1. Section Editor(s): Oakes, Christy MSN, RN, ONC
  2. NAON President 2012-2013

Article Content

Dame Agnes Hunt has been credited as the founder of orthopaedic nursing. Her desire to help the less fortunate, particularly children, influenced her career in orthopaedic nursing. She was afflicted with tuberculosis in the left hip as a child, leaving her "crippled" as an adult. Because of this disability, she was refused entry into numerous nursing schools; however, she eventually graduated from the Royal Alexandra Hospital School of Nursing. Dame Agnes's passion was to help children suffering from ailments similar to her own so she founded a clinic in the Shropshire village of Baschurch. Once her clinic was established, she persuaded her personal orthopaedic surgeon Robert Jones to collaborate with her by treating the most difficult patients under her care. Regrettably that involved taking the children 3 hours by train and then a ferry to see Dr. Jones in Liverpool. Dame Agnes ultimately convinced Jones to visit the clinic once a month, which enabled him to see more patients and perform surgery. Their partnership continued, and the clinic was converted to a hospital during World War I, treating soldiers requiring extensive rehabilitation. Dame Agnes continued her vision to improve the life of disabled patients by creating outreach clinics throughout Shropshire along with a training college where patients were given vocational trades, which suited their specific disability. She was obviously a committed individual with strong values regarding her patients and whose strength in practice improved the lives of many.

Christy Oakes MSN, R... - Click to enlarge in new window MSN, RN, ONC NAON President 2012-2013

Fortunately for orthopaedic nursing, Dame Agnes Hunt's decision was deliberate and very successful. As we observe International Orthopaedic Nurses' Day, I encourage all NAON members to consider and celebrate their own path into orthopaedic nursing. Unlike our founder Dame Agnes, I did not intend to specialize in orthopaedic nursing. Similar to many of my colleagues, I really "fell into" orthopaedics. While attending nursing school, I worked as a nursing assistant on an orthopaedic unit. During my last semester of school, I was privileged to qualify for an intensive shadow experience on a critical care unit filling me with high hopes of working in that area. However, when I accepted my first nursing position, the critical care class was not as valuable as that nursing assistant experience on the orthopaedic unit. I recall stating several times to the nurse conducting my interview that I had critical care experience and she continued to offer a rebuttal that I knew orthopaedics. So there I was, a novice RN, working night shift on an orthopaedic nursing unit. It really was a wonderful job that I truly enjoyed. I received excellent coaching and mentoring from some superb colleagues allowing me to continue my role as an orthopaedic nurse.


As we celebrate Orthopaedic Nurse's Day, I encourage everyone to consider why we each chose our specialty and what we enjoy about orthopaedics. One reason is the variety of subspecialties that have emerged offering incredible learning experiences for orthopaedic nurses. A nurse working in orthopaedics has the option to learn about patient care in the following areas: total joints, spine, trauma, sports medicine, hand, feet, operating room, and oncology. The acute or chronic medical component of musculoskeletal disease is another characteristic of orthopaedic nursing. Our practice settings can be in a physician office and clinic, acute care hospital, rehabilitation facility, or home care. We know that orthopaedics crosses the age continuum encompassing pediatrics, adults, and geriatrics. The complex care required by orthopaedic patients is incredible as they continue presenting with more comorbidities for us to manage. We have been given the opportunity to hone our medical/surgical nursing skills and I believe that orthopaedic nurses perform exceptionally well in this area.


The restorative element of orthopaedics is exciting and rewarding. It is gratifying when a patient is able to walk with minimal pain, perform activities they were unable to complete prior to our interventions, or just sit in a chair. Orthopaedic trauma patients are very challenging, but when they walk down the hall or back into the office, we know our hard work and encouragement was worth the effort. As a former orthopaedic spine nurse, one of my best moments was when a patient with scoliosis returned to the office with a smile on her face and wearing those cute teenage clothes. Parents and children are always happy when a brace or corrective device can be removed. We know that it was our patient education that helped them understand the rationale, ultimately improving their compliance.


The science involved in orthopaedics is extraordinary. How often do we marvel at the before and after scans or x-rays from patient injuries and surgeries? Understanding the planes of motion in the human skeleton along with the ligaments, tendons, and muscles keeping us connected and upright is exceptional. Being able to explain this relationship to our patients and families is remarkable. Finally we have the essence of nursing, which is the caring. As orthopaedic nurses, we share common goals with our patients and restoring function or mobility is primary. Our care is fundamental in providing hope, contributing to patient well-being, and making a difference. One of my favorite quotes is an example of care yet not from a nurse, philosopher, or scientist. It is credited to a famous Hoosier and basketball coaching legend John Wooden, commonly known as the "Wizard of Westwood." Coach Wooden said, "You can't live a perfect day without doing something for someone who will never be able to repay you."


Celebrate your strong values and strength in practice and have a perfect Orthopaedic Nurses Day!