Long-Term Care Nurses Share What They Love About Their Work
A nursing career leaves plenty of room for pursuing the specialties and work environments that you’re most passionate about. While many nurses turn toward the fast pace of a hospital emergency department or the steady day-to-day work of a family clinic, you’re curious about another type of nursing: long-term care.
This nursing setting may not be the most glamorous choice, but it can be rewarding in ways that go beyond what many other nurses experience. But you still have some questions about long-term care nursing. Is it unpleasant to work with this type of patient population? Will you get bored caring for the same patients day after day? What’s it really like?
We spoke with real-life long-term care nurses to get to the bottom of these questions—and to learn more about the best parts of their work in this setting.
What is long-term care nursing?
Long-term care (LTC) typically centers around helping patients with the daily tasks of living, such as dressing, bathing, eating and taking medications. As the name suggests, these are patients who require care for longer periods of time, whether it’s a few months or the rest of their lives.
Many people associate long-term care with elderly patients. In reality, only about 63 percent of long-term care patients are age 65 or older.1 Regardless of their ages, there are a variety of reasons patients may need long-term care. Some care needs are ongoing, such as those due to a chronic illness, disability or dementia. Others arise suddenly after heart attacks, strokes or injuries and may be required for just a few months while patients rehabilitate.
This nursing specialty also doesn’t always take place in a nursing home like many people imagine. The five main types of long-term care services are home health agencies, nursing homes, hospices, residential care communities and adult day cares.2 Many patients receive long-term care in the comfort of their own homes.
5 Things long-term care nurses love about their work
Every nursing specialty has its ups and downs, but our experts found this type of nursing to be especially rewarding. We spoke with Kenny Kadar, president of Coast Medical Service, and Caris Smith, former LTC nurse and current client services manager at PrimeCarers. Here’s what they had to say about their favorite parts of the job.
1. Long-term care nurses are there when patients need them most
A patient’s home is often the place where there is the most potential for advancing healing, achieving long-term health goals and increasing overall wellness, according to Smith. Unfortunately, when patients are discharged from the hospital or leave their physician’s offices, providers have no way of knowing how well they’ll be able to follow through on caring for themselves at home. Did they really understand their medication instructions or what their diagnoses mean?
“This is where a long-term care nurse shines,” Smith says. LTC nurses help patients translate doctors’ instructions, stay on track with medications and remain hopeful when they may feel like maintaining or improving their health is beyond them.
“It is the continued support and motivation offered by a long-term care nurse that changes all their outcomes for the very best,” Smith says.
2. Long-term care nurses get to know their patients well
It’s no secret that many nursing specialties can be fast-paced, high-pressure environments where there is little to no time to get to know patients on a deeper level. Not so for LTC nursing!
“Nurses working in long-term care spend an extended amount of time with their patients, allowing them to develop lasting and valuable relationships,” Kadar says. “The opportunity to form long-term relationships with your patients is rare in the nursing field, making long-term care unique in this privilege.”
Rather than walking into a shift unsure of whom you’ll be caring for that day, long-term care nurses have the benefit of looking forward to work each day because they know they’ll be caring for patients who can be more like friends than strangers.
3. Long-term care nurses improve patients’ quality of life
Patients who require long-term care may be facing loss of independence and other hardships that can cause their quality of life to spiral downward. LTC nurses play a large role in making sure this doesn’t happen.
Smith says that one of the best things about long-term care is the ability to care for patients in an “ideal way to suit their own homes and circumstances and to help them to find routines and skills and adapt their environment to develop their own strength and independence.”
By providing assistance with basic tasks, helping to create manageable routines and ensuring that patients’ medical needs are being met, LTC nurses are helping patients maintain their sense of selves. “What may seem to us as the tedium of a person’s day [is what] allows patients the ability to find pride and excitement in the ability to undertake these tasks successfully on their own,” Smith says.
4. Long-term care nurses enjoy a predictable work environment
Some people are drawn to the nursing field as a way to care for others, but they aren’t thrilled at the prospect of working in an unpredictable setting, such as a stressful emergency department. Long-term care nurses enjoy the benefits of looking forward to a reliable workday and a steady pace.
“For many nurses, long-term care provides exactly the type of environment and relationships they gravitate toward: a predictable environment and the same familiar faces every day,” Kadar says.
This stability doesn’t mean that the job is boring, however! Kadar adds that LTC nurses use problem-solving skills and creative thinking daily as they search for new ways to improve their patients’ qualities of life. “It’s a quite dynamic position, requiring constant growth and innovation.”
5. Long-term care nurses experience joy every day
Perhaps the biggest deterrent for would-be long-term care nurses is the fear that the role is constantly gloomy, especially if you’re working with elderly patients. However, Kadar assures us that nothing could be further from the truth.
In contrast to the bleak image many people picture when they think of aging or chronically ill patients, many LTC nurses find their work settings to be full of joy—and it’s all thanks to the patients in their care and their own ability to have a positive mindset.
“As a society in general, we have many misconceptions about the elderly population, but when working with them directly, you’re able to witness firsthand how misguided these misconceptions are,” Kadar says. “The residents will likely surprise you with their brightness, warmth and wit.”
Could you be cut out for long-term care nursing?
Now that you’ve heard from long-term care nurses who have experience in the field, you might be starting to see the positives of this nursing setting. If you think long-term care nursing could be part of your future, continue gaining a full picture of this work environment by learning “Everything You Need to Know About Long-Term Care Nursing.”
1Georgetown University, Long-Term Care Financing Project “Who Needs Long-Term Care?” [accessed March 2021], https://hpi.georgetown.edu/archive/ltc/papers/#FactSheets
2Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Vital and Health Statistics, “Long-Term Care Services in the United States: 2013 Overview,” [accessed March 2021], www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/nsltcp/long_term_care_services_2013.pdf