Certified Ostomy Nurse Careers: Salary Info & Job Description

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The median annual salary for an entry level certified ostomy nurse is around $68,000. Is it worth the education and licensing requirements? Get the real story on job duties and career prospects to decide if this career is right for you.
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Pros and Cons of a Being a Certified Ostomy Nurse

A certified ostomy nurse is specially trained to treat patients who have undergone ostomies, surgical procedures that purposely leave an open wound, or stoma, in the body. You can learn the pros and cons to being an ostomy nurse by reading below.

Pros of a Certified Ostomy Nurse Career
Can work almost anywhere in the world*
Work available in a variety of settings (hospitals, outpatient clinics, doctors' offices)**
Higher than average median salary ($65,000 for entry-level positions in 2015)***
Flexible work schedules*
Strong job outlook (19% increase expected in nursing jobs overall from 2012-2022)*

Cons of a Certified Ostomy Nurse Career
May need to be on call, available on short notice*
May need to work holidays and weekends*
Postsecondary education required (bachelor's degree or higher for management, research and teaching positions)*
Nursing license and certification required*
Risk of infection and injury*

(Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **Cleveland Clinic, ***Payscale.com)

Essential Career Information

Job Description and Duties

An ostomy nurse has specialized knowledge and training that both physicians and patients rely on. You'll work with doctors to locate the ideal placement for a stoma before surgery and counsel patients before and after their operations. You'll need to be able to think on your feet to assess emergency situations, evaluate patient needs and teach families and staff the essentials of wound treatment. Your communication skills will be key as you offer the psychological support and sensitive advice needed to help patients heal and adjust to life after a colostomy or other surgery. You can be certified to specialize in ostomy care, wound or continence care or all three. If you are a Certified Wound, Ostomy and Continence Nurse (CWOCN), you might have your pick of work environments, from a variety of hospital departments, to private practice, home care, rehabilitation and extended care facilities. Depending on your workplace, your hours may be long and unpredictable.

Job Growth and Salary Information

Excellent opportunities are expected for the nursing profession overall between 2012 and 2022, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Jobs should increase by 19% and growth will be particularly fast in outpatient facilities (www.bls.gov). As a CWOCN entering the workforce, you can earn roughly $65,000, according to Payscale.com in March 2015. More experienced wound care and ostomy nurses can earn about $76,000.

Career Skills and Requirements

Personal qualities such as patience, compassion and the ability to think clearly under pressure are considered important for all nurses, according to the BLS. To work as a certified ostomy nurse, you also need to meet rigorous education, licensing and certification requirements. First, you'll need an aptitude for science, since your bachelor's degree course load will include classes such as biology, anatomy, chemistry, physiology and psychology. Next, you need to become a registered nurse (RN). After graduating from a nursing program, you can apply to the state board of nursing for a license to practice. If the board declares you eligible, you must pass the National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses (NCLEX-RN) or the National Council Licensure Examination for Practical Nurses (NCLEX-PN). Check with your state for licensing requirements.

Next, you must pass a national exam offered by the Wound, Ostomy and Continence Nursing Certification Board (WOCNCB) to become a Certified Wound, Ostomy, Continence Nurse (CWOCN). You can earn certification in one, two or all three areas of specialty. In order to take the exam, you must complete an accredited WOC Nursing program, which may include classroom, clinical and online instruction. In lieu of a WOC program, you may choose to independently complete 50 hours of college coursework per specialty. You will also need to accumulate a minimum of 1,500 on-the-job hours per specialty within the past five years. Of those, 375 hours must have been completed within the past year.

You'll need to re-take the exam every five years to keep your certification current. As an alternative, you can participate in the Professional Growth Program (PGP). By tracking educational and professional accomplishments, you accumulate points that earn you re-certification.

Job Postings from Real Employers

As a WOC nurse, you can have a wide range of employment options if you have the right education, certifications and hands-on experience. Typically, employers advertise for an RN with at least a bachelor's degree and certification as a wound care nurse. Below are examples of real jobs posted in March 2012.

