Are you drawn to a nursing career, but want to avoid working in a hospital setting? Visiting nurses meet patients where they are, by providing care for them in their homes. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, home healthcare is one of the nation’s fastest-growing industries, with a projected compound annual growth rate of 5 percent for 2014-2024, which translates to approximately 760,400 new jobs. Read on for five reasons to consider becoming a home healthcare nurse – and why this growing specialty is an attractive career choice for many nurses.
1. Create a Flexible, Customized Career
As a home healthcare nurse, you are in charge of your own schedule and (depending on your organization) are typically free from the strict shift structure of traditional hospital nursing. Instead of a 12-hour shift on your feet in the trauma unit, you may be driving from appointment to appointment, helping educate patients and caregivers about treatments, assessing their progress and providing counsel and care.
“Nursing allows you the opportunity to practice different types of care throughout your career,” said Norene Mostkoff, president and CEO of Visiting Nurse Health System and current chairman of Visiting Nurses Association of America. “A nurse may start his or her career in the med-surg unit, then transition to home healthcare nursing. I think the expanding role of home healthcare nursing provides alternative, flexible opportunities that especially appeal to millennial lifestyles.”
For students or younger nurses considering the visiting nurse specialty, Mostkoff encourages them to attend a ride-along or shadow a visiting nurse, so that they can truly get a feel for what it’s like to go from one patient to the next, switching between different conditions, family situations and homes. It is also advised (and depending on where you work, required) to have a few years of experience in med-surg, emergency or critical care nursing before working as a visiting nurse.
2. Find Autonomy and Independence
Although home healthcare nurses are typically part of a larger care team, they need to be able to act quickly and independently. Unlike other specialties, visiting nurses are working in a non-traditional setting, which requires an extra level of critical thinking and adaptability.
“Home visiting nursing gives nurses a chance to be more innovative than any other setting,” said Mostkoff. “Visiting nurses don’t have the traditional hospital infrastructure around them, so these nurses must be mentally flexible, creative and able to quickly problem solve to meet their patients’ needs.”
“When you’re caring for a patient in someone’s home, you don’t have a doctor in the next room,” said Greg Burns, RN, BSN, a home healthcare nurse whose job includes visiting newborns and their parents through a grant funded by the state of Maine. “You don’t have a crash cart with you. You have to be confident that you can do whatever needs to be done.”
Although treating patients in their own homes can be unnerving without the safeguard of the rest of medical team beside you, Burns was excited about the prospect of meeting patients “on their own turf.” After ten years working in a hospital, Burns was used to the patients being on “his turf” in the hospital.
“When you go into someone’s home you can see a lot about what’s going on that you wouldn’t get to see in the hospital,” he said. “It is very valuable to see a person’s home, their context. You learn so much more about them, like what kind of support network they have, what resources they are taking advantage of and if there are other variables impacting their health and potential to recover.”
3. Care for Diverse Patient Populations
Not sure if you want to limit yourself to a specific patient population? Consider home healthcare nursing. From newborns to elderly patients, home healthcare nurses serve patients from various backgrounds and age groups.
The Visiting Nurse Association of America (VNAA) lists just a few of the myriad populations home healthcare nurses care for: mothers and infants home from the hospital after 24 to 48 hours; people living with chronic diseases and illnesses; children and adults with complex disabilities; and patients recovering from accidents or injuries. Home healthcare nurses can also treat patients who need wound care, medications or other supportive measures, as well as provide education to patients and their families as a preventative measure to minimize future hospital and emergency room visits.
4. Create Rewarding Patient Relationships
When nurses are able to come into a patient’s home, they are better equipped to see the day-to-day lifestyle of the patient and potential dangers or conditions that might affect a patient’s well-being.
“I love that home healthcare nursing gives you the opportunity to see the big picture of your patient,” said Karen Marshall, RN, CHPN. “You are able to truly know your patients, know their families and know their story.”
Marshall is a home healthcare nurse with the Hospice of Visiting Nurse Service in Akron, Ohio, who cares for adults with terminal illness, typically with a life expectancy of less than six months.
“As a home healthcare nurse, you recognize that a family is allowing you into their home,” said Marshall. “Especially with hospice, I feel it is such a privilege to help them – with a terminally ill father, with a sick spouse, with a loved one who is in pain.”
Last year, Marshall cared for an elderly couple who had been married more than 72 years. The couple, who had 184 years of life between them, wanted to receive care in their own home.
“They were happy to be in their own home, their own place,” she said. “People want to be with all their memories, with their family all around – receiving care at home can be a wonderful, comforting thing when a patient in that stage of life.”
5. Make an Impact
“Visiting nurses can truly see the life-changing impact your work has on that patient and the patient’s family,” said Mostkoff. “Health happens at home, not always the doctor’s office. Visiting nurses have the opportunity to care for the whole person, in their own environment, and I think that when you are in people’s homes you are marrying the medical services with the people, the families, and the whole patient.”
Mosthoff believes that home healthcare nursing will continue to be a more essential part of the healthcare delivery system.
“Home healthcare nursing is an essential part of the nursing system, as we provide an effective way to reach patients, especially in vulnerable populations,” she said. “The role of the visiting nurse is really much bigger than healing a wound or monitoring a treatment. It’s a holistic approach to helping the patient and their support system be healthy.”
To learn more about pursuing a career as a visiting nurse, visit DiscoverNursing.com. And to get a first-hand glimpse into home healthcare nursing, check out the Campaign’s “A Day in the Life” video featuring Ed, a visiting nurse who entered the profession after years serving as a New York City firefighter.