Read Jennifer O’Donogue’s reflection on the conference and how she is applying her learning to person-centred practice

How much do I really know about tissue viability as a student nurse?                     This is the question I asked myself as I prepared for a Uni lecture on the topic. I have come across a few wounds during my placements, but I only really had knowledge on how to care for the wound on a practical level. I didn’t understand the scientific reasoning behind the healing process of wounds and what would inform the decision behind using a particular dressing. I feel that in my early placements I lacked some of the confidence to question this, so I was quite keen to use the opportunity to explore the topic in more depth.

Tissue Viability is not for the faint-hearted:  From my experience of wounds on placement I knew that this area was not suited to everybody. Not everyone can handle the appearance and smells of certain wounds, it is certainly not regarded as one of the more glamorous areas of nursing. I learnt more about the topic when a guest lecturer from the Tissue Viability Society (TVS) provided our cohort with an engaging presentation. From this session, I discovered more about the phases of wound healing, wound classification, and antimicrobial wound dressings, just to name a few.

How do I find out more?  The lecture really inspired me to explore tissue viability further, so much so that I became a member of the TVS. The TVS encourages students to subscribe to their journals and support the sharing of knowledge with students. Every year they hold a conference where students can apply to attend on an educational grant. I applied and was one of the lucky candidates selected to attend the conference in Southampton.

Gaining knowledge:  The conference itself took place on May 1st and 2nd 2019 in St. Mary’s stadium, Southampton. Tissue viability nurses (TVN’s), company representatives and students from all over the UK were in attendance. I was lucky enough to spend some time with TVN’s from NHS Lothian which I found useful as they highlighted certain issues and products on display of relevance to my area of practice.

There were several talks to attend including from the legs matter campaign, Lipoedema UK, and researchers presenting their findings in the quality improvement sessions. I particularly enjoyed an emotive talk by Dr. Jemell Geraghty on living with leg ulceration. In this session, a person living with leg ulcers told us about how the condition affected her quality of life, and some of the challenges and stigma she faces when healthcare professionals learn she also has addiction problems. This talk encouraged me to reflect on how we can challenge these stereotypes within nursing and how can we empower people with long term conditions to be actively involved in their care.

Industry’s impact on tissue viability:  Also, in attendance at the conference were various representatives of some of the biggest suppliers of tissue viability products in the UK. They used the conference to exhibit new products to the market and explain their relevance to clinical practice. There have been several benefits for patients from the advances being made in industry. The Aquacel brand, for example, are tackling the issue of biofilm forming on wounds. Biofilm can be defined as “microbial cells adherent to a living or non-living surface, which are embedded within a self-produced matrix of extra-cellular polymeric substances” (Gurjala, et al. 2012). Biofilm is one of the main barriers to wound healing. Aquacel have developed their Ag+ dressings which combine a surfactant (helps to remove surface contamination using benzethonium chloride), chelating agents (boosts the action of surfactants for e.g. EDTA) and ionic silver. When these are combined in one dressing they help to disrupt, destroy and prevent biofilm from infecting wounds and prevent reformation of biofilm, therefore improving patient outcomes. It is important for practitioners to stay up to date on these advances in order to ensure patients are receiving the best care available.

Quality improvement:  There is a lot of research taking place into how nurses can improve their quality of care. I attended a number of sessions in which researchers explained interesting findings which have an impact on how we care for people.

Julie Green, a lecturer from Keele University presented a new quality of life wound checklist. I believe this tool is incredibly useful and can be applied to anybody receiving wound care. It is suitable for self-completion as it uses simple language and employs photo symbols which can be interpreted easily by most of the general public. Often, the impact of wounds on a person’s quality of life can be overlooked, with recent findings showing that patients fail to disclose their concerns to nurses and nurses are failing to explore the full impact of the wound on the person. This tool allows nurses to engage in a more person-centred approach and address not only the wound but the associated impact on the person in all aspects of their life.

After the conference:  It was truly amazing to have been granted the opportunity to attend the conference. I feel that I have learnt so much to apply to my future practice, including new evidence-based research. I feel I have a better understanding of the science behind wounds and the new products being developed to aid wound healing and management. I intend to continue my learning by keeping myself updated with research and becoming an active participant in sharing knowledge with other student nurses and healthcare professionals.

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