How to Become a Home Health Nurse
Home Health Nursing provides the opportunity to work independently as part of a wider care team, serving a wide range of patients with different medical needs. Home health nursing requires comprehensive knowledge and the ability to confidently respond to all types of situations and scenarios, and in exchange, it offers a more flexible schedule and the ability to make a real difference and establish meaningful relationships with patients and their families.
There are many reasons to choose a career as a home health nurse, and many questions you’ll want answered before moving forward with that decision. We’ve put together this helpful guide to help you decide if this is the right career for you.
What is a Home Health Nurse?
Home health nurses provide care for individuals in their own homes. This care may be needed because of an injury or illness for which a patient has already been hospitalized, or for those who require medical supervision but who either do not require or do not want to be in an institutional setting.
The medical service that they provide is wide-ranging, and can include basic hygiene such as bathing, feeding, monitoring patient conditions, and ensuring compliance with physicians’ orders. They can provide wound care and pain management, administer medication, and more.
In some cases, they work directly with family members or other caregivers to ensure that they are comfortable and competent in the operation of medical devices and meet other needs that the patient may have.
What Do Home Health Nurses Do?
Home health nurses provide individualized care to patients in the comfort of their own home setting. These patients can range in age from infants to the elderly. They may be healthy patients recovering from surgical procedures, or they can be chronically or terminally ill.
In some cases, a home health nurse will visit with a patient one time to monitor their progress and ensure that they are being compliant with their physician’s orders or to check on how a wound is healing, while in others they may be responsible for administering pain medication or educating a new mother’s care of her newborn.
Some consider home health nursing one of the easiest nursing jobs because they can often choose their workload. As a home health nurse, you may also get to work reduced hours on days when you finish your caseload early.
Where Do Home Health Nurses Work?
Home health nurses can work for:
- Community or government organizations
- Hospice organizations
- Insurance companies
Because their assignments send them to their patient’s homes, home health nurses have the opportunity to form relationships with their patients in their families in a much more relaxed and personal way. Their schedules are generally flexible and though they are a part of a medical team, their work is conducted independently.
Home health nurse responsibilities can vary depending upon the patient, their age, and their medical needs, but can include:
- Administer medication and IV infusions
- Assist in activities of daily living including mobility, grooming, bathing, etc.
- Cleaning and dressing wounds
- Communicating with physicians and the rest of the care team
- Creating or collaborating with a care team on an individual treatment plan
- Draw labs
- Evaluating patient health
- Monitoring and documenting vital signs
- Oversee case management
- Performing physical assessment
- Providing basic hygiene needs
- Providing education to patients and their caretakers regarding medical needs and support
- Responding to emergent situations
- Reviewing home safety
- Supervising aides that are in the home providing care
- Updating care plan and noting changes in condition
Home Health Nurse Salary
Home health nurses are paid at a level that is similar to the compensation received by nurses working in more formal or institutional settings. According to Payscale.com, their average hourly pay nationally is $30.16 and $69,502 annually, and Glassdoor.com reports that the average base salary for the profession is $98,788, with variables based upon educational level, years of experience, size and type of the company and geographic location.
Specific pay by experience level for home health nurses is:
- Less than 1 year of experience earn an average hourly salary of $27.25
- 1 to 4 years of experience earn an average hourly salary of $30.46
- 5 to 9 years of experience earn an average hourly salary of $30.88
- 10 to 19 years of experience earn an average hourly salary of $30.66
- 20 years or more years of experience earn an average hourly salary of $28.86
It is important to keep in mind that compensation is not limited to one’s paycheck, and that many facilities provide significant benefits in the form of paid vacation time and sick leave as well as coverage for health, dental and vision care, prescription coverage and even onsite childcare and tuition reimbursement. Home health nurses also have the opportunity to work overtime hours, which can significantly increase their take-home pay.
How Do You Become a Home Health Nurse?
There are a number of different paths to becoming a home health nurse, and the one that you choose will depend upon how quickly you want to enter the workplace, the amount of time that you want to invest in your education, and the level of compensation and responsibility that you are seeking.
How to Become a Home Health Nurse:
- 1 year to earn an LPN, or
- 2-5 years to earn ADN, BSN or MSN degree
- Pass NCLEX-RN exam
- 2 years working in clinical patient care
Step 1: Attend Nursing School
Though some home health agencies will hire nurses who have earned their Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN) degree from an accredited program, most are looking for Registered Nurses who have earned their Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) or their Bachelor of Science of Nursing (BSN). Home health nurses who wish to take on leadership roles in-home healthcare can take their education a step farther and pursue a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) to become home health advanced practice nurses.
