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Home > Articles > How to Become a Home Health Nurse and Why It's a Great Career

How to Become a Home Health Nurse and Why It's a Great Career

By Laura Horwitz
Published on December 7, 2009.


Job Duties

A home health nurse provides medical care to patients within their own homes instead of at a hospital or other health care facility. Their patients might only need short-term care, such as patients recovering from an accident or from childbirth, or they may have long-term needs like cancer patients. Some patients may need continuous care, while you may only visit others sporadically.

As a home health nurse, you can expect to administer medications, monitor a patient's vital signs, assist with the patient's psychological well-being, and instruct your patient on appropriate home care. You may also instruct or counsel the patient's family, assess the house itself, help determine the patient's needs, and supervise other health care workers like home health aides. You also get to be the liaison between the patients and their doctors.

Job Skills

To succeed as a home health nurse, you must have excellent communication skills, a knack for making accurate observations, and a strong decision-making ability. You have to honor your patients' wishes while still doing what's best for them. While you're often on your own at a patient's home, you have to remember that you're still part of a team, and you may also have to supervise other workers. It's an intense job, requiring you to have emotional stability and a sympathetic, caring nature.

Income

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median annual wage for registered nurse (RN) earned $62,450 annually in 2008. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $43,410, while the highest 10 percent earned over $92,240. Some home health nurses are licensed practical nurses (LPNs) rather than RNs, and they tend to earn somewhat less, with a median wage of $39,030 annually. However, LPNs require less training than RNs do.

Training and Education

If you want to become an RN, you must graduate from an approved nursing program and pass the national licensing exam. To do this, you can choose from three different educational paths. One popular option is to earn a Bachelor of Science degree in nursing (BSN), which takes four years to complete. Or, you can start by earning an associate's degree in nursing (ADN), which only takes two or three years and is offered by junior and community colleges. After you have this degree, you can begin working and may be able to receive tuition reimbursement benefits for an RN-to-BSN program that can expand your job opportunities. Finally, a less common route is to attend a three-year diploma program offered by some hospitals.

To become an LPN, you need to complete a state-approved practical nursing program. These programs generally last one year and are typically found at technical and vocational schools, community colleges, hospitals, and some universities. You then need to pass the NCLEX-PN licensing exam.

Employment

According to BLS figures in 2006, LPNs held 749,000 jobs and RNs, the largest health care occupation, held 2.5 million jobs. However, only 5 percent of those RNs worked in home health care services.

Job Outlook

Employment for home health nurses should increase much faster than the average for all occupations from 2006 to 2016, according to the BLS. In fact, employment for RNs who work in home health care services is expected to grow by 39 percent, while employment for RNs overall is only expected to grow 23 percent. The same is true for LPNs working as home health nurses, because home health care agencies should offer numerous new jobs. This growth comes from the rapidly aging population as well as improvements in medical technology that better enable nurses to care for patients outside of a traditional hospital setting.


About the Author
Laura Horwitz has worked as a freelance writer and researcher for five years in both London and the U.S.
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