Advanced Practice Nursing

How (And Why) to Become a Burn Care Nurse

How (And Why) to Become a Burn Care Nurse
For those who fit the bill, burn care nursing is a fulfilling way to earn a living. Image from Unsplash
Mary Kearl profile
Mary Kearl December 5, 2019

There are approximately 100 burn-care centers and many more critical-care units in the US. All need dedicated, intrepid nurses capable of treating burn victims.

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Burn care nursing is not for the faint of heart. “Witnessing big burns and catastrophic injury can be challenging,” warns burn care nurse Alison Gavin (in an interview with Working Nurse). “Burn injuries are incredibly life-altering.” But, she adds, “the courage of the patients keeps me coming back.”

More than 3,000 people die every year from burns and inhaled smoke, and up to 450,000 patients require treatment for burn injuries, according to American Nurse Today. Burn care may not be the sexiest of medical practices, but it is crucial nonetheless, and it is, unfortunately, in demand.

Burn care nurses play a critical role in all phases of a burn victim’s treatment, from the urgent moments of initial intake through the often-prolonged recovery period. In this guide on how to become a burn care nurse we’ll explore:

  • What is a burn care nurse?
  • Becoming a burn care nurse
  • Burn care nurse salary and employment
  • Education requirements for burn care nurses
  • Should you become a burn care nurse?

What is a burn care nurse?

Burn care nurses work alongside doctors and specialists in the burn care unit to treat patients. They have numerous duties, including:

  • Evaluating burns
  • Cleaning and caring for patients’ wounds
  • Educating patients and their loved ones on how to care for burns
  • Administering medication and IV treatments to help with burn-related pain
  • Providing patients with resources for psychosocial support
  • Assisting in the early stages of rehabilitation

Burns result most frequently from fire, scalding with hot liquids, contact with caustic chemicals, electrical accidents, and abuse. As a burn care nurse, you will see patients of all ages and backgrounds. Approximately three-quarters of them will have sustained their injuries in a home accident.

Becoming a burn care nurse

Being a licensed registered nurse (RN) is the only requirement for becoming a burn care nurse. You can apply for licensure after earning either an Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) from a two-year program, or a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) from a four-year program. You must then pass the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX-RN). At that point, advancing in the field is all about finding work, gaining experience, and establishing your skills through certifications.

How long does it take to complete an RN training program?

Becoming an RN requires a minimum of two years of study to earn an ADN. Should you choose to pursue the BSN, expect to study for four years full-time, or more as a part-time student.

After graduating, you will need to:

  • Pass the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX-RN)
  • Complete any state-specific requirements, such as a criminal background check

You can take the NCLEX-RN once you graduate. Some students find they must study to pass the exam, further delaying the start of their careers by a month or more.

How can you start working as a burn care nurse?

Burn care nurses need a specialized set of skills. However, burn care nursing is not currently recognized as a specialization. As a result, there is no fixed set of standards to guide employers in the hiring process. For comparison’s sake, consider the practice of certified nurse midwifery. To enter this practice, you must complete a prescribed master’s-level academic program and pass a certification exam. The process is transparent and clearly defined.

Professional organizations, such as the American Burn Association, are working to establish burn nursing as a specialization. Part of that process involves developing core competencies for burn nursing.

Burn care nurses can choose from several certifications (see “Advanced Certifications,” below), but no single certification is recognized by states or employers as the definitive standard. Depending on which of the roughly 100 active burn units in the country you want to work at, employers may require candidates to have advanced education, training, and certifications, or they may say, “As long as you’re registered, we’ll train you on the job.”

Burn care nurse salary and employment

Burn care nurses usually work in the burn unit, trauma center, or intensive care unit (ICU) of a hospital. Burn care nurses fall under the category of critical care nurses, who earn an average of $33,33 per hour, or, if salaried, $67,090 per year, according to Payscale. The same site reports that RNs with burn care skills earn $28.13 hourly, or $73,500 annually if salaried.

How many burn care nursing jobs are created annually?

There are no clear statistics on the job market for burn care nurses. The US is currently experiencing a nursing shortage; the Bureau of Labor Statistics projects a growth rate of 12 percent for the field as a whole between now and 2028, which is more than twice the rate for all other professions. Nurses with a BSN have better chances of finding employment than those with less education, according to the BLS.

Education requirements for burn care nurses

Throughout the healthcare industry, employers prefer RNs with a BSN to those who have only an ADN. Forces within the healthcare industry are coalescing to require new RNs to complete a BSN program in the foreseeable future. If and when that happens, existing ADNs will likely be grandfathered, but new ADNs will no longer be eligible for RN status. For some employers, the BSN won’t be enough; they will require a master’s degree in acute care, trauma, or emergency nursing.

Online nursing programs are available for associate’s-, bachelor’s-, and master’s-level nursing degrees. Those who hold the ADN (and nursing license) should consider an RN to BSN program.

Online programs that grant the BSN include:

Online RN-to-BSN programs include:

Specialty certifications and continuing education courses are also strongly encouraged, as they demonstrate skill, experience, and commitment. Each of these is open to registered nurses:

Advanced Certifications

Some more advanced certifications are available for those who have gained the requisite amount of work experience and education.

The Critical Care Nursing (CCRN) for adult patients certification is offered by the American Association of Critical-Care Nurses certification (AACN). Eligibility requirements include:

  • Holding an active RN or APRN license in the US
  • Having at least 1,750 hours of care for adult patients who are either acutely or critically ill during the last two years, 875 during the previous year
  • OR At least 2,000 hours in five years, 144 during the previous year

Certified Wound Specialist (CWS) certification is offered by the American Board of Wound Management. Eligibility requirements include:

  • Being a licensed DO, DPM, MD, NP, DVM, PA, PT, OT, PharmD, RD or RN with at least three years of clinical wound care experience
  • Having an unrestricted professional license in the state where you currently practice

Wound Care Certified Certification (WCCC) is offered by the National Alliance of Wound Care and Ostomy. Eligibility requirements include:

  • Being a licensed RN, LPN/LVN, NP, PA, PT, PTA, OTA, MD, DO, or DPM
  • Having an approved certification from either the Wound Ostomy Continence Nursing Certification Board (WOCNCB) or graduating from a committee-approved course in skin and wound management
  • Completing 120 hours of supervised training or two years of full-time (or four years part-time) professional experience in a committee-approved field

Wound, Ostomy, and Continence Certification (WOCC) is offered by the Wound, Ostomy, and Continence Nursing Certification Board. Eligibility requirements include:

  • Having a valid RN license
  • Holding at least a bachelor’s degree
  • Completing either the board’s educational pathway or experiential program

Should you become a burn care nurse?

As burn care nurse Erin Kill told Working Nurse, this job is best for those who “like critical care, enjoy hands-on wound care, and have a strong nose and stomach.” For those who fit the bill, burn care nursing is a fulfilling way to earn a living. As Kill put it when asked what kept her coming back to the burn unit day after day: “Watching our patients heal and return to their lives, usually with more love in their hearts for their life and loved ones.”

(Last Updated on February 26, 2024)

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About the Editor

Tom Meltzer spent over 20 years writing and teaching for The Princeton Review, where he was lead author of the company's popular guide to colleges, before joining Noodle.

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Categorized as: Advanced Practice NursingNursing & Healthcare