WOC Nurses Week Highlights Specialty

WOC Nurses Week Highlights Specialty

Wound, Ostomy, and Continence (WOC) Nurse Week runs from April 14-20 and brings attention to this nursing specialty and the expertise WOC nurses bring to patient care. logo saying WOC Nurses Rock for WOC nurses week

As a member of the Wound, Ostomy, and Continence Nurses Society™ (WOCN®) for 31 years and now its president, Vicky Pontieri-Lewis, MS, RN, ACNS-BC-CWOCN, says the field is exciting and ever changing. This kind of dynamic professional learning environment brings a career satisfaction that keeps her advocating for nurses in the specialty while also appreciating the continual work they must do to stay current of WOC developments.

Pontieri-Lewis shared some of her thoughts with Minority Nurse about the career path and the excitement of being in the broader field of WOC nursing.

How did your career as a WOC nurse begin and evolve?
After graduating from nursing school in 1983, I had the opportunity to work on a surgical unit with patients who underwent cardiac surgery in addition to patients who also had abdominal surgery, with an ostomy. The unit had an Enterostomal Therapy (ET) nurse, now called a Wound, Ostomy, and Continence nurse, who consulted primarily to patients with an ostomy. I noticed when the charge nurse was making daily patient care assignments, none of my colleagues wanted to care for the patients with ostomies. So, I always volunteered to have the ostomy patients within my assignment.

I worked with the ET nurse at the time to ensure in her absence that I would provide the ostomy patients with the right education. Later that year, my grandmother who lived in a very small remote town in the mountains, was diagnosed with colon cancer. She underwent surgery and as a result had a colostomy. I went to visit her and was appalled by the lack of access she had to any type of ostomy pouching system. At one point she was using a plastic bag! I tried my best to get her access to what we used in the United States so she could have some quality of life.

When I returned, the ET nurse at the hospital announced that she would be leaving. After the experience with my grandmother, I knew I wanted to pursue the role of an ET nurse. I went to my administrator to inquire if the hospital could assist with the finances to attend ET school. After I wrote a proposal for financial funding, the hospital agreed to send me to ET school for 6 weeks, and in return I signed a contract that I would stay at the hospital for one year after becoming certified.

Thirty-eight years later I was still at the same facility, and it became a major academic university trauma medical center. I developed the full scope of the WOC nurse role at the facility and then the advanced practice role. I had no idea at the time how the roles would expand to consulting so many patients with ostomies, wounds of all types, and continence needs. Going to ET school was the best path I took in my nursing career. I have dedicated most of my nursing career to being a WOC nurse, and I absolutely love what I do!!

What attracted you to this specialty?
As I shared above, I have a “love” for caring for patients with an ostomy. My grandmother was my inspiration and I always have the memory of her on my shoulder when caring for patients with an ostomy. Caring for patients with different types of wounds was ever-evolving as new technologies and products were being developed. It was almost like baby boomers, but “wound care boomers.” Each time I attended a conference there was something new and exciting being presented.

As the role of the WOC Nurse continued to grow and develop in healthcare systems, so did the WOCN®, the largest and most recognized professional nursing community dedicated to advancing the practice and delivery of expert healthcare to individuals with wound, ostomy, and continence care needs. The WOC nurse conferences began to include more evidenced-based lectures and presentations, more research was being done, and notably­, products were being developed across the specialty.

What would inspire nursing students to consider this specialty as a career path?
Nursing students across the country would be inspired to pursue a career path to be a WOC nurse by simply talking to and spending time with a WOC nurse. Nursing students today are thirsty for knowledge on how to manage wounds and skin integrity, and to educate patients with an ostomy.

Spending a day or two with a WOC nurse can provide a realistic insight into the scope of the role. Nursing students will undoubtedly be dazzled by the wealth of knowledge and expertise that WOC nurses possess, and the extent of how that knowledge and expertise contributes directly to patient care and quality outcomes. The role of the WOC nurse can be in an inpatient or outpatient setting, allowing one to work independently, and be innovative in the care delivered. Overall, the impact of the role is inspiring and rewarding and it can be a lifelong career filled with continuous learning and professional development.

What might surprise people about your role, all you do, and your connections with your patients?
The role of the WOC nurse is very rewarding. WOC nurses can work with all members of the healthcare team to improve the outcomes of patients. Since the scope of practice is very specialized, WOC nurses are viewed as the experts and are consistently relied on not only by the healthcare team, but by patients as well.

I had the opportunity to form an in-depth connection with patients from providing support and guidance, to sometimes just lending an ear to listen to their concerns and healthcare needs. Overall, the in-depth connection, the breadth of education that is provided, and the ongoing support is the most satisfying—especially when you can see the impact that you have had on someone’s life.