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Your Skin 2021

Helping patients with skin conditions

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Rebecca Penzer-Hick

Dermatology Nurse Specialist, Senior Clinical Lecturer and President, British Dermatological Nursing Group (BDNG)

Dermatological nurses are offering cradle-to-grave care for patients of all ages with skin conditions.

Specialist dermatology nurses care for patients of all ages with skin conditions.

From skin cancer to eczema and psoriasis, dermatological nurses are using their expertise to help people live with conditions that can be uncomfortable and affect them psychologically, as well as physically.

Rebecca Penzer-Hick, who is a specialist dermatology nurse attached to a GP practice in Cambridgeshire, says: “One of the things that is unique to dermatological nursing is that we tend to look after patients from the cradle to grave.

“Every age group can get a skin condition; such as babies with eczema, teenagers with acne, or older people psoriasis. We look after the whole age spectrum and that is quite unusual in nursing, which normally focuses on a particular age group of people.”

Complex area

The skin is a complex organ and the dermatology nurse’s role may range from supporting people with a skin cancer diagnosis, through skin surgery, or more routinely delivering and monitoring treatments.

Penzer-Hick, who is President of the British Dermatological Nursing Group (BDNG), says: “That may also be supporting patients psychologically because skin conditions can be very sore, itchy, and uncomfortable and often have a huge impact on mental-health well-being.”

Patients cope with skin conditions in different ways and for the dermatology nurse it is about having the flexibility and knowledge to respond accordingly. “There is a lot of specialist knowledge that helps when looking after someone with a skin condition,” she adds. “With planning treatment, particularly for chronic conditions such as eczema or psoriasis, you need to understand how treatments work and the various options that are available and then fit them into the individual’s life.”

We look after the whole age spectrum and that is quite unusual in nursing, which normally focuses on a particular age group of people.

Connecting with patients

Skin conditions can flare up without warning and that may result in a patient needing to use specialist treatments such as steroid ointments or creams.

“This is where expert nursing skills come into play. It is about having specific competencies and being able to connect with patients and understand this waxing and waning of a chronic skin condition and plan treatments accordingly” says Penzer-Hick, who is also a Senior Clinical Lecturer in the School of Postgraduate Medicine at the University of Hertfordshire.

“Many dermatological nurses are independent prescribers, so while they use their counselling skills to help people feel better, they also use their knowledge of the therapeutic range to make sure patients have the right treatment to use at the right time.” Patients also need rapid access to dermatological nurses when a condition worsens.

Specialist training

Dermatology nurses, who are part of a multi-professional team working closely with medical colleagues, have a general nursing background and develop an interest in skin conditions from there. Specialist training offers the opportunity to develop sub-specialisms, such as surgical skills, skin cancer care and chronic disease management.

Care is normally delivered in hospitals through outpatient departments, but increasingly dermatology nurses are also working in community settings.

However, the COVID-19 pandemic had an impact on care delivery, particularly during the first lockdown where dermatology nurses were often relocated to more acute parts of hospitals.

Technological solutions such as video consultations have been introduced, although Penzer-Hick stresses: “We remain very mindful that we do not want to lose that direct face to face contact with patients.”

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