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December 29, 2020

Nursing & Healthcare

What is a home health nurse?

Home nurse preparing pills

Would you like to make a life-changing impact on people from all walks of life, both young and old? As a home health care nurse, you’ll work one-on-one with your patients in the comfort of their homes. This allows you to develop deeper relationships and work in a more personal setting than a medical office or hospital.

Other perks of being a home nurse include having more independence and autonomy than in traditional nursing roles, with the flexibility to pick your own schedule. And while many in-home nurses are RNs, the job is also a great entry-level role—perfect if you’re a licensed vocational nurse (LVN) or registered nurse looking to gain more experience and potentially earn your bachelor's degree in nursing.

So what does a home health nurse do? And what steps are needed to become one? Read this helpful guide for a complete home health RN job description, including its roles and responsibilities, education requirements, and current salary range.

What does a home health nurse do?

As a home health care nurse, you’ll provide one-on-one care for patients in their homes. These patients can be elderly, critically ill, or disabled, or they may be recovering from a surgery, injury, or accident. In-home nurses can also assist pregnant women and new mothers with ongoing care, support, and education.

There are three tiers of home health care nurses, which are based upon one’s credentials and experience—RNs, LVNs, and nurse assistants. Each usually reports to a facility to receive their daily assignment and then drives to their patients’ homes to provide prescribed nursing care.

Here is a list of the typical duties and responsibilities for home care nurses in a variety of healthcare settings:

Registered nurses

  • Assesses patient needs and develops plan of care with physician.

  • Coordinates and oversees care plan with patient, family, and support staff—LVNs and nurse assistants.

  • Monitors and evaluates patient response to treatment, medication, and healing or mobilization progress.

  • Oversees case management.

  • Assists with activities of daily living (ADLs)—mobility, bathing, grooming, toileting, etc.

  • Administers medication and intravenous infusions.

  • Takes vital signs, draws labs, and manages wound care.

  • Tends to wounds and other needs of home health patients.

  • Works with clinical healthcare professionals to coordinate home care.

  • Performs physical assessments.

Licensed vocational nurses

  • Directs nurse assistants and task-based nursing care.

  • Monitors patient and reports status or patient concerns to supervising RN.

  • Assists with ADLs and mobility.

  • Administers medication and intravenous infusions.

  • Takes vital signs and manages wounds.

Nurse assistants

  • Reports patient concerns to supervising LVN or RN.

  • Assists with ADLs and mobility.

  • Performs task-based nursing care.

There is a lot of flexibility if you choose to work as a home care nurse. You can work with one patient on a long-term, full-time basis or you can choose to visit multiple patients each day. You can also specialize in one home care area or select several specialties to focus on, such as gerontology, pediatrics, medical or surgical, community or public health, and psychiatric or mental health. Additionally, there are numerous agencies that employ home nurses, including:

  • Home health and hospice agencies

  • Hospital systems

  • Medical centers

  • Insurance companies

  • Government organizations

  • Retirement communities

How to become a home health nurse.

A young male nurse shakes the hand of an older gentleman.

Education requirements.

Your first step towards a career in home health care nursing is to meet its educational requirements. Of course, they vary depending on what position you’re targeting.

LVNs, for example, need only a diploma or certificate from an accredited, state-approved program. These programs are offered by technical schools and community colleges and often take one year to complete. To work as an in-home LVN, you must also pass the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX-PN).

For better opportunities and more responsibility, you can work towards becoming an RN home health nurse. This requires a two-year associate degree in nursing (ADN), a diploma from an approved nursing program, or a four-year bachelor’s degree in nursing (BSN)—which you can now earn online.

While a BSN isn’t required, it can help you be more competitive in the job market, increase your salary, and prepare you to move into a leadership role. RN-to-BSN programs are designed to help registered nurses earn their bachelor’s degrees quickly—allowing them to apply skills and knowledge that they’ve already learned on the job.

Additionally, some RNs continue to earn their master’s degree in nursing (MSN) so they can become a clinical nurse specialist or advanced practice nurse (APRN) in a home health care setting. An MSN can also enable you to work in specialty tracks such as mental or community health and acute care.

Work experience.

Since being a home care nurse can start as an entry-level role, you don’t need a lot of work experience to get a job, as long as you have the proper education and credentials. However, to get more senior RN home home health care positions, you should have several years of on-the-job experience. This will also help you get better assignments and a more flexible work schedule.

Skill requirements.

Because doing home care can be unpredictable, a successful home health care nurse should have a positive attitude and a good sense of humor. And since they often work alone, they should be excellent problem-solvers that work well independently. Home care nurses are responsible for many aspects of a patient's life, so they need to be ready to take on that challenge.

Other important skills home health nursing includes:

Integrity. Clients and their families rely on you to provide safe and effective care. Thus, you need to be dependable and trustworthy and act with integrity—especially when handling personal activities such as helping your client bathe. Home care professionals are often directly involved with the patient and their family on a regular basis, so they need to trust you.

Physical stamina. You’ll need both mental and physical strength to work as a home nurse. You’ll regularly perform physical tasks such as lifting or turning clients.

Interpersonal skills. Your clients may often be in extreme pain or distress, so you must be compassionate and keenly sensitive to their emotions. You should also enjoy helping others and developing close relationships through excellent verbal and interpersonal communication skills.

Detail-oriented. As a home nurse, you’ll need to adhere to set protocols and rules—as well as carefully following patient care instructions and monitoring their condition. Being organized and detail-oriented are essential skills that can significantly impact your patient’s well-being.

Learn four other soft skills for a productive nursing career.

How much does a home health nurse make?

Your pay as a home health nurse varies widely depending on your role and education. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that the median annual salary is:

  • $25,280 for nurse assistants

  • $47,480 for LVNs

  • $73,300 for RNs

Home health care nurses may make more than these averages due to the specialized nature of their occupation. You should also consider the additional benefits that home nursing brings, including health care and retirement benefits, paid time off, flexible schedules, and overtime pay.

Home health nursing job outlook.

The BLS predicts that health care jobs will grow by 15% over the next 10 years, which is well above the average for all other U.S. industries. However, the job outlook for home health aides is projected to grow by 34% in the next decade! This is exceptionally high and should provide outstanding job stability and opportunity for those looking to enter this field.

Some reasons why home health care is growing rapidly are:

  • Patients are being discharged from hospitals sooner due to increasing financial pressures.

  • There is a larger senior population that wants to remain independent and prefer home health care over assisted living facilities.

  • The cost of traditional health care or skilled living facilities is often more than home health care.

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