Chris O'Brien received her BSN from Auburn University and her Master's in Public Health degree from Emory University. With a background in cardiac care, home health, nursing research & education, and medical writing, she now enjoys the dual paths of being a freelance medical writer and yoga teacher in Decatur, GA.
A type of community health nursing, home health care involves evaluating, treating, and teaching patients in their homes. Most home health patients are admitted shortly after being discharged from a hospital. They still require nursing care, but they are well enough to go home with skilled clinical services in place to keep them healthy.
Freedom and Autonomy
Some of the benefits of working in home health are frequent change of setting, lots of autonomy, and less office/desk time than many jobs. While you do have the freedom to create your own schedule, you also have to consider the time it takes to complete a home visit along with the time spent driving and writing nursing notes. Home health nursing is probably not the best job for someone fresh out of nursing school, but if you are sufficiently experienced and value independence and autonomy, you may want to consider looking into it after you've had a few years of bedside clinical experience.
In many ways home health is an extension of hospital-based nursing-in most cases allowing patients to be in a more comfortable setting. Yet, not all homes and/or communities are ideal for a person who is ill. Some homes and communities can be downright inhospitable. While working in home health, I sometimes encountered filth and criminal activity. When issues that I didn't know how to deal with came up, my nursing peers and supervisors were available for advice, assistance and support. Their help got me through any rough spots, often with a little much needed laughter or story-swapping to put things in perspective. And, in spite of the occasional tough situations, I still have great memories of the years I spent as a visiting nurse because I learned new problem-solving skills and was able to help my patients to do the same.
What you can expect
In a typical day I would see six geriatric patients and would drive about 30-50 miles throughout Metropolitan Atlanta. Urinary catheters, decubitus ulcers, and patient/family teaching were a big part of each day's work. I also drew blood frequently and transported it to various labs. Since phlebotomists typically do this task in hospital settings, most nurses don't know how to draw blood from a vein. This skill was something I learned while in home health care. Additionally, as a home health nurse, writing clear notes and establishing measurable goals is crucial for the job. Notes can be time consuming, but they're necessary. They should always be accurate and provide evidence of progress. Clear writing is important, since nurses manage each patient's case and other disciplines (PT, OT, or Speech Therapy) may need to know how things are going from the nursing perspective. In general, in home health care, no one is really looking over your shoulder, so the best nurse for this job is self-motivated and disciplined.