Everything You Need to Know About Becoming a Home Health Nurse
The thought of working in the medical field has always intrigued you. You know that healthcare is a growing, stable area of expertise, and you love the idea of interacting with patients and changing their lives for the better on a daily basis. All the signs seem to be pointing you toward nursing as your new career, but spending all day in a hectic hospital or under the fluorescent lights of a clinic aren’t appealing to you.
Luckily there are plenty of options for healthcare workers who don’t enjoy traditional medical environments. Nurses have the flexibility to use their talents in a work environment that not only benefits patients, but also works well with their own personality, lifestyle and schedule commitments.
One nursing option to consider is home health nursing. Find out if this rewarding healthcare career is the right option for you as we break down everything you need to know about becoming a home health nurse.
Home health nurses visit patients in their own homes to deliver medical care when a patient (or their family) is unable to care for themselves. You may think of home health nurses as mainly helping elderly adults who are struggling with dementia or ailments that limit their mobility, but the illnesses home health nurses treat go beyond that.
These nurses care for everyone from the elderly to the mentally ill to those recovering from surgery. “You can expect to see wounds of all kinds. Some other common ailments home health nurses treat include diabetes, congestive heart failure and infections,” says Larissa Pourron, RN and nursing supervisor at Aware Senior Care.
Just like RNs working in a hospital setting, home health nurses can expect to tackle a wide variety of job duties, including duties like taking vital signs, helping patients with mobility issues, cleaning wounds, administering medication and drawing blood. Pourron adds that teaching also comes into play as a home health nurse, such as educating a patient recently diagnosed with diabetes, or instructing a patient and their family about the signs of heart failure.
Home health nurses also need to report back to their employers and keep their patients’ medical records up to date, so maintaining accurate paperwork is as much a part of the job for home health nurses as it is for RNs staffing a hospital or clinic.
These nurses typically work for a home health agency that will match them with patients to care for. They can expect to travel to their patients’ homes and work either on shifts, assisting one patient for several hours at a time or intermittently, traveling to care for several patients in one day. Depending on the employer, many home health nurses are able to choose between more traditional work hours and a flexible schedule, such as working overnights, working four days per week or working some weekends.
Many home health nurses receive a worthwhile salary for all their hard work. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports a 2017 median annual salary of $45,220* for licensed practical nurses (LPNs) working in home health. The Association of Health Care Journalists reports that the demand for home health nurses is expected to rise as policymakers search for more affordable alternatives to long-term hospital care.
“Being able to see the patient in their own home is one of the best and worst aspects of home health,” Pourron says. “It’s much different than working in a more familiar, predictable setting like a hospital or other medical facility.”
Though home health nurses still care for multiple patients, they only visit one at a time, giving them the opportunity to get to know their patients and their families on a more personal level. This can foster connections between nurses and patients that may not have developed in a busy hospital, making home health a rewarding career choice.
Being a home health nurse has also given Pourron a new perspective on her patients that goes beyond the data in their official medical records. “I realized that sometimes patients didn’t take their medication simply because they were unable to afford it.” This new insight into “noncompliant” patients has made Pourron more compassionate and understanding as she seeks creative ways to help them meet their health goals.
Of course, there are downsides to working with patients in their homes. “You are often meeting patients and families who don’t want you there,” Pourron says. “They want to live their life independently, and as the nurse, you can be seen as an interruption or nuisance.” She also notes that some home environments are more welcoming than others.
Despite these ups and downs, Pourron knows home health nursing is the most fulfilling option for her. “I love being able to see our patients accomplish their goals and become healthier. It's so fulfilling to see a wound heal, teach a client how to manage their own diabetes after working with our nurses and caregivers or help a family learn how to give IV antibiotics to their loved one.”
RNs need a unique set of characteristics to do well in this unique healthcare career. With no team of medical staff just down the hall, home health nurses need to be confident in their nursing abilities—and in their roles as patient advocates.
“Being a good advocate for your patients means calling the doctor when something isn’t going the way it should and monitoring your patients to ensure they’re safe,” Pourron says. Having the confidence to perform their duties well and to assert their patients’ needs to their doctor is one of the best ways home health nurses can serve their patients.
Being compassionate and willing to work with families are also vital qualities of a home health nurse. “Communicating with the family about their needs and arranging your visits around their schedule lets them know they are important,” Pourron says. She adds that educating patients and their families about their disease and the recovery process is crucial in helping them reach their health goals, so home health nurses should be willing to devise creative teaching strategies!
The first step to becoming a home health nurse is to get educated. But with so many educational tracks for nurses, what makes the most sense for you? We used real-time job posting analysis software to review the listed education requirements of over 40,000 home health nursing jobs, and found that 80 percent of these jobs require less than a Bachelor’s degree.** That means most home health nursing positions will be available to nurses who complete either a Practical Nursing (LPN) or Associate’s Degree in Nursing (ADN) program and pass the appropriate NCLEX exam for their level of practice.
Once you’re licensed, you’re fully qualified to work as a home health nurse—though some employers may want to see prior experience working in general nursing settings.
There’s no doubt that being a home health nurse is a fulfilling career outside of the traditional healthcare setting. As a home health nurse, you could go to work each day knowing you’ll make a difference in your patients’ lives.
If you’re interested in becoming a home health nurse, you need to get educated first. Fortunately, you have a few viable options—both LPNs and RNs can work in a home health role. If you’d like to learn more about the educational tiers of nursing and how they align with your career ambitions, check out our article, “A Beginner’s Guide to Understanding the Levels of Nursing.”
*Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, [career information accessed April 16, 2018] www.bls.gov/ooh/. Salary data represents national, averaged earnings for the occupations listed and includes workers at all levels of education and experience. This data does not represent starting salaries and employment conditions in your area may vary.
**Burning-Glass.com (analysis of education requirements for 40,370 home health nursing job postings, January 1 2017 – December 31, 2017)