  • An urban Pennsylvania medical center needed an experienced RN for a fulltime position treating wound care patients of all ages. A master's degree in nursing was preferred, but a bachelor's degree was acceptable. The position required applicants to have at least three years of experience and certification by the WOCNCB.
  • A Missouri hospital sought a licensed wound, continence and ostomy nurse with a bachelor's degree in nursing and a minimum of three years of experience. The job called for an applicant who could assess, plan and evaluate individual patient care, educate clinical staff and community and develop and coordinate patient care programs. WOCN certification was required.
  • In New Jersey, a specialty hospital advertised for a WOCN RN who was a critical thinker with knowledge of infection control methods. Basic Cardiac Life Support (BCLS) certification, strong English language skills and 3-5 years of patient care experience were required.
  • A healthcare organization specializing in hospice and home health care in California looked for an RN with certifications in WOCN and ET (enterostomal therapy) Nursing. Candidates must have held a current California driver's license and car insurance.

How to Stand Out

Get Certified

Keep your skills current and demonstrate your commitment to professional growth by earning additional certifications. The WOCNCB offers an advanced nursing credential for WOC specialists who want superior credibility. Make sure you are up to date in other basic certifications, since healthcare providers typically request skills in CPR, Basic Cardiac Life Support (BCLS), Advanced Cardiac Life Support, Hyperbaric Oxygen (HBO) training and other areas.

Continuing Education

While all nurses with all degree levels are in demand, the BLS states that you will need a bachelor's degree or higher for teaching, management or consulting positions. A graduate degree in nursing is becoming increasingly important if you want to advance to jobs with more responsibility, such as administrative positions. If you have earned a bachelor's degree in another area but wish to become a nurse, you may seek a master's program in nursing that is specially geared toward students who want to be nurses but have an undergraduate degree in other subjects.

Alternative Career Paths

Physician Assistants

If you want a healthcare career that allows you to address a wider variety of patient needs, becoming a physician's assistant may be for you. Typically, accredited physician assistant programs award a master's degree after two years of study. After you pass the Physician Assistant National Certifying Examination, you'll receive your license and can work under the supervision of a doctor. You will have the training and authority to prescribe medication, set broken bones, order diagnostic testing and other responsibilities. Your willingness to take on responsibility is likely to pay off, the BLS states, as the median salary for physician's assistants in May 2011 was about $89,000. Your skills will most likely be in high demand: job growth for this career was expected to increase by 30% between 2010 and 2020.

Licensed Practical and Licensed Vocational Nurses

If you basic nursing appeals to you, but you don't want the expense of a bachelor's degree, you may want to consider a career as a licensed practical or vocational nurse. Look for 1-year accredited programs at community colleges and technical schools to earn a certificate in practical nursing and then take the NCLEX-PN exam to obtain your license. Your responsibilities will be more limited and your pay will be lower than that of an RN, according to the BLS. However, if you choose to continue your education, you'll find more opportunity for advancement. As with other nursing professionals, employment for licensed practical and vocational nurses was expected to grow faster than average, about 22%, between 2010 and 2020. This profession earned a median salary of about $41,000 as of May 2011.

Popular Schools

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Featured Schools

Kaplan University

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  • Accelerated BSN to MSN
  • Bachelors of Science in Nursing - RN to BSN (RN License Required)
  • Family Nurse Practitioner Graduate Certificate

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Colorado Technical University

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George Mason University

  • Master of Science in Health Informatics

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Sacred Heart University

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The George Washington University

  • MSHS Medical Laboratory Sciences
  • MSHS in Immunohematology and Biotechnology
  • MSHS in Molecular Diagnostic Sciences

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Grand Canyon University

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  • MBA and MS in Nursing: Nursing Leadership in Health Care Systems (Bridge)
  • BS in Nursing (Registered Nurse - R.N. to BSN)

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Brightwood College

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American University

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