What Is an Enterostomal Therapy (ET) Nurse?

An ET nurse helps care for patients who have had ostomy surgery

An enterostomal therapy nurse, or ET nurse, is a registered nurse (RN) who has specialized training in treating patients with ostomies (such as an ileostomy, colostomy, or urostomy). Sometimes, especially in Europe, these nurses are called stoma nurses. ET nurses also treat other conditions such as wounds or incontinence

Medical worker and patient talking
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What is Enterostomal Therapy?

Enterostomal therapy is a specialized type of care provided to patients with:

  • Stomas: When a patient undergoes ostomy surgery, the surgeon places a stoma that allows urine or stool to leave the body. The opening in the abdominal wall requires special care to avoid infection or other complications.
  • Complex wounds: Bedsores (also called pressure ulcers) occur when your weight presses on the surface of the skin and blood can't reach the area. Pressure ulcers are common in the elderly or bedridden patients who aren't able to change position.
  • Incontinence: Urine and stool can irritate the skin in patients with incontinence. If left unchecked, skin irritation can lead to more serious wounds and complications.

Nurses who specialize in enterostomal therapy play an important role on the care team both in the office, hospital, and home healthcare settings.

What Does an ET Nurse Do?

An ET nurse may treat patients before, during, and after their ostomy surgery. An ET nurse may be a patient's first and primary point of contact for information regarding their stoma and their ileostomy, colostomy, or urostomy.

Before surgery: At a first meeting, if ostomy surgery is not done on an emergency basis, an ET nurse may help a patient with the placement of the stoma. Taking lifestyle and clothing into consideration, an ET nurse can assist a patient in determining the optimal placement for a stoma—for instance, away from the waist, so that clothing does not interfere with stoma output. 

After surgery: Once a patient goes home, an ET nurse can assist in many ways. Learning to change an ostomy appliance can take time and practice. An ET nurse can assist with the first few ostomy appliance changes, and teach the patient how to do it themselves at home. An ET nurse can also help troubleshoot a problem, such as leaking, and offer advice on how best to approach the problem, by suggesting a particular technique or a specialized appliance.

ET nurses are often good sources of information about ostomy appliances and can offer assistance for those who need help in obtaining supplies or affording supplies.

For patients who have a stoma as a result of surgery to treat inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), ET nurses can be helpful if there is a question about peristomal skin (skin around the stoma) or stoma output, such as if there is too much or too little output. An ET nurse will be able to suggest some treatments for problems such as a fistula, irritated skin, blockages, or other issues related to an ostomy.

ET nurses are often with their patients long-term, especially in cases where a patient needs ongoing help in changing their appliance (such as with disabled, elderly, or low-sighted patients). ET nurses often make house calls, especially after surgery, to help patients with common situations such as surgical pain, and with the transition to understanding their new stoma. Stoma nurses may also help during the actual ostomy surgery, and be part of the surgical team.

How Much Training Do ET Nurses Have?

All the work that ET nurses do is very specialized and requires a certain amount of training. ET nurses will have a bachelor's degree, as well as a registered nurse license. At that point, a nurse must complete 50 hours of experience or complete a Wound, Ostomy and Continence Nursing Education Program. The nurse must also pass a certification test given by the Wound, Ostomy and Continence Nursing Board (WOCN).

Advanced practice certification is also available. ET nurses may go on to earn a master's degree or a doctorate in nursing.

Some of the certifications given by the WOCN are:

  • CWOCN: Certified Wound Ostomy Continence Nurse
  • CWON: Certified Wound Ostomy Nurse
  • CWCN: Certified Wound Care Nurse
  • CCCN: Certified Continence Care Nurse
  • COCN: Certified Ostomy Care Nurse
  • CFCN: Certified Foot Care Nurse 

Where to Find an ET Nurse

Need an ET nurse? Find a nurse in the United States by searching by ZIP code at the Wound, Ostomy and Continence Nurses Society.

1 Source
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Appleby SL. Role of the wound ostomy continence nurse in the home care setting: a patient case studyHome Healthcare Nurse. 2011;29(3):169-177. doi:10.1097/NHH.0b013e3181fe438b

By Amber J. Tresca
Amber J. Tresca is a freelance writer and speaker who covers digestive conditions, including IBD. She was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis at age 16.