What do Intravenous Therapy Nurses do?

Lorry Schoenly, PhD, RN is a nurse writer and educator with over 25 years of experience. She has been certified in five different clinical specialties including critical care and emergency nursing. Starting as an associate degree registered nurse, she continued her schooling in traditional and distance-learning settings to obtain a BSN, MSN, and PhD in nursing while working full-time and raising a family. Lorry teaches nursing in a variety of settings including webinars and online nursing courses.

Intravenous Therapy (IV) Nurses, also called Infusion Nurses, provide specialized nursing care for patients requiring medication, therapies, fluids and nutrition delivered directly into their blood streams. Intravenous therapy nurses focus on the insertion and maintenance of the IV line as well as the care of the patient receiving the therapy.

Infusion nurses work in acute care settings, especially oncology, as well as in home care. In fact, many hospital-based IV treatments can now be administered in the home or in ambulatory care settings with the supervision of a nursing specialist.

What to Expect

Probably more than any other specialty, this type of nursing requires dexterity and skill in a specific procedure. Placing infusion catheters can be challenging in the best of situations, but infusion nurses often must place catheters in the veins of patients who are dehydrated or who have frail vessels. In addition, access points for catheter placement in these patients can be scarred. As a result, IV nurses need a strong understanding of venous anatomy along with an understanding of the physiology of fluid balance.

Intravenous therapy nurses may further specialize in chemotherapy, total parenteral nutrition or antibiotic therapies. Many work independently in home health settings.

How to Get Started

Most IV nurses start first as generalists, working with a particular patient population of interest such as the pediatric or geriatric population. Although basic nursing programs provide a foundation for intravenous practice, continuing education and skill-based competency programs are needed to advance to this specialty. For example, IV nurses must be skilled in the insertion of venous catheters in difficult locations. They must understand the wide variety of catheter options and determine which is best for a particular situation, treatment and patient. Continuing education and certification programs provide the basis for this knowledge. Hands-on experience through a mentor or preceptor is needed as well before entering into the profession. When selecting a first employment in intravenous therapy nursing, consider a large home care or acute care facility where more seasoned nurses would be available for support.

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