If you are in the market for a new job or are just concerned about what career choice to make, the first thing you should look at is the projected growth rates of the various options at your disposal. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, no occupational group is projected to grow faster than healthcare occupations, such as becoming a home healthcare nurse.
As an occupational group, healthcare is projected to grow at an encouraging 15% rate through 2029, adding about 2.4 million jobs in the process. That’s a much faster growth than any other occupational group in their database. This growth is mainly because there is an aging population in society, which means that there is bound to be greater demand for highly specific healthcare services such as those provided by home healthcare nurses.
So what does it take to become a home healthcare nurse, and what’s the earning potential? Here is everything you need to know about becoming a home healthcare nurse.
What Does a Home Health Care Nurse Do?
Home healthcare nurses are professionals who visit patients at their homes to either check on their medical and health healing progress or deliver medical care of different sorts to the patient if they cannot visit a hospital to receive the same.
For the most part, home healthcare nurses are associated with the ageing population; they take care of elderly patients who have dementia or are suffering from various types of mobility disabilities.
However, the home healthcare nursing industry is much wider than that and encompasses pretty much anyone who needs medical attention delivered to them in the comfort of their own home.
As a home healthcare nurse, your patient list would be as eclectic as it gets:
- The elderly
- Post-surgical recoveries
- Mentally ill persons
As a home healthcare nurse, you can expect to deal with patients of all kinds; pretty much the same kind of patients you would deal with in a regular hospital setting, with the biggest difference being that you get to deal with them in a home setting (their homes).
Just like a Registered Nurse is expected to take on a wide variety of duties in a typical hospital setting, a home care aide is expected to take on just as many duties, which may include:
- Helping patients who have mobility issues with their personal cleanliness
- Taking patient vitals
- Administering the necessary medication
- Cleaning patient wounds
- Drawing blood
These nurses are equipped to care for patients who suffer from minor conditions such as a broken limb all the way to patients who have life-threatening conditions such as congestive heart failure, diabetes and other infections.
A major part of the home healthcare nurse’s job is to educate their patient on the best course of action to take to better manage their condition even when the nurse isn’t around. As a home healthcare nurse, you will also be charged with educating the patient’s immediate family on these procedures just in case there is an emergency, and you aren’t close enough to assist.
Some of the instructions you might be required to give or teach the patient as well as the immediate family include:
- How to redress a wound
- The signs of heart failure and what to do
- How to manage diabetes
- The best way to help a disabled patient in and out of bed
- How to clean a patient
Ultimately, a home health care nurse must report to a doctor or their employer on the patient’s progress and their own observations. Not only is this report designed to help keep the patient’s medical records up to date, but it’s also designed to help the presiding doctor determine whether or not the current course of treatment is working. As such, a home health care aide needs to have excellent record keeping and organizational skills.
What Does a Home Healthcare Nurse’s Work Environment Look Like?
The typical home healthcare nurse is employed by a “Home Health Agency”. This agency’s job is to match the nurses with the right patients as per the nurse’s specific qualifications and speciality.
You will find that the home healthcare nurse must travel to the patient’s home and care for them either on a shift format or exclusively depend on the patient and the package they take up with the Home Health Agency.
Patients who require an exclusive nurse will either get the same nurse throughout the day, full day’s shift, or get two different nurses during the day and one during the night. Typically, however, patients who hire a nurse exclusively will have them on station (at the patient’s home) throughout the day, and then the family takes over at night.
However, in many cases, you will find that home healthcare nurses visit more than just one patient in a day. These nurses are assigned specific patients throughout the day, and these patients are designated the number of hours during which they will be attended to by the home nurse.
In these types of cases, the home healthcare aide would typically have to travel to multiple patient homes within a single day.
Benefits of Becoming a Home Health Care Nurse
The simple fact of the matter is that the global ageing population numbers almost a billion people, with over 80 million US citizens being above the age of 60. These are all people who will need and depend on a home healthcare nurse at some point in the near future.
Couple that with the fact that the occupational group projections for the healthcare industry, in general, is very positive, and you have a serious motivator for wanting to become a home healthcare nurse. For one thing, the fact that you will have a job, at least until 2029, is almost guaranteed.
These numbers are more than just encouraging – they are reassuring, especially when you consider the rate with which technology is wiping out jobs in the market today. Apart from that, there are several other reasons why you should really take a career in home healthcare nursing into serious consideration. These include:
Most Registered Nurses working in a typical hospital setting have strict 12-hour shifts, at the very least. During these 12 hours, the nurses are bound to the hospital and almost always on their feet. Needless to say, this can get very tiring. As a home healthcare aide, your schedule is most likely going to be a bit more flexible.
Depending on the home healthcare agency you work for and the number of patients you have to see, you could work 4-hour shifts or half-days and even just a few days a week as opposed to 12-hour shifts for five or six days a week. This means that you will have a more flexible work schedule as a home healthcare nurse, allowing you to have a better work-life balance.
