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The Growth of a Specialty… and a Professional

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The Growth of a Specialty… and a Professional

Never become so much of an expert that you stop gaining expertise. View life as a continuous learning experience – Denis Waitley, motivational speaker and author

  For Phyllis Kupsick, RN, MSN, FNP-BC, CWOCN, there’s always room for improvement. For this President-Elect of the Wound Ostomy Continence Nurses Society, the last 36 years have been spent growing and evolving right along with the WOC nursing field. And just like this specialty, Phyllis continues to move forward, changing the lives of her patients along the way.

  Phyllis’ career started in 1975, 3 years before the Wound Ostomy Continence (WOC) Nursing Certification Board was formed. At that time, the young Licensed Practical Nurse, a recent graduate of the Stanly Technical Institute (Albemarle, NC), wasn’t yet sure in what area of expertise she would practice, although she knew her potential was limitless.    “I very quickly found I wanted to know more and do more than what my level of education allowed,” Phyllis says. Her ambition led her the Cabarrus School of Nursing (Concord, NC), where she earned a degree as a Registered Nurse. Her first job after graduation was in a medical surgical unit at a Stanly Memorial Hospital, where her passion for wound care began to take shape. “Caring for postoperative wounds reinforced my interest in the healing process,” she says.

  Her hospital didn’t have a WOC care program, but the enterostomal therapist on staff, Shirley LeHue, RN, MSN, ET, took Phyllis under her wing and introduced her to new procedures involving unique wounds and ostomies. “Because of my interest in that particular area, Shirley would pull me in when there was a new ostomy created or a complicated wound occurred,” Phyllis says. “I gained even more respect for the developing specialty.”

  In order for Phyllis to attend an Enterostomal Therapy Nursing Education Program (ETNEP), she needed a baccalaureate degree. After earning her Bachelors of Science in Nursing from Wingate College, she immediately applied to Emory University’s ETNEP. After completing the program, Phyllis went back to the same hospital and started a WOC Nursing Department that worked with inpatients. She soon realized the tremendous need for outpatient services. To better position herself to serve outpatients, Phyllis went back to school, yet again, to get her masters degree from the University of North Carolina in Charlotte, and then on to the University of South Carolina’s nurse practitioner program. She graduated in 1999, and that same year she opened a nurse practitioner-managed outpatient WOC clinic, the first of its kind in her area.

  Today, Phyllis continues to help patients by serving on the Wound Ostomy and Continence Nursing (WOCN) Society’s Board of Directors as President-Elect. She has been a member since 1993 and believes the WOCN not only provides great educational offerings to nurses, but also is a place for them to come together. “Being able to network with other WOC nurses gives members an excellent support system and brain trust,” Phyllis says.

  Although Phyllis is an expert in the technical care of ostomies, she says seeing the patients for who they are, and not just their condition, is integral to her practice. “We are, by basis of our nursing backgrounds, a group that focuses on not only the condition, but also on the effects that condition has on the patient. Nurses practice holistically, realizing you can’t separate the human from the condition,” she says.

  Ostomy surgery has a big effect on the patient’s life post surgery, but Phyllis is constantly surprised by the strength of her patients. “I think when the average person envisions ostomy surgery, he or she tends to see it as a total disruption of a person’s life. For me, it’s fun knowing ostomates who make that thought totally bogus, like the football player who still kicked those winning points, or the bull rider who still rode bulls after his surgery, or the mountain climber who still climbed the highest and hardest peaks, or the helicopter pilot who still flew into combat zones, or even the every day ‘Joe’ who gets up every day, puts on his pants, and goes to work just like ‘normal’ people. These are the heroes of the world,” she says.

  This type of dedication to patients and the profession has helped WOC nurses find a solid place alongside other healthcare providers. “I believe we have earned the respect of our fellow healthcare providers by adhering to our mission and by increasing our evidence-based practice,” Phyllis says. “The increase in evidence-based practice, which will optimally lead to better patient outcomes, will be a key factor in the growth of our practice in upcoming healthcare changes.”

  When Phyllis isn’t with patients, you can still find her in the classroom, now as the teacher. An active member of her church, Phyllis instructs eighth grade confirmation level class. This grandmother of eight and great-grandmother is not adverse to working with children; when she wants some quiet time, you can find her in the garden.

  Undoubtedly, Phyllis has seen a number of changes in the WOC nursing field throughout the past three plus decades. “Everything changes, except the need to remember that our patients are the reason we exist,” Phyllis says, encouraging other healthcare providers to embrace the transformations in their field.

   “You’re never too old to learn and never too old to change,” Phyllis says. This attitude has allowed her to evolve over the years, along with her scope of practice.

This article was not subject to the Ostomy Wound Management peer-review process.