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Advances in Rheumatology Breed a New Nursing Specialty

January 2014

study of rheumatic disease dates back to the early 1800s with the discovery of
rheumatic fever. Since then, much has been learned about other rheumatic
conditions – chronic conditions usually caused by inflammation and often
characterized by swelling or joint and muscle pain, including rheumatoid
arthritis, psoriatic arthritis, lupus, and gout. The largest advances in
treatment, however, came about in the late 1990s with the advent of new types
of therapies. 

have always been involved in treating patients with rheumatic diseases but the
complexity of these treatment options, their mechanisms of delivery and the
comprehensive teaching that comes with providing patient care highlighted the
need for a new specialty to emerge.

the need for new qualified healthcare professionals in this field, a small
group of passionate nurses had a vision to create a set of standards to educate
and empower other nurses treating patients with rheumatic conditions. After a
meeting to discuss this vision in 2006, they helped establish the Rheumatology
Nurses Society (RNS) and immediately began developing strategies and objectives
to move nurses forward.

fall 2012, the American Nurses Association (ANA) Board of Directors announced
that rheumatology nursing would officially be recognized as a nursing
specialty, giving approval to standards of practice developed in conjunction
with RNS.

an officially recognized specialty was important because it showed that nurses
are key members of the healthcare teams that provide care for patients with
rheumatic diseases,” said Sheree C. Carter, RN, MSN, CNS, president of RNS and
clinical assistant professor at the University of Alabama in Huntsville College
of Nursing.

RNS’s main objectives is to uniformly educate rheumatology nurses on their newly
developed standards of practice. To do this, the group is finalizing its core
education curriculum, which is scheduled for release in April 2014. This curriculum
will provide basic information on rheumatology and rheumatic disease, including
overviews of the various disease states, medications and treatment options, as
well as details on what specific short- or long-term nursing care would entail.

to Carter, this curriculum will be important in explaining the intricate and
varied nature of rheumatology. Nurses need to understand not only the basic
structure and function of rheumatic diseases, but they also need to know the
immunology. This can be very complex and individualized, as patients will often
have other co-morbid conditions that will affect how they are treated.

nurses typically work with patients with chronic co-morbid diseases,” said Carter.
“For this reason, it is crucial for nurses to be equipped with the knowledge
and resources to instruct patients on an ongoing basis to provide the best care

new developments in technology and treatment move forward, it’s important for nurses
to be ready to adapt and continue their education throughout their careers.

is a field that changes very rapidly,” said Carter. “The new curriculum will
cover a lot of ground, but we know that it will require continual updates and
revisions to maintain its value over time.”

of the constantly evolving nature of rheumatology, Carter sees the specialty as
an opportunity for nurses looking to take on leadership roles. In fact,
according to an article published in the November 2012 issue of The
rheumatology practices are turning more and more to nurse practitioners to fill
the gap between the demand for and supply of rheumatologists.

 “The advanced level of education and new
developments in the rheumatology space create unique opportunities for nurses
looking to make a difference in their workplace,” said Carter.

learn more about the Rheumatology Nurses Society, visit

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