Another job that has significant overlap with vascular access nursing is being a PICC RN. These nurses have special training to insert PICC lines into patients. As they only work with a particular type of vascular access, PICC RNs have a more specialized job than vascular access nurses. That said, vascular access nurses also insert PICC lines as part of their job.
PICC nurses—and vascular access nurses—are responsible for putting in PICC lines, which start in a vein in the patient’s arm and run through the patient’s vascular system all the way to near the patient’s heart.
These nurses have the important job of allowing the doctor to access these veins near a patient’s heart. PICC lines are used to deliver medication or nutrients as well as to draw blood (or deliver blood) if one is already inserted, and they can prevent a nurse from having to repeatedly stick a patient with needles elsewhere. These lines are often used for cancer patients, patients with digestive issues and patients with infections.
What are some of the challenges of vascular access nursing?
One obvious challenge of this job is the need to be comfortable working with needles and blood. If you’re a bit squeamish, not good around needles or afraid of blood, then this might not be the area of nursing for you. If this is you, check out our article “Medical Jobs Without Blood: A Beginner’s Guide.”
Similarly, many patients also share those fears, so the best vascular access nurses are able to comfort their patients through these procedures. Whether it’s chatting with a patient to distract them or waiting for the patient to relax, having a calming, caring demeanor and positive attitude is critical for this job.
Finally, vascular access nurses are often called on to help with patients who may present significant challenges, and getting a line properly set up can be quite difficult. Finding and accessing a vein isn’t always easy and can take several tries, much to the discomfort of the patient. Even the best vascular access nurses sometimes have to make multiple attempts. The key here is to remain sympathetic with the patient and get the job done in as few stabs as possible.
Another challenge outside of the scope of direct patient care is that this specialized role isn’t present in all facilities. While there may be exceptions, typically only larger hospitals and health systems have the resources (and consistent patient need) to keep a dedicated group of vascular access specialists on staff.
What’s rewarding about vascular access nursing?
If you’re comfortable with the needles in this job, vascular access nursing can actually be incredibly rewarding.
Being able to work hands-on with patients means you get to watch as the medications you’re delivering save lives. You are witness to the tangible results of patients’ healing and eventually checking out to go home.
Another aspect of the hands-on work in this job is informing patients how to take care of certain lines when they go home. If you like to teach others, then this can be incredibly fulfilling.
And every patient appreciates a nurse who understands their fear of needles. If you can get a patient on the first poke or chat with them to soothe their nerves, you can rest assured that they are grateful beyond measure.
Finally, this may be a bit odd for some, but getting a vein on the first poke or successfully inserting a line can be extremely rewarding—particularly if you’re called in by other nursing units to help with a tricky case. There’s a sense of pride that comes with being able to perfectly execute a task that requires specialized skill.
Is vascular access nursing the career for you?
Now that you know more about vascular access nursing, you know how important this job is—and what a difference an excellent vascular access nurse can make in a patient’s life.
If this job makes you feel a little squeamish, that’s okay. Having needles, IVs and complex lines be the central focus of your job is not for everybody. However, there are dozens of other nursing careers that could be the perfect fit.