Home health nurses provide nursing services for persons who are home bound and physically unable to visit a physician’s office or other treatment facility. This includes elderly adults with long-term illness or disability, and also persons who are recuperating from major surgery. The duties of home health nurses range from taking vital signs (blood pressure, pulse and temperature) to assessing health progress and needs. Home health care nurses change dressings on wounds, and observe how well patients can perform certain tasks that may be hampered by a condition or by having surgery.
Generally, a home health nurse is a registered nurse or R.N. This means the nurse has completed an approved program of study that prepares one to take the licensing examination in his/her state of residence. Those who pursue careers as registered nurses study at junior colleges, community colleges, hospital nursing education programs, or 4-year colleges or universities. Junior colleges and community colleges award associate degrees in nursing, hospitals usually award diplomas upon completion of a two or three year program, and colleges and universities offer a bachelor’s degree in nursing.
Regardless of which program a nursing student chooses, the nursing courses are similar and cover what is needed to take the licensing examination. Courses in a nursing curriculum cover areas like English, psychology, sociology, biology, chemistry, gerontology, child development, nutrition, and communication. There are also courses specific to nursing duties that focus on areas such as medical-surgical nursing, pediatrics, and psychiatry.
A home health care nurse usually works for a home health care agency. Work is done in the home of patients. However in certain circumstances a family might hire a nurse from a home health care agency to provide private duty nursing in a hospital or long-term care facility. In a typical day, a home health care nurse might visit several patients to conduct assessments, take vital signs, give medications, dress wounds, and educate patients. The nurse must also document care in a patient record in accordance with agency, state and federal guidelines.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median salary for a home health care nurse in May 2008 was around $58,000. Salary depends on geographic area, and the education background and years of experience of the nurse.
As the aging population grows, the need for home health care nurses will continue to grow. As in most nursing areas, there is generally a shortage of qualified home health nurses, so new graduates or nurses who want to change nursing careers should have no trouble getting into the field. Jobs that are similar to those in home health nursing include hospice nurses. Private care nurses and traveling nurses perform duties similar to those of home health care nurses.
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