Wound care specialists are trained to treat all varieties of both acute and chronic wounds. This includes those received from acute injuries, diabetes, pressure sores, and surgery, as well as wounds that require continuous care because they will never heal (which affects an estimated five million Americans). Wound care specialists are particularly important for elderly patients given the rapid increase in their numbers in recent years, coupled with the fact that many require more intensive and long-term care.
Becoming a wound care specialist
Someone who wishes to become a wound care specialist must first complete the basic courses required for a career in the healthcare profession. After this, candidates must obtain a minimum of three years of experience in wound care, and then must pass a written examination to demonstrate their mastery of the field. Wound care specialists must also undergo periodic retesting and pursue continuing education coursework in order to maintain their certification.
Healthcare professionals are often motivated to pursue a specialization in wound care as careers in the field often offer greater flexibility in working hours. It also in many cases allows the healthcare professional to establish a closer and longer-lasting relationship with patients than is frequently the case in other fields.
At present, wound care is not recognized as an official specialty or subspecialty, but it is probable that this will soon change given that it is a rapidly growing field that is increasingly gaining recognition.
Who becomes a wound care specialist?
Both doctors and nurses are eligible to pursue the field of wound care. A wide range of physicians can go into the subspecialty, including those in both family and internal medicine, as well as those practicing general, emergency, intervascular, or plastic surgery.
Licensed vocational nurses, nurse practitioners, and registered nurses are also free to choose wound care as a specialization. Nurses in the field assist wound care physicians in administering treatment, and also frequently work alongside medical technicians and physical therapists. They typically work in – but are not limited to – acute care hospitals, clinics, emergency rooms, and home health agencies.
Obtaining wound care specialist certification
There are currently seven credentialed organizations which offer board certifications in wound care – six for physicians, and one for nurses. These are the American Board of Wound Medicine and Surgery (ABWMS), the Council for Medical Education and Testing (CMET), the American Board of Multiple Specialties in Podiatry (ABMSP), the American Board of Wound Management (ABWM), the National Alliance of Wound Care and Ostomy (NAWCO), American Board of Wound Healing (ABWH), and the Wound, Ostomy, and Continence Nursing Certification Board (WOCNCB).
The ABWMS offers certification only to medical doctors and doctors of osteopathic medicine licensed in the US or Canada who have three or more years of experience in wound care, or who have completed the relevant postgraduate training program and fellowship.
The CMET grants certification for a physician specialist in wound care. It is open to those who have MD, DO, or DPM degrees and licenses. Candidates must also pass an exam that covers diagnosis and management of diabetic, venous, pressure, and ischemic ulcers; atypical skin lesions, histology of wound healing; and infection and internal medicine focusing on disease entities that impact wound healing.
The ABMSP certifies those who wish to work in treating diabetic foot ulcers (DFUs) and in diabetic footwear, as well as in limb preservation and salvage, foot and ankle surgery, and primary care in podiatric medicine. It is open to those with an MD, DO, or DPM degree who have three years of clinical experience in relevant fields.
The ABWM offers three types of certification: Certified Wound Care Associate, Certified Wound Specialist, and Certified Wound Specialist Physician. While all of these cover the same areas of expertise, each offers a different level of expertise in comparison to the others.
The NAWCO offers certification to MDs, DOs, and DPMs. These include Wound Care Certified, Diabetic Wound Certified, Ostomy Management Specialist, and Lymphedema Lower Extremity Certified. Alternatively, applicants can hold active professional licensure among RN, LPN/LVN, nurse practitioner, physical therapist, PTA, occupational therapist, or physician assistant.
The ABWH offers Physician Certification in Hyperbaric Medicine, Physician Certification in Wound Care, Certified Hyperbaric and Wound Care Specialist, Certified Hyperbaric Specialist, and Certified skin and Wound Specialist. The PCWC is open to all MDs, DOs, and DPMs having a current state medical license.
The WOCNCB is offered to RNs who have attained a Bachelor’s degree or above. While many types of certification are available, all require the completion of the wound, ostomy, and continence program certified by the Wound, Ostomy, and Continence Nurses Society.
Why are wound care specialists important for caregivers?
Nurses who specialize in wound care are often tasked with teaching patients and their families how to care for the wound at home. They assist in cleaning, treating, and dressing such wounds, and teach caregivers how to watch for signs of infection that can endanger the patient’s progress. They also assist in developing a patient’s plan of care.
Physicians usually become involved in treatment when they verify a patient’s progress, or when they are called in to deal with health situations that go beyond the scope of the caregiver’s knowledge and abilities. A patient’s primary care physician can also provide referrals, and typically coordinates the activities among a team of wound care specialists.