Every job has its ups and downs, and learning more about those specifics can help you understand the daily life of a home health nurse even better. Aside from the large variable of being in a patient’s own home, there are some other benefits and challenges to consider.
Con: Less team support
Home health nurses often perform their visits solo. Without the benefit of a care team or an entire unit working with you in a medical facility, home health nurses need to develop a wider array of skills to respond to problems that might arise. “With home nursing, you are mostly on your own,” says Beth Hawkes, MSN, RN-BC and owner of Nurse Code. She explains that you primarily need bedside care skills for the constant work, but you also need to develop the ability to respond well without aid in the case of an emergency.
Pro: More autonomy
The challenge of working alone is also a perk in certain ways. Hawkes says home health nurses have a great deal of professional autonomy. The skills you develop while needing to make choices on your own, field new variables and respond to different patient and family situations are extremely valuable skills for the nursing field at large. It’s an excellent role for people who like to work with more independence and have more agency in how they do their job.
Con: There’s a lot of documentation and paperwork
Home health nurses need to be highly meticulous with things like medication tracking, checking and double-checking dosages, timetables and pretty much every aspect of the treatment plan. Much of that needs documentation as well.
“We often spend hours intercepting mistakes,” Hawkes explains. “While you sleep happily obliviously, nurses are constantly checking and checking, protecting you from even the smallest mistake. When you wake up, we say, ‘Good morning!’ and leave it at that.”
Pro: It’s very individual-focused
Home health nurses have the added personal connection of being in a patient’s own residence. While this has its drawbacks, there’s no denying that it’s more intimate to work with someone in the place they call home. Hawkes says the best part is developing good relationships with patients and creating a care plan tailored to their specific needs and situations.
What qualities make for a successful home health nurse?
RNs need a unique set of characteristics to do well in this unique healthcare career. With no team of medical staff just down the hall, home health nurses need to be confident in their nursing abilities—and in their roles as patient advocates.
“Being a good advocate for your patients means calling the doctor when something isn’t going the way it should and monitoring your patients to ensure they’re safe,” Pourron says. Performing well independently and advocating or explaining patient needs to the physician are two skills that a great home health nurse needs.
Compassion and communication are also vital qualities. “Communicating with the family about their needs and arranging your visits around their schedule lets them know they are important,” Pourron says. She adds that educating patients and their families about disease and the recovery process is crucial in helping them reach their health goals, so home health nurses should be willing to devise creative teaching strategies!
How do you become a home health nurse?
The first step to becoming a home health nurse is to get educated. But with so many educational tracks for nurses, what makes the most sense for you? We used real-time job posting analysis software to review the listed education requirements of over 85,000 home health nursing jobs and found that 75 percent of these jobs require less than a bachelor’s degree.2 That means most home health nursing positions will be available to nurses who complete either a or Associate’s Degree in Nursing (ADN) program and pass the appropriate NCLEX® exam for their level of practice.
Once you’re licensed, you’re fully qualified to work as a home health nurse—though some employers may want to see prior experience working in general nursing settings.