Dermatology Nurses Can Play Critical Role in Making Patients SunAWARE
July is UV Safety Month, and it is more important than ever to recognize the need to stay safe under the sun. According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the United States, and the number of new cases diagnosed each year in the U.S. surpasses breast, prostate, lung and colon cancers combined. In 2010 alone, 3.5 million non-melanoma cancers were diagnosed – more than double the 1.1 million reported in 2006. What some people may find troubling about these numbers, however, is that most of these diagnoses could have been easily prevented with proper protection from sun exposure.
“Nurses play a very important role in educating patients on how to stay protected while enjoying the sun,” said Trudy Adamson, MSN, RN, DNC, Nursing Specialist at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn. “We are very involved in primary, secondary and tertiary prevention by educating our communities about how to avoid risk factors for developing skin cancer. That includes everything from educating children about the importance of safe sun practices to informing the elderly on how to avoid cancer recurrences.”
Adamson isn’t alone in stressing the importance of preventative education. The Dermatology Nurses’ Association (DNA) recommends that nurses incorporate UV safety education into regular patient interactions, as well as activities for the public-at-large. Nurses, who are often viewed favorably as educators by the public, are in a unique position to teach others about the dangers of cumulative UV exposure, signs of skin cancer and about the most effective preventative measures.
In order to tackle some of the challenges relating to skin cancer, Mary Mills Barrow, co-author of the award-winning book Sun Protection For Life: Your Guide to a Lifetime of Healthy and Beautiful Skin, created the non-profit organization SunAWARE to promote prevention and early detection. SunAWARE is endorsed by many leading not-for-profit organizations in the skin cancer community including the DNA, which endorsed and adopted the program in 2007. SunAWARE provides educational materials that can be useful to dermatology nurses in many situations.
SunAWARE is based on an acronym constructed by Barrow in 2005. AWARE instructs people to Avoid unprotected exposure at any time, Wear sun-protective clothing, Apply strong sunscreen before exposure, Routinely check for skin changes and Educate others about the need for sun protection. “I have used SunAWARE many times in educating my patients,” said Adamson. “The program also has wonderful age-appropriate materials that make it easy to teach children about skin cancer prevention.”
Education is certainly an important step in preventing skin cancer. However, since most skin cancers – including melanoma – are curable if detected early, it is also important that nurses take steps to spot skin cancer as quickly as possible. The DNA recommends that nurses incorporate skin assessment into the overall health examination of their patients. Furthermore, according to the DNA, skin cancer screening is within the dermatology nurse’s scope as long as he/she is under the direction of a physician.
To learn more about SunAWARE, visit www.sunaware.org.
Dermatology Nursing: Specialized Skin Care
Dermatology is a large and diverse medical specialty that focuses on the diagnosis, treatment and prevention of skin disorders. Dermatology nurses work as specialists in the field, educating and helping patients to manage skin conditions, ailments and diseases. These conditions can include psoriasis, cosmetic issues, acne, allergies, skin infections and more severe health problems like skin cancer. Nurses in this field also play an important role in wound and postoperative care.
“Dermatology is a very dynamic field and has shifted over time to more of a continuum as far as nursing roles are concerned. With all of the sub-specialties within dermatology, there are so many different avenues a nurse can take within the field,” said Heather Jones, RN, MN, FNP in the Department of Dermatology at the Oregon Health & Science University in Portland, Ore., Board Director of the National Dermatology Nurses’ Association (DNA) and President of the Northwest Oregon DNA.
Nurses who specialize in dermatology can work in a variety of settings, including a hospital, private physician’s office, burn center, clinic or health center. Additionally, many dermatology nurse practitioners even run their own clinics, where responsibilities can include removal of warts or tattoos, assessing and treating leg ulcers, running ultra-violet treatments or handling laser procedures.
Dermatology nurses often work closely with dermatology practitioners to devise treatment plans for patients seeking medical treatment for skin conditions. Treatment plans typically include education, examination, diagnostic screenings and administration of prescription medication. A dermatology nurse may also help dermatologists perform surgical and non-surgical procedures, including skin biopsies and chemical peels.
“No matter what path a dermatology nurse decides to pursue, treatment of the skin issue and/or disease is priority,” said Jones. “Dermatology nurses have an important role in ensuring positive patient outcomes, and meeting that goal is very gratifying.”
As the field of dermatology continues to grow, the need for dermatology nurses is predicted to increase dramatically. In fact, the Bureau of Labor Statistics expects nursing jobs in private physicians’ offices to grow about 39 percent through the year 2016. This news is promising for dermatology nurses, as many work in the offices of dermatologists.
For student nurses interested in dermatology nursing, Jones recommends seeking an opportunity to do a rotation specifically in dermatology. “Ask a local dermatology practice if there is an opportunity to follow a dermatology nurse for a week or two. Most practices, especially academic settings, will welcome anyone who wants to follow them and learn about the specialty,” said Jones.
Dermatology nurses can obtain certification by passing a professional examination offered by the Dermatology Nursing Certification Board (DNCB). To become a certified dermatology nurse, the DNCB requires candidates to have a minimum of two years and 2,000 hours of work experience in dermatology nursing and possess current and unrestricted license as a registered nurse.
Get to Know:
Q. When did you decide to pursue a career in nursing and why?
A. I was inspired to become a nurse when I was a Girl Scout at 12 years old. We were working on our first aid badge and our troop leader was my “patient.” She said to me, “You will make a good nurse because you have a very gentle but sure touch.” Her remark made such an impression on me that I began to think about nursing as a career. I eventually joined the Future Nurses of America Club in high school which further solidified my desire to help people by becoming a nurse. I’ve always enjoyed the sciences, and I felt that a nursing career would enhance that interest. I have definitely not been disappointed!
Q. What inspired you to work in dermatology nursing?
A. I was in the right place at the right time to capitalize on an opportunity to work in dermatology nursing. More than two decades ago, two new nursing positions were created following the recruitment of a new Chairman in Dermatology at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, who specialized in cutaneous t-cell lymphoma (CTCL). He initiated a new treatment program for two subsets of CTCL and I applied for one of the two positions to be the bedside nurse performing this three hour one-on-one procedure for patients afflicted with CTCL.
My previous experience in the emergency department and expertise in IV insertion are part of the skill set that helped me to get that job. But the “touch” that got me started in nursing was the most valuable skill I had when it came to working with patients with devastating symptoms that primarily involved the skin – these patients can experience unremitting pruritus, extensive exfoliation and erythema, erosions, fissuring, and skin plaques or tumors. Over time, my position has evolved into a clinical research coordinator for patients diagnosed with CTCL.
Q. What have you enjoyed most about your profession?
A. I have found nursing to be one of the most flexible career choices available. During my nursing career, in addition to dermatology, I have worked in several specialty areas including orthopaedics, medical-surgical, emergency department, radiology and clinical research coordination. Early in my career, I even worked as a nursing program director for a children’s Community Living Arrangements program, which provided me with invaluable experience in program development and management. I absolutely love the opportunity I have every day to make someone’s life a little better – to help make patients more comfortable, relaxed and perhaps more hopeful.
Q. What advice would you offer to nursing students interested in working in dermatology?
A. Most nursing positions in dermatology are in the outpatient setting, so if you are interested in outpatient nursing, dermatology is a unique career choice with many opportunities to specialize. More and more emphasis is being placed on the health of a person’s skin so the opportunities for patient and public education and the impact of good nursing care on the health of the skin are limitless. The Dermatology Nurses’ Association offers excellent educational and networking resources for becoming involved in the field of dermatology nursing. National and regional conferences and online education offer great exposure into the field.
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