by Mike Lee
Karen Ritchie, RN, hasn’t taken the typical route in nursing so it’s no surprise that she’s settled on an atypical specialty.
A 1993 nursing graduate who didn’t get her nursing license until 20 years later, Ritchie is carving her own niche in the field of wound care at the Oklahoma Wound Center in Norman.
“I don’t really know how I got into wound care. It was just something I figured out one day that I liked,’ Ritchie said. “I was a tech working on the orthopedic floor and the nurses would grab me periodically to help change dressings. The grosser the wound was the better I liked it.”
Ritchie has been in the Norman Regional Health System for 11 years now but they were a long time coming.
Ritchie had family members on both sides who became ill with cancer and heart problems while she was in nursing school at Oklahoma City Community College. She managed that care, along with raising her two little girls and still graduated nursing school.
“During that time you actually had to go to the fairgrounds and sit for your boards for a couple days,” she said. “When it came time to do that I had had enough of sick people and I didn’t want to do that anymore.”
The following year her girls started to get serious in sports. The need for some extra money was there so Ritchie worked as a nursing assistant for a friend who opened a home health agency in her hometown of Noble.
“It was really easy, no big paperwork,” she said. “That wound up being for 10 years.”
She still didn’t have a nursing license and began working for the Norman Regional Health System as a tech.
After she caught the wound care bug she kept her eye out for a tech position at the Oklahoma Wound Center. After sifting through countless PRN openings she finally saw a full-time spot open up.
“I jumped on that quick and I got lucky enough that they hired me,” she said.
Once hired, Oklahoma Wound Center Medical Director Dr. Tay Sha Howell kept bugging Ritchie to get her RN license.
“I just didn’t really have the confidence,” she said.
That was around the time Howell went to a diabetic limb salvage conference and came back gung-ho to get the process started.
She gave a presentation and Ritchie was hooked.
“I went to her and said ‘I want to be your nurse. I believe in this,’” Ritchie remembers.
That’s also when Howell reminded her she still hadn’t completed her RN.
So Ritchie summoned the nerve to contact the Oklahoma Board of Nursing and admit to her 20 years of procrastination.
She found out she was still eligible to take her boards after a nurse refresher course.
She finished it through Moore Norman Technology Center and took a month off to do her clinicals at Norman Regional.
An NCLEX review followed.
“I studied like a big girl and passed them first time,” she said. “It really did surprise me.”
Now Ritchie coordinates the treatment plan for patients suffering from a diabetic ulcer and serves as the key contact for patients, and is responsible for monitoring and guiding them through the recovery process.
She provides emotional support and assurance of continuity of care for the patient and their family while educating them on the healing process, ulcer prevention and how to live a healthy lifestyle.
Ritchie also provides diabetic limb salvage education to Norman Regional Health System nurses and caregivers.
And boy does she have her work cut out for her.
On any given year, Oklahoma is either No. 1 or No. 2 in the incidences of diabetes-related amputations in the U.S.
“What I like most about this place is we get the wounds at their very, very worst and then we watch them as they progress and they heal and they walk out the door,” Ritchie said. “It’s not like being a in a hospital setting where you know they’re doing better when they’re discharged but you don’t get to follow up with them.”
According to the American Diabetes Association, the economic burden of diabetes in America continues to climb, exceeding more than $322 billion in excess medical costs and lost productivity in 2012, or more than $1,000 for every American, according to a study being published in the December issue of Diabetes Care.
But on any given day, Ritchie feels like she’s making a difference - even if it took her 20 years to get started.
Karen Ritchie, RN, is the diabetic limb salvage nurse navigator at the Oklahoma Wound Center.