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How to Become a Wound Care Nurse

Gayle Morris, BSN, MSN
Updated September 28, 2022
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A wound care nurse's skills help heal patients mentally and physically. Use this guide to discover education requirements and salary potential.
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Certified Wound Ostomy Continence Nurse

Wound care nurses have specialized skills and are experts in wound care. They can be certified in the care of wounds, continence, ostomies, foot care, or all four.

Chronic wounds can be a significant financial, physical, and emotional cost for patients and their families. Medicare estimates the financial cost may be up to $96.8 billion each year.

Review the steps needed to become a wound care nurse, important certifications, and salary potential.

What Is a Wound Care Nurse?

Wound care nurses are typically employed in hospitals, home care agencies, or residential care facilities. According to the Wound, Ostomy, and Continence Nursing Certification Board (WOCNCB), there are over 9,000 nurses who are certified.

The certification exam is a validation of specialized skills and protects patients from unsafe care. The test is a rigorous examination of a nurse’s knowledge. According to the WOCNCB, the pass rate for certification in foot care, ostomy care, or wound care did not reach 80% in 2021.

Wound care nurses collaborate with wound care doctors to identify wound types and select treatment plans to lower the cost of treatment and improve patient outcomes. The demand for wound care specialists is rising as institutions are seeking to raise patient satisfaction, lower costs, and improve reimbursement.

Becoming a certified wound care nurse increases your employment opportunities, including as a travel nurse. It also raises your salary potential and may lead to greater levels of personal satisfaction. Learn more about how to become a wound care nurse.

Steps to Becoming a Wound Care Nurse

The journey to becoming a wound care nurse begins with earning a bachelor of science in nursing (BSN) degree from an accredited BSN program. After graduation, you must meet the state requirements for licensure, which differs depending on the state. However, all states require registered nurses (RNs) to take and pass the Nursing Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX).

Most employers prefer certified wound care nurses who are also certified in basic life support or advanced cardiac life support. One of the eligibility requirements for wound care certification is a BSN.

  1. 1

    Earn a BSN degree from an accredited program.

    Generally, a BSN education takes four years. However, it can be longer or shorter, depending on your prior education and personal needs. For example, some programs allow nurses to attend part time if the student can’t take a full load.

    The quickest way to become a nurse is by attending an associate degree in nursing (ADN) program. This program generally takes two years to complete. Nurses with an ADN can enroll in an RN-to-BSN program. This can be completed in 9-24 months if enrolled full time.

    Students with a bachelor degree in a non-nursing field may complete an accelerated BSN program. This program can take as little as 18 months to complete.

  2. 2

    Pass the NCLEX to receive RN licensure.

    The NCLEX exam is required by every state in the U.S. to get your nursing license. You are only required to pass this test one time. If you need a nursing license in another state, it is not necessary to retake the test.

    The test determines if it is safe for you to begin practice as an entry-level nurse. You are expected to use critical thinking skills to make nursing decisions. The NCLEX exam uses a variety of question types and organizes the questions into client-needs categories.

  3. 3

    Gain experience in wound care nursing.

    New RNs needing wound care experience may seek employment in areas where patients with wounds are commonly treated. This includes a diabetes care unit, wound care unit, oncology unit, or critical care.

  4. 4

    Consider becoming a certified wound care nurse.

    Several organizations offer certification for wound care nurses. Certification validates a nurse’s knowledge and experience. The eligibility requirements for certification vary depending on the organization.

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Wound Care Nurse Education

The minimum degree required to work as a wound care nurse is a BSN. Certification options are also available for advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs). In addition to a BSN, the certifying organization may also require additional education in wound care.

BSN Degree

A BSN degree is the minimum education required to become a wound care nurse. The program generally takes four years to complete. It is best suited for students who can devote four years to full-time education.

It offers the advantage of incorporating evidence-based practice, critical thinking, and decision-making skills in the curriculum. It is also the required degree to be eligible for a graduate nursing program.

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    Admission Requirements

    BSN programs may require 30 college credits and prerequisite courses with a minimum GPA of 2.8-3.2 depending on the program.

