Home Health Nurse Education + Career Guide
What Is a Home Health Nurse?
Home health nurses work individually to provide care in their patients' homes. As a home health nurse, you will act as a healthcare liaison between the patient, the patient's family, and the patient's team of doctors and specialists. You may work with patients who have chronic or terminal illnesses, the elderly, or with people undergoing rehabilitation after illness or injury.
What Does a Home Health Nurse Do?
• Assess patients' condition during each visit and record this information in patients' charts.
• Evaluate patients' vital signs, medications, pain levels, and healing progress.
• Provide medications as prescribed by patients' doctors.
• Discuss, develop, and execute home healthcare strategies with patients, their families, and their healthcare providers.
• Coordinate and collaborate with everyone involved in patients' care plans, including therapists, doctors, and in some cases even insurance companies.
• Listen to and communicate with patients to better understand their concerns and requests.
• Offer palliative care to keep patients comfortable and manage their pain or anxiety.
• Recommend tools, devices, and even therapies that may improve patients' overall wellbeing and quality of life.
• Check wound healing progress while dressing or redressing those wounds as necessary.
• Remain observant for changes in patients' progress and report these changes to the patients' physicians.
• Supervise and instruct home health aides who may also work with patients.
• Provide support, encouragement, and kindness to patients and their families.
How Can I Become a Home health Nurse?
1. Obtain a nursing degree. . You will need to become an RN or LPN to work as a home health nurse. Diploma programs for RNs are rare, but you may choose to obtain an associate's degree, which takes anywhere from two to three years, or a bachelor's degree, which is a four-year program. If you opt to become an LPN, you can participate in a certificate program, which takes about one year. You might also choose to obtain an associate's degree in practical nursing. This is a two- or three-year program.
2. Complete clinical practicums. This is hands-on training that is vital to success in your career.
3. Pass the NCLEX-RN or NCLEX-PN examination. When you graduate, register for the NCLEX-RN (for registered nurses) or NCLEX-PN exam (for licensed practical nurses) with the National Council of State Boards of Nursing. Once you pass this examination, you will be eligible for licensure in your state.
4. Obtain licensure in your state. The requirements for obtaining a nursing license vary from state to state, so be sure to check these requirements for your individual state early on.
5. Gain experience as a nurse. In most settings, you will need at least one year of nursing experience, and employers prefer experience in critical care settings. You may opt for positions in intensive or critical care units, or you may even choose to work in an emergency room.
The ANCC, or American Nurses Credentialing Center, offers various specialty certifications that can help you further your career or earn a higher salary. These include specializations and credentials for ambulatory care, cardiovascular nursing, faith community nursing, pediatric nursing, and pain management nursing, among others. While the ANCC and other organizations once offered credentials specifically for home health nurses, this has since been retired. Today, home health nurses only need to meet the education and experience requirements. You might also opt to obtain certification from the American Association of Managed Care Nurses, or AAMCN. The credential offered is Certification in Managed Care Nursing, or CMCN, and it is valuable to many home health nurse employers. Candidates for the CMCN must sit for an exam. In order to do this, you will need to purchase the curriculum materials directly from the AAMCN or submit a signed job description, education background, and resume proving that you have completed the equivalent coursework.
• Strong Interpersonal Skills: Required for communicating appropriately with patients, their families, and their healthcare providers.
• Observational Skills: Necessary for noticing and tracking changes in patients' progress, particularly in cases when patients may not be able to tell you how they are feeling.
• Writing Skills: Documenting patients' progress is an integral part of providing proper care.
• Basic Computer Skills: You will likely do much of your documenting via electronic patient charts, which require you to use a laptop computer or tablet.
• Decision-Making and Reasoning Skills: You will likely provide much of each of your patients' healthcare, which means you must be able to reason and make decisions on the patients' behalf at times.
• Analytical Skills: Required for determining patients' needs and making healthcare recommendations.
• Human anatomy
• Wound and burn care
• General medical knowledge
• Understanding of medications along with their doses and typical uses
• Common home healthcare equipment such as IV pumps, respirators, nebulizers, etc.
• Familiarity with HIPPA, or Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act.
What Abilities Do I Need to Have?
• Maintain patient privacy as needed, even when discussing treatments and patient condition with family members.
• Complete procedures that you may find distressing, such as changing wound dressings.
• Be patient, kind, and empathetic toward patients.
• Maintain patient dignity when providing care.
• Work with foul odors and unpleasant sights.
• Communicate with healthcare professionals and family members to provide the best possible care.
What are the Work Settings, Work Schedule and Working Conditions?
Work Settings: Though much of your work takes place in the patients' homes, you will likely need to travel to clinics, hospitals, university hospitals, and/or nursing homes to work with the patients' other healthcare providers.
Work Schedule: Your work schedule may vary greatly. Your presence will be required during the overnight hours, on weekends, and even on holidays. You may also find there are times when you are “on call” in the event another home health nurse becomes ill and cannot visit a patient as scheduled. Work hours can be quite long.
Working Conditions: You may be required to commute to patients' homes to provide care, which can be time-consuming, and you will be exposed to illness and disease regularly. Your work environment will vary from home to home.
What Salary can I Expect?
As a home health nurse you will earn an average salary of $25.49 per hour or $59,137 per year. Factors that may influence your pay include your experience level, your education, and whether you've obtained any credentials in specific nursing fields such as pediatrics or wound care. Your geographical location may also come into play.
What Is the Future Outlook for a Home Health Nurse?
As a home health nurse, you will find that the majority of your patients are elderly. Because of this, the Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that employment in this field will grow strongly. More elderly people are making the decision to avoid nursing homes, instead living with their children or in their own homes. Home health nurses are often these individuals' primary access to healthcare, and they play vital roles in these patients' lives.
Home Healthcare Nurses Association: The Home Healthcare Nurses Association, or HHNA, is an affiliate of the National Association for Home Care & Hospice, or NAHC. This group focuses on improving the home care specialty and setting higher standards for home healthcare. All nurses involved in home care and hospice are invited to become members.
Visiting Nurses Association of America: The Visiting Nurses Association of America, or VNAA, is a nonprofit organization created to promote home-based healthcare as a high-quality and high-value alternative to traditional care in nursing homes or rehab facilities.