Some nurses settle into a nursing position and remain there for their entire nursing career. Beverly Kimmel BSN, RN, isn't that nurse. Kimmel has worked in various specialties and areas of nursing throughout her career, all of which helped her build a strong core of nursing skills. Despite the variety of roles, however, she keeps returning to one nursing specialty: home health.
After graduating with her Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN), Kimmel began her career in a skilled nursing facility. This position provided her with a strong base to build her experience. The skills she developed helped her write a resume and cover letter that earned her the first home health nurse job. Although she enjoyed moving from the nursing home to work in home health for several years, Kimmel admits to having a restless nature. She wanted to see and experience more beyond the area where she lived and worked.
Building a solid base of nursing skills
The versatility of a nursing degree offers flexible options for work schedules and environments. This enabled Kimmel to take a break from home health nursing and land her first travel nurse job. Working as a travel nurse helped Kimmel fulfill her desire to see and do more with her nursing degree. She admits that her diverse experience proved invaluable when she later returned to home health nursing.
"You have to learn to be adaptable when you work as a travel nurse," Kimmel says. "You have one day of orientation for paperwork — one day on the floor, and then you're on your own."
Kimmel reaped the benefits of travel nursing. She learned to be independent, to improvise and to think outside the box. All these skills proved essential to her success as a home health nurse.
Eager to take another step on her career ladder and return closer to her hometown, Kimmel went to work in the hospital environment and eventually accepted a job as a hospital float nurse. She was able to combine her float work with occasional shifts in home health nursing. Kimmel later left the hospital environment behind and accepted an on-call home health nursing position, which is where she's worked for the last three years.
Home health nursing roles
"My first home health nursing role was in case management," Kimmel says. "This meant that I managed care for a specific demographic list of patients."
Case management, like much of nursing, requires the nurse to complete paperwork efficiently and accurately. But with home health nursing, keeping the patient's plan of care accurate and up to date is even more essential. If another nurse fills in, they need to know precisely what is going on with the patient's care. Clear documentation is also essential for patient recertification, which helps to ensure that patients receive approval for care visits.
Kimmel's current role in home health nursing is a little different now that she's an on-call nurse.
"I have more days off, but committing to a schedule from 4:00 p.m. Friday evening until 7:30 a.m. Monday morning on my long weekend can be a little tough," she says.
However, this unique schedule works well with Kimmel's current lifestyle. Most weeks, she works a Monday through Friday schedule that accommodates family commitments and offers flexibility. Kimmel's priority is ensuring that the patient's care is complete, which sometimes means bringing paperwork home.
As an on-call nurse, Kimmel doesn't have many regular patients. She fills in when nurses are inundated with patients. She also assists with urgent issues, such as replacing a dressing or obtaining lab work. Her varied nursing experience offers her the ability to adapt to different nursing situations and excel in the on-call role.
A "typical" day in home health nursing
Home health nurse responsibilities can vary and a “normal day” on-call can be unusual. A typical day begins by gathering her paperwork and supplies and studying the map to determine the most efficient route for the day. In the rural area where she works, an inefficiently planned route can add time and miles onto an already busy day. This, in turn, interferes with the time-sensitive treatment needs of patients.
Kimmel calls her patients to let them know an approximate time she'll be arriving and then sets out for the day. She visits each patient's home with her computer in tow so she can document each visit.
Nursing in a nonmedical environment
As a home health nurse, the care environment is the patient's home — and you're their guest. It's not your standard healthcare work environment. Kimmel says that her day might entail driving from 10 to 100 miles from one end of the county to the other in various kinds of weather. Having a dependable vehicle and GPS, she notes, is essential.
Over the years, Kimmel has had to improvise by creating a sterile environment in homes that have fleas, cockroaches or curious pets. She's encountered many kinds of unique challenges at patients' homes including:
- Weak, unsafe flooring
- Patients who refuse treatment
- Trying to provide care when the patient's bed is a mattress on the floor
Qualities that make a good home health nurse
According to Kimmel, the best home health nurses are those who have a well-rounded array of experience, especially with at least one year on a medical-surgical floor. They should also be adaptable.
"You don't know what you're going to encounter once you get into someone's home," Kimmel says. "You have to know how to handle unexpected situations and have the confidence to provide patient education."
Keeping up with the latest medical devices is also essential. Kimmel researches the situation before she enters a home, but sometimes arrives to discover the patient's care requires devices or equipment she wasn't aware were needed. When this occurs, she relies on her years of experience and isn't afraid to let the patient provide some instruction themselves.
Other essential skills for home health nurses include:
- Strong work ethic
- Excellent communication skills
- The ability to deal with patients and their families respectfully and professionally
"You can't speak to a patient like you're superior or scold them. They won't want you back," Kimmel says.
Nursing jobs and careers in home health continue to grow, and Kimmel is happy with her specialty. "Sometimes I miss the hustle and bustle, and the camaraderie of working on a unit with other nurses," Kimmel says. "But the ability to get in my car, take a deep breath, and slow down just a little can't be beat."
If you're attracted to the flexibility of home health nursing, you'll need to ensure your resume gets noticed. Here's a helpful tip to ensure your resume and cover letter get the most leverage. Many healthcare employers use applicant tracking systems (ATS) to review nursing resumes. These systems automatically scan resumes to find relevant keywords. When updating your nursing resume and cover letter, include these keywords whenever possible.