Vascular nurses treat patients with carotid artery disease, peripheral artery disease (PAD), abdominal aneurysms and leaky leg veins. Gone untreated, these conditions can be dangerous.
Diabetes and long-term smoking are the leading causes of these diseases, and many patients might not even know they have a problem. Patients may suffer leg ulcers or persistent wounds, and might even face amputation. Depending on the size of the abdominal aneurysm, a patient might need surgery.
Most vascular disease patients are 60 or older and those with PAD may find walking painful, but curtailing physical activity is the worst thing for them, according to Carolyn Robinson, a nurse practitioner who specializes in vascular disease at the Minneapolis VA Medical Center (www.minneapolis.va.gov).
"They're not the easiest patients," Robinson admitted. "You don't send them away and they're better. You get them back over and over and over again."
Robinson likes the challenge of wound care and enjoys interacting with her patients. Like her, many nurses learn vascular work on the job and from conferences. General information is available from the Society for Vascular Nursing (www.svn.org) and the Society for Vascular Medicine (www.svmb.org).
Where they work
Most vascular nurses work in outpatient clinics, and some, like Diane Treat-Jacobson, Ph.D., RN, associate professor in the University of Minnesota School of Nursing, do research on the subject. Treat-Jacobson found in a study that patients with claudication, or limping due to vascular disease, suffered less leg pain even if they only exercised their arms. (For information on the study, go to www.exert.org.)
"Eight to nine million Americans have this disease and up to half of them may be asymptomatic, which may be a problem because having peripheral artery disease makes you significantly at higher risk for heart attack and stroke," Treat-Jacobson said.
Vascular nurses who work in clinics alongside vascular surgeons and interventional radiologists have the opportunity to work on risk factor management, chronic disease management and education. "So much of what these patients need is what we do well," Treat-Jacobson said. "There is a great independent vital role that these nurses play. It's interesting; it's challenging. It's a terrific role for a nurse. There's a lot of independence there. There's a lot of working one-on-one with a patient. The care of the vascular patient can be better coordinated or better managed with the nurse there."