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WOCN: Around the World in 40 Years

Wound Ostomy & Continence Nurses Society Celebrates 40 Years of Specialized

Care in the U.S. and Abroad April 13-19

MT LAUREL, N.J., April 7, 2008 /PRNewswire/ -- The year 1968 was pivotal in the history of the United States, the world and Enterostomal Therapy (ET) Nursing. The end of the Kennedy/Johnson presidencies, the assassination of Martin Luther King and the beginning of the end of the Vietnam War influenced world events. And so too did an informal meeting that led to the formation of the International Association of Enterostomal Therapists. Now known as the Wound, Ostomy and Continence Nurses (WOCN) Society, the Society is celebrating 40 years of pioneering work in the field. Over four decades, thousands of nurses and allied health professionals have applied their expertise to assisting WOC patients in every corner of the world. Wound, Ostomy and Continence Nurses Week, celebrated April 13 - 19, pays tribute to the health care professionals who have made wound, ostomy and continence care their life's work.

The Beginnings

The 1960's were characterized by one word -- change. One of decade's most important pieces of social legislation was the passage of the Medicare bill, which provided for at least a minimum amount of medical care for those on Social Security. With more people being admitted to the hospital and presenting with urologic conditions, stomal complications and other issues, specially trained health care professionals were in demand to assist patients in managing the outcomes of surgical procedures and equipping them to use the surgical products designed for urinary stomas and bowel diversions. The crux of their work was educational -- educating patients and other health care professionals in managing intestinal stomas, fistula, draining wounds and incontinence

Across the globe, soldiers wounded in Vietnam were being treated in the field, military hospitals and state side for urological injuries and wounds that required the expertise of an ET. As firepower increased, so did the intensity of the injuries seen by ET Nurses. Although a relatively new specialty, the profession was making giant steps in bringing comfort, dignity and independence to WOC patients.

The Next Decade

The chaotic events of the 1960s continued into the 1970s. The war in Vietnam raged and the severity of injuries sustained by the troops increased. ET Nurses were treating veterans with injuries such as draining wounds, fistulas and stomas in medical settings but were also preparing them to re-enter society.

In 1978, the profession launched one of its first efforts to form an international link with others in the profession. The World Council of Enterostomal Therapists convened a meeting in Italy to enable members to meet and discuss issues, increase their knowledge and promote awareness. While representation from individual countries was small, this global alliance was an important first step in extending the reach and influence of WOC professionals.

The 1980s

By early 1980, HIV/AIDS was headline news. The virus was considered one of the biggest health care concerns of modern times. By 1984, there were 8,000 confirmed cases and 3,700 deaths in the U.S. alone. Throughout the world, WOC Nurses were called in to action to address the many complications of AIDS, including venous status ulcerations and more.

During that same decade, dramatic changes in the Medicare system placed tremendous pressure on WOC Nurses. Under the revised reimbursement system, hospitals were rewarded for reducing patient stays and costs. Consequently the average length of a hospital stay was reduced significantly. New ostomy patients were sent home after seven days requiring care in alternate settings. During this period, ET played a key role in managing care of ostomy patients.

The 1990s

By the 1990s, life expectancy had increased dramatically in most countries throughout the world. While people were surviving longer, they were also afflicted with chronic conditions related to aging. The demand for health care professionals trained to address the needs of the aged who were being treated for a host of wound, ostomy and continence issue spiraled.

The 1990's also saw the introduction of more practices to contain health care costs. To contain costs, teaching became crucial and the WOC Nurse was the professional to guide the patient through the process and prepare him for discharge to ensure that he was emotionally and physically capable to adapt outside the hospital setting.

Internationally, the WOCN Society is committed to increasing the presence of WOC Nurses across the globe. In China, WOC nurses were taught about the role of the WOC Nurse in the hospital setting where nurses were introduced to methods of changing surgical dressing and other aspects of the specialty. The Society has also sent to delegates in other areas across the world to ensure proper patient care techniques are being taught.

In the 1990's, the primary importance of the WOC Nurse was acknowledged when the IAET changed its name to the Wound, Ostomy and Continence Society.

A New Century

With the dawn of a new century came new challenges for the WOC Nurse. Wars in Afghanistan and Iraq produced casualties whose injuries and survival were impacted by advances in technology and medicine. The survival rate among those injured in Iraq and Afghanistan is more than 90 percent. While improvements in the field of medicine have saved more lives, the injuries sustained are more severe due to advanced weapons. The combination of these developments are presenting new challenges for WOC Nurses treating the wounded.

But war is not the only development making demands on the WOC Nurse. In recent years, obesity has been the focus of numerous health studies and is reaching epidemic proportions in developing countries. In America, two out of every three Americans are overweight or obese and one out of every eight deaths is caused by illnesses related to being overweight or obese. Conditions related to obesity include urinary stress incontinence and infections following wounds.

WOC Nurses deal with a multitude of issues in many different settings. What has and continues to define WOC Nurses is their ability to rise to the challenges presented within the larger context within which they operate.

The Role of the WOC Nurse

The role of a nurse specializing in the care of patients with wound, ostomy or continence disorders is multifaceted, challenging and rewarding: coordinating patient care in complex environments, using skills in science and technology, customer service, critical thinking, advocacy, decision-making, managing, communicating and creative problem solving.

Bringing it all together is no easy task. The WOC Nurse's knowledge, leadership and commitment to caring make it happen. And for support, continuing education and professional resources, WOC Nurses turn to the WOCN Society.

About WOCN

The WOCN Society is a professional nursing society that promotes educational, clinical and research opportunities to advance the practice and guide the delivery of expert health care to individuals with wounds, ostomies and incontinence. Membership includes more than 4,200 healthcare professionals who are experts in the care of patients with wound, ostomy and incontinence. For more information about the Society's 40th Anniversary Celebration, which is scheduled for June 21-25 at the Orland World Center Marriott in Orlando, Florida, go to

To interview a WOC nurse in your area, contact: 215-884-6499


(215) 884-6499

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