Because home healthcare aides visit their patients at the patients’ home, their work environments are rather fluid. On any given day, you could get a patient outside of your typical rotation, and you are required to be that patient’s liaison to their primary physician. This gives you more autonomy over your own work environment when compared to other registered nurses who have to work in a hospital setting while in close proximity with doctors and other medical staff.
This kind of workplace is a bit more restrictive with designated breaks during the day. As a home care nurse, as long as your patients are well-taken care of, you can get off your feet and take a breather every so often.
Furthermore, depending on the home healthcare agency you work for, you can pick the number of patients to see in a day. Of course, this will directly impact your pay, but it’s one avenue for you to attain a bit more independence and free time.
If you like working with a certain type of patient, you can put them on your roster as opposed to when working in a hospital setting where you have to deal with almost every type of patient that comes in and needs care.
Opportunity to Become a Better Clinician
Home healthcare nurses are required to work directly with the patient. Although this is always in conjunction with a designated physician, it’s the nurse tasked with administering the drugs, drawing blood and the day to day care of the patient. This means that in the event of an emergency, the patient fully depends on the nurse to think quickly on their feet and make the right call independent of the doctor. This allows you to become a better clinician.
The more emergencies you successfully handle, the better your work experience and clinical know-how. It also forces you to research ways to make things better and how to handle diverse medical situations on your own.
Furthermore, knowing that at any given moment, your patient’s life could depend on how well-equipped you are to handle whatever emergency occurrence helps you develop a tougher mental fortitude making you a better nurse in the process. You will be better equipped to handle medical curveballs.
Work with Diverse Patient Populations
One of the best ways to expand your experience and knowledge base as a nurse is to care for diverse patient populations. Unless you want to focus on a specific population such as oncology, there is a lot of good that can come with working with a wide array of patients.
As a home health aide, you have the opportunity to work with different patient populations ranging from toddlers to the elderly. You get to experience and care for people of different ages, ethnic background and medical histories.
Here is a list created by the Visiting Nurse Association of America, which shows the possible patient populations you could get to work with as a home health aide:
- Mothers and infants who just go home from the hospital in the last 24 or 48 hours
- People who are living with chronic illnesses and diseases
- Adults and even children who have complex disabilities
- People recovering from various accidents and injuries
You also get to deal with patients who need nothing more than just wound care, more education on how to care for themselves, and those who need better preventive measures necessary to manage their prevailing conditions.
Create and Experience Rewarding Patient Relationships
Apart from the fact that the pay is very good, most people go into healthcare as a profession because they have an innate need to help and connect with people. Being a home care aide puts you in a unique position to get that and even more.
As a home care nurse, your job is to interact and care for your patients on a day to day basis. You get to do this on a more personal level than regular registered nurses get to do in a hospital setting because you visit these patients in their homes.
The fact that the patient and their family are allowing you into their home shows that they trust you or, at the very least, could learn to trust you. Furthermore, the patient being in their own home is a bit more comfortable and secure enough to let their guard down, which means they can connect with you better.
You could get to learn more details about their immediate environment and family life than a doctor would in a hospital setting. This puts you in a better position to connect with them and help them in a more comprehensive manner.
The Pay is Good
In general, nurses make anywhere between $48,000 to about $104,000 per annum depending on the state in which they practice and where they work. These numbers only get better, the more specialized you are in your field.
As a home care nurse, you are better placed to negotiate your salary based on how many patients you can help and the kind of home care agency you work for.
How Much Does a Home Care Nurse Make?
The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the median salary for a home care nurse stands at around $73,300 per year, translating to just over $35 an hour. As you would expect, this salary varies by experience as well as location.
If you are just fresh out of class and joining the job industry as a qualified home care aide, you can expect your entry-level salary to stand at around $53,600. Granted, nurses who work in a hospital setting generally tend to get paid higher but also put in more hours and provide 24-hour care where a home care nurse can tailor-make their schedule to suit their needs.
How to Become a Home Health Care Nurse
The first thing you should know is that home healthcare nurses are not only highly trained, but they are also highly educated individuals. If you are looking to start a career in this field, you can take many different educational and training paths to get there; some require more schooling than others. Here are the educational steps you would have to take to become a professional home healthcare aide:
- One year for you to earn an LPN
- 2-5 years for you to earn an ADN, BSN or MSN degree
- Pass the NCLEX-RN exam
- Two years of experience working in clinical patient care
Here is a more comprehensive breakdown of these steps:
Attain a Degree
Without the basic educational requirements, you will find it difficult, if not impossible, to become a home healthcare nurse. Most job postings will require you to have a minimum of a bachelor’s degree. Still, some are open to hiring professionals who are licensed vocational nurses (LVN) or licensed practical nurses (LPN), which require you to have a certificate or a diploma from an accredited educational institution or state-approved program.
