Nurses who work on a hospital burn unit need excellent assessment skills, critical care experience and a willingness to work on a team.
The Burn Center at Regions Hospital (regionshospital.com) trains new hires intensively for two to three months on the subtleties of this work. That training includes learning the differences among thermal, electrical and chemical burns; how to maintain adequate fluid and electrolyte levels; the effect of pain on the patient; and wound care with an array of dressings. These nurses must also continually assess patients' renal, pulmonary and gastrointestinal systems.
Being a team player
These nurses work with respiratory and occupational therapists, and with patient care assistants, lifting and positioning patients to clean and dress wounds and prevent skin breakdown. "It's a very physically demanding area of nursing," said Candyce Kuehn, RN, MBA, nurse manager of The Burn Center. "The nurse is the one who has the greatest length of time at the bedside."
Pain management is a big component of these nurses' work. Nurses learn to address pain systematically, without letting emotions and stress interfere with their work, Kuehn said. They also spend time teaching family members about pain management and wound care.
Patients vary in age, length of stay
Regions treats adult and pediatric burn patients, and most undergo surgery while in the hospital, Kuehn said. Patients may spend one day to three months on the unit, depending on the severity of their wounds. Nurses are very involved in preparing patients and families for the move from hospital to home, transitional or rehabilitative care.
The Burn Center rarely hires new graduates, but offers clinical internships to students from area nursing schools, including Bethel University in St. Paul (www. bethel.edu).
Students work one-on-one with burn unit nurses, learning all aspects of patient care. "The nurse really does function as their mentor, as their teacher, and would go through a procedure with them and would help them to do it," said Beth Peterson, Prelicensure Nursing Program director and associate professor of nursing at Bethel. "An equally important piece of the preparation is the emotional component of dealing with people who have had burns."
The experience also helps students to focus on patients and their families, according to Peterson. "Dealing with suffering is as important as dressing a wound."