February 21, 2024/Nursing/Clinical Nursing

What to Consider When Choosing a Wound, Ostomy and Continence Nursing Education Program

Advice for those pursuing a WOC nursing career

Nurse laughing with elderly patient

Thousands of nurses across the globe have been called to the wound, ostomy, continence (WOC) nursing specialty. It’s a career that offers many benefits that caregivers seek — growth, opportunity, variety, autonomy and personal reward.

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Wound care nurses are in high demand. The United States Bureau of Labor Statistics projects employment opportunities for registered nurses (RNs) to increase 6% by 2032 – a rate that outpaces the average for all occupations. In-demand specialties like wound care are expected to experience even greater growth. More than 6 million chronic wound cases occur annually in the U.S., according to Global Market Insights.

“WOC care allows nurses to create their own professional path because the specialty enables so many opportunities to practice,” says Kelly Jaszarowski, MSN, RN, CNS, ANP, CWOCN, WOC Nursing Education Program Director for Cleveland Clinic’s renowned R.B. Turnbull, Jr., MD School of WOC Nursing Education program

Jaszarowski has been certified in WOC nursing for 34 years, during which she has worked as an inpatient clinical nurse, outpatient lead nurse, advanced practice nurse and nurse consultant. She also served as a legal nurse consultant, working both as an employee of a law firm and an external expert. Today, Jaszarowski focuses her time on helping others become WOC nurses.

“WOC nurses recognize the day-to-day needs of individuals and the struggles they face,” Jaszarowski explains. “They understand supply, demand and reimbursement, and are resourceful critical thinkers who know how to resolve care challenges. Their expertise often expands beyond the bedside to legal roles or as advocates of legislative initiatives.”

Navigating options

With options across the globe, choosing a WOC education program isn’t easy. Jaszarowski suggests potential candidates keep the following suggestions in mind:

Choose a program that best meets your needs.

Institutions vary in the way education is delivered, the length of time required for completion and cost. Some programs are based online, some require in-person participation and others are a combination of the two.

“I recommend choosing a school that is appropriate for your unique needs and situation,” says Michael Klements, MSN, RN, CWOCN, an instructor in Cleveland Clinic’s WOC Nursing Education Program and a program graduate. “Accredited programs have some variance in location and synchrony, as well as cost, including tuition and additional fees.”

Of course, applicants must also meet a school’s enrollment requirements. Enrollees of Cleveland Clinic’s program must have an RN license, one year of clinical nursing experience, and a 4-year baccalaureate nursing degree or higher. The degree can be in another field with demonstrated baccalaureate-level nursing competencies in health assessment, leadership, management, research, statistics and community health.

Weigh the benefits of enrolling in an accredited program.

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Not all programs are accredited by the Wound, Ostomy, and Continence Nurses’ Society® (WOCN). Cleveland Clinic’s program is one of only eight accredited programs in the country.

Graduates of an accredited WOC Nursing Education program are eligible to become board-certified through the Wound Ostomy and Continence Nursing Certification Board (WOCNCB) by taking the WOCNCB examination. This is the traditional – and most common – pathway to certification. Certification can be earned without participating in an accredited program through an experiential pathway, which applies continuing education and direct patient care clinical hours to candidate criteria.

“Certification verifies a nurse’s knowledge, skills and expertise in the specialty,” Jaszarowski says. “Facilities receive recognition when care is provided by qualified, safe practitioners.”

Klements adds, “Certification protects patients and organizations from potentially unprepared providers. It also demonstrates that the caregiver is qualified and experienced in their field, which is important to consider from a safety and quality standpoint.”

Know what you want out of your schooling experience.

All WOCN-accredited nursing education programs include a didactic and clinical/practicum component. Enrollees should expect to complete lessons, core textbook readings, evidence-based best practice work and more. Skill demonstration and passing exam scores are necessary.

“The WOC schooling process is rigorous and covers an enormous amount of content,” Klements says. “Students should expect didactic courses that require individual work as well as clinical hours.”

Cleveland Clinic’s program is designed to prepare nurses for:

  • Pre- and post-operative management of ostomy patients
  • Prevention and treatment of pressure injuries, chronic wounds, fistulas and other skin disorders
  • Care of patients with urinary and fecal incontinence

Nurses acquire the knowledge and skills to establish a WOC practice; provide direct patient care and education; and address psychological concerns, discharge planning, rehabilitative counseling and follow-up care.

Find a program that invests in its students.

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If possible, talk to graduates of a program before enrolling. Ask what they liked and didn’t. Were they encouraged and supported? Programs with leadership teams and instructors who care about student success are worth seeking out.

“Enrolling and coming through the Cleveland Clinic program confirmed that this career was a good fit for me,” Klements says of his schooling experience. “I felt very supported in my WOC education journey, and a great example was set.”

After graduation, he worked in a clinical role at Cleveland Clinic main campus for a few years before becoming an instructor in the program.

“I always had aspirations to work in education, as well as continue my own, so being asked to teach was humbling as a practicing WOC nurse,” Klements says. “My favorite part about being an instructor is witnessing the ‘ah-ha’ moment that students often have. WOC nursing education is complex, intensive and ongoing, but seeing students succeed in helping their patients and organizations is highly rewarding.”

A critical role in healthcare

The whole-patient approach taken by WOC nurses provides a firm foundation for the healthcare leadership positions many of these caregivers eventually hold, explains Klements.

“While WOC interventions are quite focused, a holistic and collaborative approach to patient care is needed,” he says. “Holistic care isn’t something all caregivers are able to exercise, but it’s imperative to the WOC nurse’s success. Their input is valued on many levels, which makes them integral to the multifaceted caregiving team.”

Jaszarowski adds, “Not only do WOC nurses positively affect those with wound, ostomy and continence care needs, they are also invaluable support systems for patients and their families, other healthcare providers and their communities.”

For more information on enrolling in Cleveland Clinic’s WOC Nursing Education Program, email wocschool@ccf.org or download the WOC application and enrollment guide.

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