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    Program Curriculum

    BSN coursework contains pathophysiology, pharmacology, anatomy and physiology, foundational nursing practice, nursing care of age groups and disease processes, self-care, and preventive care.

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    Time to Complete

    Students generally complete a BSN program in four years. Students with a BSN in a non-nursing program may complete an accelerated BSN in as little as 18 months.

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    Skills Learned

    Accredited BSN programs must provide a minimum number of clinical hours, which may be up to 800 hours. Students learn patient care, such as taking blood pressure, changing a dressing, or starting an intravenous line. They also learn leadership, critical thinking skills, public health, cultural awareness, and administration.

Wound Care Nurse Licensure and Certification

A wound care nurse must hold an active and unencumbered registered nursing license in the state to become certified. A wound care nurse may also hold an APRN license. States require RNs and APRNS to renew their license. The requirements for renewal vary by state.

Most employers want certified wound care nurses to guide and direct their wound care treatments and protocols. Several organizations offer certification. Eligibility and testing for certification are the most rigorous through the WOCNCB. They require graduation from one of the eight accredited WOC nursing programs, which have admission requirements or clinical experience.

To qualify with experience, you must have 1,500 clinical hours in direct patient care in each specialty certification you seek. An additional 50 continuing education credits for each specialty certification is also necessary.

Specialty certifications include:

  • Certified Wound Care Nurse
  • Certified Ostomy Care Nurse
  • Certified Continence Care Nurse
  • Certified Wound Ostomy Nurse
  • Certified Wound Ostomy Continence Nurse
  • Certified Foot Care Nurse

You may also seek certification through the National Alliance of Wound Care and Ostomy. One of the eligibility requirements is either a completed wound and skin care course or certification from the WOCNCB. You must also have hands-on clinical training or two years full-time or four years part-time experience in wound management.

The American Board of Wound Healing offers a certified skin and wound specialist certification. You must have two years of experience in the hospital or outpatient setting with training as a wound care assistant. You must also complete 200 hours of training and active practice each year in the past two years. In addition, 12 continuing education units in wound care and core competencies in wound care must be completed.

Working as a Wound Care Nurse

A wound care nurse’s responsibilities may vary depending on the work setting. Certified wound care nurses are sought after in outpatient clinic settings, diabetic clinics, hospitals, nursing homes, and oncology clinics.

The type of wounds will vary depending on the patient population. For example, patients in a diabetic clinic more often have chronic and difficult-to-heal wounds for which the wound care nurse must apply supplemental interventions. However, a wound care nurse may only be consulted once or twice for a surgical wound on a healthy 25-year-old.

The added education and certification may not drastically increase a wound care nurse’s salary potential, but it does improve work-life balance and employment opportunities. According to Payscale in September 2022, a wound care nurse’s annual average base salary is $76,590 and their average hourly salary is $30.65.

The salary data from Payscale is based on the self-reported salary of nurses across the U.S. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics ranks the median annual RN wage as $77,600. Before pursuing additional education and certification, it’s helpful to know the salary range for a wound care nurse in your geographical area.

Frequently Asked Questions About Becoming a Wound Care Nurse

question-mark-circleHow many years does it take to become a wound care nurse?

For most people, it takes six years. This includes four years in a BSN program and an additional two years of experience or education as a wound care nurse. This is required to be eligible for the certification examination.

question-mark-circleWhat is the quickest way to become a wound care nurse?

The quickest way may be to complete an accredited ADN program in two years and immediately enroll in an RN-to-BSN program while working. This could be completed in about 12 months. You could be getting experience in wound care while in the RN-to-BSN program. After completing another year of experience or an approved educational program, you can take the certification examination.

question-mark-circleHow hard is it to become a wound care nurse?

The additional education and experience necessary to sit for a rigorous certification examination might be difficult for some, but you will be able to help protect patients from unsafe care and poor outcomes.

question-mark-circleDo wound care nurses get paid well?

A wound care nurse’s salary will vary depending on the geographical location, experience, certification, education, and size of the organization. In some areas, a wound care nurse may be paid a comparable salary to an RN without the added education or certification. However, this varies by area. It is best to check the salary potential for your area.

Page last reviewed September 18, 2022

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