How to Become a Home Health Nurse

October 10, 2023


Reviewed by:

Jonathan Preminger

Former Admissions Committee Member, Hofstra-Northwell School of Medicine

Reviewed: 04/02/23

There are several specialties aspiring nurses can choose from. One popular nursing practice is home health care. To learn more about how to become a home health nurse, read on.

There are pros and cons to working in a hospital as a nurse. On one hand, you’ll gain diverse experience working in high-pressure situations with a large team of healthcare professionals. 

But, on the other hand hospital shifts can be difficult, lengthy, and exhausting. You’re often rushed and will be responsible for several patients at once. Fortunately, there are other options for aspiring nurses that are interested in medicine but don’t want to work in hospital settings—like home health nursing!

This guide will go over what home health nursing entails, how to become a certified home health nurse, the salary you can expect, and more! 

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What Does a Home Health Nurse Do?

Let’s start with the basics and go over the main responsibilities of home health nurses:

  • Cleaning and dressing wounds
  • Drawing blood or collecting other samples
  • Administering medications and IVs
  • Assisting in daily activities such as moving around, eating, bathing, grooming, etc.
  • Assisting in the creation of treatment plans
  • Evaluating patients’ mental and physical health
  • Assisting in pre-operative care
  • Monitoring and documenting vitals
  • Performing physical assessments
  • Providing basic hygiene needs
  • Responding to emergent situations
  • Ensuring patient comfort 
  • Providing education to patients and caretakers
  • Evaluating and updating care plan if necessary

Unlike traditional healthcare settings, nurses travel to their patients’ houses to provide them with care, meaning they only ever treat one patient at a time! Depending on the type of home health care you provide, you may only see one patient a day.

This has benefits and drawbacks for nurses. For one, it allows them to focus their efforts on their patients without feeling rushed. They typically also form close bonds with their patients which can make the job more rewarding! However, this makes losing patients even harder. 

Home health nurses often treat senior patients that do not wish to move into residential living or people that require hospice care.

Steps to Becoming a Home Health Nurse

Now that you have a general idea of the types of roles home health care nurses fulfill, let’s go over what it takes to become one!

Step One: Maintain High Marks in High School

In order to become a nurse you must attend nursing school. While there are several options for you to consider, which will be discussed further in the next step, you will need to obtain a nursing degree. Top-ranking nursing schools are known to be selective, so it’s essential you submit a stellar application to increase your chances of acceptance.

One of the most important parts of your application will be your high school transcripts. It’s essential you pursue courses that challenge you and are appropriate to the degree you plan on pursuing. You must also maintain a high GPA that will put you within the competitive range of previous applicants at your nursing school.

Do your research to figure out the GPA, scores, and courses you need to apply to your top programs. Many schools will also prefer it if you have some experience working or volunteering in healthcare to prove your dedication to the field. 

Step Two: Go to Nursing School

There are several options to consider when deciding which type of nursing degree to pursue. Some home health nurses only have Licensed Practical Nursing (LPN) degrees, which only take one to two years to complete and are less competitive than other degrees. 

However, these degrees offer the least training and are thus least favored by employers. A better option would be to complete a two-year Associate’s Degree in Nursing (ADN). This degree can offer you more expertise in the field which will make you a more attractive employee.

However, the best degree any nurse can pursue is a Bachelors of Science in Nursing (BSN). This degree takes four years to complete but offers the most comprehensive training in nursing. BSNs are the most competitive and difficult degrees for nurses to complete but offer the most opportunity.

Step Three: Write the NCLEX

Once you’ve graduated from your nursing program you’ll need to obtain licensure to practice. In order to do this you’ll be required to write the NCLEX. If you complete an LPN you’ll have to write the NCLEX-PN and if you complete an ADN or BSN you’ll have to write the NCLEX-RN. Both exams test on the following subjects:

  • Safe and effective care environment
  • Health promotion and maintenance
  • Psychological integrity
  • Physiological integrity

Regardless of the exam you write, it’s essential you create a comprehensive study plan to succeed. Try to dedicate several weeks or months to your studies to ensure you ace it on your first try! This exam has a pass rate of around 80%.

Step Four: Gain Experience

The majority of home health nursing positions will require you to have at least two years of clinic experience. It’s recommended you gain this experience in high-volume medical centers like hospitals or clinics because you’ll be exposed to a range of illnesses and patients. 

As a home health care nurse you have a high degree of autonomy and do not have a team to rely on during your visits. As such, it’s essential you have considerable knowledge in the field and the skills necessary to handle emergency situations on your own. 

Step Five: Consider Certification

By step four you’ll have the education, licensure, and experience to apply to most home health nurse positions. Once you enter the field you may want to gain certifications to increase your expertise and qualifications. 

