How to become a home health nurse: Training, pay and job outlook
Theresa Maja-Schultz, RN, has worked in some of the most prestigious, high-tech hospitals in New York. But her most fulfilling moments as a nurse have involved sitting by a patient’s bedside, helping them get the care that they need in the most comfortable and cozy of all settings: their own home.
“I love working as a home health nurse,” says Maja-Schultz. “The care is much more personalized, and you can develop a closer relationship not just with the patient, but with his or her family or caregiver.”
Maja-Schultz also enjoys the challenge of working in the field: “In a hospital, there is more structure and if you have a question, there is always someone right there you can ask. But as a home health nurse, you have to have a really strong clinical background so you can make decisions on your own. There is always a supervisor to call, but they’re not right there with you, so you have to have confidence in your ability to make decisions quickly.”
If Maja-Schultz’s job sounds exciting to you, here’s what you need to know about becoming a home health nurse.
What is a home health nurse?
Unlike home health aides, home health nurses are fully licensed and trained nursing professionals who can give medications (including IV fluids), treat wounds, record vital signs, perform physical exams, insert catheters and take blood samples for lab work. They work with a supervising physician to create and follow through on a plan of care. They may also help bathe and dress patients and assist with other activities of daily life. While many home health nurses serve elderly and terminally ill patients, they might also be assigned to work with a patient who is recovering from an injury, a child with special medical needs or even a new mother. They may check in with a few patients each day, or be assigned to work with one patient long-term.
What kind of training does a home health nurse need?
A home health nurse is first and foremost a licensed nurse, so you need to have at least an associate degree and be trained as a licensed practical nurse (LPN) or licensed vocational nurse (LVN). To take on more medical responsibilities and have a higher earning potential, you should train as a registered nurse (RN), which requires a bachelor’s or master’s degree. In all cases, you need to pass the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX-PN), and there may be other licensing requirements in your state. Home health nurses should especially be comfortable and confident with life-saving skills, since they are often the only medical personnel on the scene in an emergency.
How much can you earn?
The job outlook in this field is considered very good. As the U.S. population rapidly ages and many seniors would prefer to stay at home as long as possible rather than be move to assisted living or nursing care, there is a growing need for home health nurses. Hospitals are also looking for more ways to care for recovering patients at home, requiring shorter stays.
The potential salary depends on your degree and location. Here’s what some average salaries look like, according to Salary.com:
A home health RN has the highest average income at around $75,000.
A home health LPN earns an average of $49,000.
The highest average salaries are in New York and Washington, D.C., where home health nurses earn around $80,000.
The lowest in the country is in Hawaii, where you’ll get sunshine and beautiful beaches, but earn an average of $41,000. (Averages vary greatly by locations across the country.)
Who is best suited for this job?
If you love getting to know a patient in his or her own home, working independently and having flexibility, home health nursing might be a great fit for you. Though Maja-Schultz points out that it is not for everyone: “Many nurses love the structure of a hospital setting, and the constant energy and teamwork of an ER or the ICU.”