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Melissa McCullen Guides Orthopedic Patients through Joint Replacement and Recovery

Melissa McCullen, Nurse Navigator

Joint replacement patients look forward to a future free from joint pain and filled with the activities they enjoy most.

Among the most common orthopedic procedures performed, more than a million people receive hip, knee and shoulder replacements every year. Preparation is important and can make a difference in a patient’s long-term outcome and success.

As Wayne UNC Health Care’s Orthopedic Nurse Navigator, Melissa McCullen is deeply invested in those outcomes. As a care guide, McCullen works closely with patients and families to help them understand their procedure, support them as they prepare for surgery and follow and track their progress after surgery.

“Sometimes being scheduled for surgery – and a surgery this big – can be overwhelming to patients,” said McCullen. “They have a lot to prepare for preoperatively, and they usually have a lot of anxiety going into it.”

Patients often need to prepare physically for joint replacement, which can be a big commitment, explains McCullen. This could mean prehab, which consists of exercises that will strengthen their limb before surgery in order to improve their function afterward.

Support Patients and Families Can Rely on

McCullen’s involvement with patients and families begins when patients are scheduled for surgery. She calls them for an initial phone screening, and then they meet in person for a joint class she facilitates.

“I let them know that I’m there for them to answer any questions they have throughout the process,” said McCullen. “I round on patients postoperatively in the hospital.  

Before and after hip or knee surgery, McCullen performs a functional assessment to determine the amount of pain patients have during their activities of daily living. The functional assessment is performed preoperatively to obtain a baseline level and then reassess at the six to nine month interval.  

She also follows up with patients by phone within their first week at home to check their progression with physical therapy, discuss how their incision looks, and to make sure patients are taking their medications as prescribed. This gives the patient an opportunity to discuss any questions or concerns they may have.  

“I do what I can to always try and put myself in their shoes,” said McCullen. “I talk to patients on a personal level and ask them what their concerns are. They don’t want their joint pain to be something that stops them from being able to do things they want to do. Patients discuss their goals for surgery to be able to return to work, travel, or play with their grandchildren without having pain.”

While McCullen hasn’t had joint replacement surgery herself, she has more than 15 years of Operating Room experience to help address patients’ fears and concerns.

Patients’ most common concerns revolve around pain level and when they can return to work, said McCullen. “We can talk to them about pain medications and things they can do as an alternative to pain medication,” she said. “I also talk to them about the kind of work they do and an estimated time they can expect to return to work so they can be prepared.”

“Patients sometimes feel this surgery will cause them to be immobile in the beginning. I am very honest with them in explaining that although they will have pain, it is different,” McCullen said. “Patients frequently report their pain has already improved compared to the pain they felt preoperatively. Patients begin ambulating within two to three hours after surgery in order to promote independence and mobility of their new joint.”

In addition to guiding patients through joint replacement surgery, McCullen also works on measures to reduce hospital readmissions.

As a resource to the patients before and after surgery, she focuses on patients getting the full benefit of having joint replacement surgery. It is her goal to see them return to an active lifestyle and regain the quality of life they deserve.

In addition to more than 20 years as a nurse, McCullen holds a Bachelor’s degree from Winston-Salem State University and an Associate’s degree from Wayne Community College. She also holds certifications as an Orthopedic Nurse Certified (ONC), Certified Nurse in the Operating Room  (CNOR) and Registered Nurse First Assistant (RNFA).

For more information on joint replacement surgery or to contact McCullen, call 919-587-4141. 

Melissa McCullen Bio

As Orthopedic Nurse Navigator for Wayne UNC Health Care, Melissa McCullen is committed to ensuring the best surgical outcomes for patients. She brings a background of over 20 years as a registered nurse, including 15 years in the Operating Room and as educator on a med-surgical unit to her position.

In her current role, McCullen evaluates patients prior to surgery, educating them and their families on what to expect during the surgical process. Following surgery, she follows patients for up to a year while collecting data for quality improvement.

McCullen holds certifications as a Registered Nurse First Assistant (RNFA), Certified Nurse Operating Room (CNOR) and Orthopedic Nurse Certified (ONC) and is a member of the National Association of Orthopedic Nurses (NAON), which helps her stay current with education and other processes with Nurse Navigators at a National Level.

A native of Wayne County, McCullen holds a Bachelor’s degree in Nursing from Winston-Salem State University and an Associate’s degree in Nursing from Wayne Community College.

Questions about Joint Replacement?

Learn more about how joint replacement at Wayne UNC can help you. Fill out a short online form, and our orthopedic nurse navigator will contact you soon. Or call directly at 919-587-4141.

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