One popular certification home health nurses pursue is the AHCC Home Care Clinical Specialist – OASIS credential. This certification ensures home health nurses are proficient in the Outcome and Assessment Information Set (OASIS), which is a group of data elements that are the core of comprehensive adult home patient care.

For nurses interested in working with senior patients in particular, you may want to gain Gerontological Nursing Certification through the American Nurses Credential Center (ANCC). This certification offers nurses increased qualifications to work with and study aging populations.

There are also several certifications you can receive in hospice care if that is a specialty you’re interested in. The Hospice and Palliative Nurses Association offers a certification that recognizes nurses’ expertise and increased competence in the field and can lead to higher-paying jobs.

Where Do Home Health Nurses Work?

Home health nurses typically work for agencies, clinics, or sometimes hospitals. There are also several community service organizations that hire home health nurses to care for disadvantaged populations.

Home Health Nurse Salary and Job Outlook

A crucial factor to discuss when exploring how to become a home health nurse is their salary and demand. Nurses have high job security as there is always a nursing shortage in every healthcare setting. Given our aging population, home health nurses are particularly in demand. 

Once you have the education and experience to become a home health nurse it shouldn’t be too difficult to find a job. Your exact pay will depend on the agency you work for, the hours you work, and if you put in any overtime hours which is common in this specialty.

However, on average, home health nurses make around $81,220 if they’re RNs. LPNs can expect to make significantly less than this median because they have less training and a limited scope of practice. Nurses’ salaries also depend on their experience. In general, the longer they’ve been in the field, the higher their pay.

FAQs: How to Become a Home Health Nurse

This guide has gone over everything you need to know about how to become a home health nurse to aid you in your career choice. For any remaining questions about this specialty, read on to find your answers.

1. What Are the Requirements to Become a Home Health Nurse?

Students must complete a nursing degree of their choice to join the nursing field. While there are some home health nurses that have LPNs, the preferred degrees are ADNs and BSNs. Once you’ve completed nursing school you will have to write the NCLEX to gain licensure. 

You will need to complete at least two years of clinical experience to qualify for most home health nurse positions.

2. How Long Does It Take to Become a Home Health Nurse?

The timeline largely depends on your education and ideal job. If you’re completing a LPN, you could complete your degree and gain enough experience to join the field in as little as three years.

On the other hand, if you complete a BSN you can expect to spend at least six years in training before landing your first home health nursing job.

3. Is Home Health Nursing Hard?

While home health nursing does not have the same rigors or pressure as traditional nursing in large hospitals or clinics, it is still difficult! You will typically be the only healthcare professional providing care to your patients. As problems arise you will have to make decisions on your own to ensure their safety and wellbeing.

Home health nurses often also get more attached to their patients and become parts of their lives. For nurses working with hospice or senior patients, this is typically the hardest part of the job! They often feel like they’re losing a close friend and their patients’ deaths can be devastating. 

4. What Skills Does a Home Health Nurse Need?

While it isn’t a skill, the first requirement to be a home health nurse is passion! Home health nurses must have a genuine interest in medicine and providing patient care because they will be performing a lot of bedside duties, including helping their patients bathe, groom themselves, and keep clean. 

Aside from passion, here are some key skills home health nurses should have:

  • Empathy: to interact with worried family members and patients who are in hospice care or are terminal
  • Critical thinking: to problem-solve and adapt treatment plans depending on patient outcomes
  • Interpersonal skills: to form connections with the patients as they enter their homes and visit them on a regular basis
  • Patience: to revise and improve treatment plans to ensure they work best for each patient and their circumstances
  • Independence: to be able to rely on yourself to provide your patient with the best care 
  • Communication: to educate your patients and their other caretakers on treatment plans

While home health nurses are rarely put in high-pressure situations, it’s essential they’re able to remain calm and level-headed if urgent situations arise. 

For nurses working in hospice care especially, you must remain calm even when your patients and their family members are not! Learning to accept that a family member is in their final stages of life is difficult. You must be able to provide them with information and comfort to help them through the process.

5. What’s It Like Being a Home Health Nurse?

Being a home health nurse is extremely rewarding and generally more relaxed than other healthcare settings. You visit patients’ homes to provide them with care and are only ever responsible for one patient at a time. 

While being one of their primary healthcare providers can be stressful, you’re given autonomy to make the best decisions for your patients.

Final Thoughts

While there are benefits and drawbacks to every nursing specialty, becoming a home health nurse will allow you to provide exceptional care to your patients in the comfort of their own homes. You will be playing a crucial role in their health and will be well compensated for it through your high salary and job satisfaction!

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