Orthopedic Nurses: Providing Complex Care for Musculoskeletal Conditions

Picture of Orthopedic Nurses complex care for musculoskeletal conditions

If you think that you’re interested in becoming an RN and would like a challenging and rewarding specialty, find out more about the field of orthopedic nurses. This specialty area, credentialed by the Orthopedic Nurses Certification Board, focuses on musculoskeletal disorders and their treatment and prevention. From short-term problems such as bone fractures to chronic disorders such as osteoporosis, orthopedic nurses work closely with other medical staff to provide relief and rehabilitation to their patients.

Orthopedic Nurses Conditions

Musculoskeletal disorders include a variety of acute and long-term problems caused by injury, disease, and other disorders. Examples of orthopedic conditions include:

  • Bone fractures
  • Arthritis
  • Joint replacements
  • Osteoporosis
  • Lupus erythematosus
  • Spinal injuries
  • Torn ligaments and tendons
  • Spina Bifida

Other disorders that can impact an individual’s musculoskeletal system; e.g., diabetes, may also be treated by an orthopedic nurse.

Orthopedic treatments

Nurses who specialize in orthopedic care must develop skills in such procedures as administering traction, provide continuous passive motions therapy, and monitor neurovascular status. They must have knowledge of equipment and other treatment modalities that will increase patient comfort and mobility. Orthopedic nurses may cast broken bones, or care for patients with external fixations, in which bones are externally set without casts. They not only provide hands-on care but patient education about management of their conditions and the use of assistive equipment; e.g., braces or prosthetics. Preventive activities may include education or treatments to prevent skeletal deformities after an accident or injury.

Orthopedic nurses frequently care for patients after they have undergone orthopedic surgery, with a focus on assisting them to regain mobility and strength. They may also help with pain management. And even before surgery, nurses work with patients to prepare them for orthopedic surgery through education and pre-surgical preparations.
Regardless of a patient’s age or treatment setting, orthopedic nurses are an integral part of an orthopedic treatment team.

Becoming an orthopedic Nurses

Orthopedic nurses begin their careers as registered nurses (RNs). If you are interested in working in the field of orthopedic nursing, you must first obtain licensure as a registered nurse after completing a bachelor of science in nursing or an associates’ degree with a registered nursing certificate. You will then need to obtain experience in orthopedic care, and may also wish to take additional coursework in orthopedic care or obtain a master’s degree in nursing.

However, to be officially designated as an orthopedic nurse, you must pursue certification through the Orthopaedic Nursing Certification Board (ONCB). To be eligible for certification, you must meet the following requirements:

  • Licensure as an RN;
  • At least two full years of experience as a practicing RN;
  • A minimum of 1,000 hours of RN work experience in orthopedic nursing;
  • Successful completion of the ONCB certification examination.

Once these requirements are completed, you can become certified as an “Orthopaedic Nurse Certified (ONC).” The certification exam process is accredited through the American Board of Nursing Specialties (ABNS), and certification provides acknowledgment of your advanced knowledge and skills in this specialty area.
After you have completed certification, you must obtain recertification on a regular basis to ensure that you are up to date in current orthopedic nursing practices.

Career Outlook

Orthopedic nurses work in a high-demand specialty area, in settings ranging from trauma centers to rehabilitation units. With an increased emphasis on home and community care, the demand should only grow. Salaries in this field are highly competitive, with annual pay of $80,000 or more for orthopedic nurses with extensive experience or those in supervisory roles.

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