These programs will take you about a year to complete and are typically available at most technical schools or local community colleges. As an LPN or an LVN, you must also pass the NCLEX-PN (National Council Licensure Examination) to get your license.
You could also choose to go for more advanced training by studying to become a registered nurse. This would call for attaining an associate’s degree in nursing or ADN, which takes about two years to complete. Either that or you could go for a diploma from a state-approved nursing program which also takes about two years. The other path would involve going for a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree, which takes up to four years. If you decide to take this path, however, you must graduate from a recognized and state-approved program and pass the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX-RN) to get licensed.
Additional Training for Home Care Nurses
Even though additional training is not required for you to get licensed and find a job within the field, they often play a pivotal role in increasing your marketability and salary. With that in mind, you might want to think of pursuing an advanced degree to further specialize your education and qualifications. As an RN, you could decide to take on any of the numerous RN-to-BSN programs that are typically designed to help an ADN-prepared nurse earn their bachelor’s degree much faster.
You could also choose to earn your MSN (Master of Science in Nursing) degree, which takes about two years to complete. This allows you to become an Advanced Practice Registered Nurse (APRN), focusing on home healthcare. This kind of specialization will make you more knowledgeable and make you more marketable, and open up a few more avenues for higher responsibility and pay.
What Certifications Do Home Healthcare Nurses Need?
There used to be a Home Health Clinical Nurse Specialist Certification offered by the American Nurses Association (ANA), but that is no longer available. Even though the exam has long been phased out, you can still renew your certification through the portal, provided you already had the credentials. This renewal is required every five years.
The final yet important step in this journey is finding and gaining experience as a home health nurse. Every reputable home health agency will want to hire a home care nurse who has experience dealing with patients and putting their education to practice in real life.
You can get this experience by working for a hospital that sends out nurses to follow-up on their patients once they are discharged. You would require at least two years of experience in the field to increase your marketability.
What Skills Do You Need as a Home Care Nurse?
Unfortunately, the simple fact that you are well educated and trained as a nurse doesn’t necessarily guarantee that you will find a good and well-paying job as a home care nurse. You will need to display a high level of some interpersonal skills that separate you from the crowd.
Not only are the skills mentioned here important as far as your marketability is concerned, but they are also necessary for your day to day life as a home healthcare aide. To be successful in this field, here are some skills that you will need to master:
These are perhaps the most basic yet the most integral skills that every home healthcare nurse must have if they are to succeed in this field of work. In fact, without the medical and nursing education and qualification, you can’t practice as a home healthcare aide, at least not legally.
You must have excellent clinical skills, which call for the placement and monitoring of IVs, administering shots whenever necessary, changing bandages and dressing wounds, giving tube feedings as well as the ability to take comprehensive medical notes and records.
You must also have the knowledge and ability to advise your patients on proper prescription usage, general self-care and healthy behaviors to help them get better. While your typical day as a homecare nurse might be more therapeutic and supportive as opposed to emergent, you still need the ability and knowledge to administer and respond to medical events and emergencies as they occur.
Excellent interpersonal skills
All nurses indeed need to master some level of interpersonal skills to do their job. Nurses just so happen to be the most common line of interaction between patients and the medical facility. As such, being able to communicate with and understand patients is an integral part of the job.
However, as a home care nurse, this need to communicate clearly and build rapport with their patients to gain trust is even more pronounced. This is mostly because you will be going into patients’ homes on a day to day basis.
These patients will depend on you to give them medical advice and pointers on how to best take care of themselves. If this relationship is to work for both parties, you need to communicate clearly with the patient, and they need to trust you.
Patience and flexibility
As a home care nurse, you are going to be dealing with all manner of patients. Some will be pleasant to be around, while many aren’t going to be quite as welcoming. This could be due to different reasons ranging from the fact that they might be in pain or that they don’t like having strangers in their home but must due to their medical conditions.
In some cases, you will find that many patients don’t quite have the physical ability to do what they need to do to take care of themselves properly. Some might even have difficulty communicating or exhibit incoherence due to severe injuries or mental illness.
As a home care aide, you need to learn how to handle every single one of these situations without losing your patience or feeling unwelcome. Furthermore, because you may end up working with toddlers up to the elderly, you need to be flexible enough to take on many different types of patients depending on your speciality.
Independence and initiative
Unlike in a hospital setting, a home healthcare nurse works under minimal to no supervision. Therefore, it’s up to the nurse to take the initiative to ensure that all the patients on their roster are attended to – which calls for excellent time management and dedication.
This is a profession that can be rewarding both financially and intrinsically if you are the kind of person who wants to make a difference in people’s lives. The home care industry is growing, and there are going to be better opportunities in the future.
While the profession itself calls for a lot of schooling, the job itself calls for a bit more humanity and compassion. It’s an excellent way to make a living while making a real difference in this world.