graduate clinical course work of two semester hours.
- Complete 50 continuing education contact hours in wound care over the most recent five years and 1500 clinical experience hours over the past five years (with at least 375 hours within the year prior to applying for certification).
A wound care education program typically lasts 2-3 months and includes both classroom instruction (sometimes delivered via distance learning) and hands-on experience. During clinical rotations, CWCNs may focus on a particular subspecialty such as ostomy or foot care. Depending on the program, students may earn a certificate, graduate credits or continuing education units.
Newly hired wound care nurses receive on-the-job supervision and mentoring. This may last from a few weeks to a few months depending on their previous education and experience.
Licensing and/or Certification
Candidates must hold an active RN license before applying to a wound care education program or pursuing certification. To obtain a CWCN credential, nurses must pass a certification exam administered by the Wound Ostomy and Continence Certification Board. Certification is valid for five years and subject to continuing education requirements.
Necessary Skills and Qualities
Certified wound care nurses must possess specialized wound care knowledge as well as a solid understanding of general nursing concepts, patient care, and anatomy and physiology. Because they make pivotal care decisions, they must be assertive leaders and critical thinkers with excellent organization and management skills. Compassion and patience will help them to work effectively with diverse patients and family members. The field of wound care advances rapidly, so CWCNs must be lifelong learners who are able to keep up with emerging evidence and apply it to their work.
Opportunities for Advancement
With experience and education, certified wound care nurses may be promoted to roles as supervisors, administrators, advanced practice nurses, researchers, educators or expert consultants for public agencies or private businesses.
As reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the annual median salary for RNs (including wound care nurses) was $64,690 in 2010. Most RNs earned between $44,190 and $95,130. Because CWCNs are specialists who hold bachelor’s degrees at minimum, they generally earn salaries at the higher end of this range. Earnings also vary by geographic location and work setting.
Research published in medical journals shows that over 6.5 million Americans are living with chronic wounds, and that up to 25% of diabetics will develop a wound related to their disease. Older people are also more vulnerable to skin lesions because their skin is more delicate and they are more likely to be bedridden. Due to the rising incidence of diabetes and the rapid aging of the US population, experts in wound care will be needed across all health care settings to treat wounds and conduct research into more effective treatments and prevention measures.