Step 2: Become a Registered Nurse
Following earning these degrees, RNs will need to have passed the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX-RN) so that they can get their state licensure.
Step 3: Gain Experience
Beyond the educational requirements for becoming a home health nurse, having experience in patient care is essential, and often required by home health agencies and hospital departments that send nurses out to care for or follow-up with patients in their homes following surgeries or hospitalizations.
Having a minimum of two years of med/surg experience will supplement your book knowledge and provide the hands-on bedside clinical experience that is needed.
What is the Career Outlook for Home Health Nurses?
The need for healthcare professionals is growing dramatically at the same time that available staffing numbers are falling. This has resulted in a national nursing shortage that affects all nursing specialty areas. The RN workforce is expected to grow from 3.17 million in 2022 to 3.35 million in 2032, an increase of 177,400. When you combine this shortfall, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) expects it to expand by 6% from 2022 to 2032. Unfortunately, the BLS does not differentiate between different types of nursing specialities.
On top of that, the United States population is aging rapidly, and seniors and their physicians are turning to homecare both for its convenience and for its reduced costs and ability to reduce the number of readmissions they require. That is just part of why home healthcare is the fastest-growing segment of healthcare services, it becomes clear that the need for home health nurses will be uniquely robust.
To see what home health nurse positions are currently available, visit the Nurse.org job board.
What are the Continuing Education Requirements for Home Health Nurses?
Working as a home health nurse requires no certification and therefore there are no continuing education requirements for certification. At one time, a Home Health Clinical Nurse Specialist Certification was available, but it is no longer offered. Nurses who have already earned this certification and who wish to maintain it can renew it. It needs to be renewed every five years.
Nurses are responsible for maintaining their RN licensure which often requires CEUs. Examples of continuing education requirements are as follows:
- District of Columbia - 24 contact hours every 2 years
- Illinois - 20 contact hours every 2 years
- Minnesota - 24 contact hours every 2 years
- Pennsylvania - 30 contact hours every 2 years
Some states do not require CEUs to maintain an RN license. Examples include Arizona, Colorado, Mississippi, and Indiana. It is important for nurses to check their state’s RN credentialing body for exact CEU requirements.
Where Can I Learn More About Becoming a Home Health nurse?
Home healthcare nursing is an increasingly important specialty, and those who are interested in a career as a home health nurse can find helpful information, resources and support from the Home Healthcare Nurses Association and the International Home Care Nurses Association. You can also find articles of interest on the Nurse.org website, including:
Home health nurses have the opportunity to work in a wide range of settings and to interact and provide care with patients from all walks of life, in all stages of their journey, and in almost all medical and physical conditions. Their proximity to patients and their families in the settings where they are most comfortable provides a unique opportunity to form a deeper understanding of patient needs and to provide comfort where patients are often most receptive and relaxed.
Home Health Nurse FAQs
What is a Home Health Nurse?
- A home health nurse is a professional who cares for patients in their homes. The position can be filled by a Registered Nurse (RN), a Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN) or a Certified Nurse Assistant (CNA).
What is the role of the Home Health Nurse?
- The home health nurse provides care for patients when they are unable to do so themselves. In some cases, they provide follow-up monitoring to ensure that a patient’s self-care following a hospitalization is proceeding as it should.
How much does a Home Health Nurse make?
- Home health nurse salaries vary significantly based upon their level of education, their geography, and other factors, but according to Payscale.com, the national average annual salary is $69,502 per year.
What is Home Health Nursing like?
- Home health nursing is a very rewarding career that provides tremendous flexibility and independence. Nurses can create their own schedule and practice different types of care, forming strong relationships with their patients in the setting in which they are most comfortable.
What is the best way to become a Home Health nurse?
- Though home health nurses can be Certified Nursing Assistants or Licensed Practical Nurses, most home healthcare agencies do require their home health nurses to have earned a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) and to have worked as a Registered Nurse (RN) for at least two years in a medical-surgical setting.
How long does it take to become a Home Health nurse?
- The time it takes to become a home health nurse depends upon what level of home health nursing you want to provide. Becoming a Licensed Practical Nurse generally takes one year, while becoming a Registered Nurse (RN) can be accomplished by earning either an Associate’s Degree in Nursing (ADN), which takes two years or a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN), which takes four years. Most home health agencies prefer at least two years of experience working in a med-surg setting.