February 4th to 10th is National Burn Awareness Week, and Daily Nurse is recognizing the specialized work of burn nurses. Burn nurses are known for their exceptional skills, commitment, and unwavering dedication to patient care. They work tirelessly to treat individuals who have been affected by burn injuries and to advocate for burn injury prevention within their communities.
Meet Emily Werthman, PhD (c), MSN, RN, CBRN, the Burn Program Manager at The Johns Hopkins Burn Center. She is also a member of the Board of Certification for Emergency Nursing (BCEN) board of directors for the 2024-2025 term and shares her insights on burn nursing as a specialized nursing practice.
-What are your title and credentials at The Johns Hopkins Burn Center?
Burn Program Manager
PhD (c), MSN, RN, CBRN
-How long have you worked there?
-What do you enjoy most about your role as burn program manager?
I love the detective aspect of my job: finding a problem, discovering its root cause, and then developing a plan to fix it. I also work with an amazing interdisciplinary team that makes it exciting to come to work every day.
-Talk about how you ascended to that role.
I started as a BICU nurse and loved our burn program’s research and quality aspects. I knew that burn nursing was where I wanted to practice, but I also wanted to further my career options by pursuing an advanced degree. After about 10 years at the bedside, the burn program manager position became available while I was obtaining my MSN in nursing education. I was so happy to be able to combine my love of research, quality, and bedside burn nursing knowledge into this role. I am also incredibly fortunate to work for a health system that encourages and supports its nurses’ continuing education so I can continue with my PhD.
-What inspired you to become a burn nurse?
My mother died in a house fire shortly after my college graduation. Knowing that her nurses were with her, providing the best possible care, inspired me to do the same for all the families and patients we care for here at the Johns Hopkins Burn Center.
–What associations are you a member of, and how have they helped your career?
I am an American Burn Association (ABA) member, serving as the lead nurse planner. I volunteer with the Board of Certification for Emergency Nursing (BCEN), serving as a CBRN Exam Construction Review Committee member, and have just been appointed to BCEN’s board of directors.
These roles have allowed me to work outside of my hospital system to impact the work of burn nurses nationally and internationally. My work with the ABA has allowed me to progress from member to committee member to lead nurse planner. Similarly, at BCEN, I started as an item writer and have continued to work within the organization to support its mission. Both organizations have provided opportunities for professional growth through networking and continuing education.
-What does a burn nurse do?
There is not a typical day in burn. We see patients at their worst on the first day they are injured, their best on the day they are discharged, and everything in between. Burn is unique because we know our patients and their families through one-on-one interactions during daily wound care sessions. A shift in the BICU or BWU will usually involve all your standard nursing interventions but with a healthy dose of specialized wound care, wound vac placement, dressing takedowns, and lots of psychosocial support for our patients and their families.
–Burn nurses are more than trauma care. Can you talk about the other types of care they provide patients?
Burn nurses genuinely care for the patient across the entire continuum from admission to discharge and then reconstruction procedures in the years following an injury. In addition to critical care, they provide outstanding psychosocial support to families and patients. Many burn nurses participate in prevention activities like outreach at local schools and partnerships with local firefighters.
-How do you become a burn nurse?
After graduating with a history degree, I returned to school to get my AS in nursing, eventually earning a BSN and MSN. I am currently preparing to defend my PhD dissertation, as well. I knew when I entered nursing school that burn nursing was my calling. I contacted the burn center for my senior honors project to arrange a guest lecture at my nursing school. I kept in touch with them after graduation so that they were aware of my interest in the burn center and to let them know when I applied for an open position there.
–Talk about the need for burn nursing and BCEN specialty certification.
I seek to effect change in the field of burn nursing as a subject matter expert, test question writer, and exam content review committee member for the CBRN exam. Specialty certification is an essential part of recognizing burn nurses’ unique work. As more hospitals move toward Magnet certification, standing with other certified nurses offers burn nurses the ability to demonstrate our commitment to quality care.
-What are the benefits of being a burn nurse?
Burn nursing is a challenging field. But it is just as rewarding as it is difficult. We see patients progress through their recovery, and through our work with the Burn Therapy Program, we continue to see them for years as they return to their lives.
–Talk about the reward of being a burn nurse.
The payoff is the outcome. When we see a patient with substantial burn injuries overcome their injuries and go on to live happy, successful lives, it makes all the long, hot days in a tub room worth it.
–Talk about being 1 of 12 expert nurses selected by BCEN to serve on the Burn Nursing Role Delineation Study Advisory Committee.
No other specialty provides you with a level of interaction with patients and their families, all while providing life-saving critical care. The burn nurse is truly the best representation of a holistic nurse that I know—integrating critical care with psychosocial care, wound care, focused systems assessments/interventions, and all that comes with the care of surgical patients. Being selected to help define what a burn nurse does was an honor. And to be able to work with some of my role models in burn care (Gretchen Carrougher and Katie Hollowed, in particular) was so exciting. To think that we could work together with burn experts from all over the country to help on our path to certification was life-changing.
–How does the committee’s work serve as a roadmap for nurses who sit for the CBRN exam?
In our work, we helped define what the burn nurse does, which helped define the parameters of the CBRN exam.
-Do you have anything else to add for Burn Awareness Week?
This year’s theme is preventing flammable liquid injuries, so I encourage people to check out the resources available at ameriburn.org to ensure they are following all appropriate safety measures!