Home health nurse helping male patient at home

A home health nurse (HHN) is a nurse who works outside the traditional setting of a hospital or clinic. They will usually work in the patient’s home, so HHNs travel to care for them and perform duties such as checking vital signs, administering medication, and taking blood samples for testing.

Read more: What is a Home Health Nurse?

What are the steps to becoming a home health nurse?

If you want to become an HHN, there are a few steps you need to complete first. To start, you’ll need a nursing degree, followed by a passing grade on your nursing exam, to receive your nursing license. At this point, you’re ready to gain personal experience in the field, which is a critical part of being an effective nurse.

Earn a nursing degree

Some organizations will accept licensed practical nurses (LPNs) who have completed their two-year LPN program. However, most are looking for candidates with a nursing degree.

The degree can either be an Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN), which requires completion of a two-year program, or a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN). A traditional BSN program takes four years. However, alternative programs are available for those with previous experience as a nurse or in a non-nursing field.

While either degree is acceptable and will allow you to work as a nurse in the United States, a BSN will allow you opportunities to advance your career in the future in several ways if that’s what you decide.

Register for a License

To practice as a registered nurse (RN), you must get a license. The requirements vary from state to state, so you’ll need to find out what you need to do before you register and complete your exam.

Pass the NCLEX-RN nursing exam

The NCLEX-RN is the official exam in the US that tests the knowledge you should have gained while earning your nursing degree. It’s graded as pass/fail and may have anywhere from 75 to 265 questions.

The number of questions you will have to answer depends on how well you score. If you answer enough questions correctly to allow you to pass, you’re not required to answer any more questions. However, if you answer so many questions incorrectly, it would be impossible for you to get a passing score, your test is over, and you’ll have to retest later.

The exam comprises four main categories:

  • Safe & Effective Care Environment

  • Health Promotion & Maintenance

  • Psychosocial Integrity

  • Physiological Integrity

Related: How much do Nurses make in each state?

Consider home health nurse specialty areas

Each of the following nursing positions can provide home health care.

CNS (Clinical Nurse Specialist)

A clinical nurse specialist (CNS) is an advanced practice registered nurse (APRN) with a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) or Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) degree who assesses, diagnoses, and treats patients. They may also take part in research and health care management.

The four primary roles of a CNS are:

  • Researcher

  • Educator

  • Expert clinician

  • Consultant

CNA (Certified Nursing Assistant)

A certified nursing assistant (CNA) provides basic care to patients and helps them with activities they struggle with doing on their own.

Responsibilities of a CNA may include:

  • Helping patients with eating, grooming, and going to the bathroom

  • Moving patients who are immobile or whose mobility is restricted

  • Checking patients’ heart rate, blood pressure, and temperature

  • Changing sheets and bedpans

  • Providing patients with companionship

LVN (Licensed Vocational Nurse)

A licensed vocational nurse (LVN), also known as a licensed practical nurse (LPN), provides patients with primary care under the supervision of an RN or a doctor.

Responsibilities of an LVN may include:

  • Inserting catheters

  • Changing bandages

  • Recording patients’ history

  • Giving injections, medications, and immunizations

  • Monitoring patients’ vital signs

  • Assisting with treatments and therapies

  • Addressing patients’ concerns

Gain work experience

In addition to a degree, an HHN must have nursing experience. Most hospitals and health agencies require you to have at least two years of experience working as an RN before they’ll hire you as an HHN.

Apply for home health nurse jobs

Once you have fulfilled all the requirements for becoming an HHN, you can start applying for jobs. Many HHNs work for an agency that will match them with patients in need of care. They travel to the patient’s location, which may be their home, workplace, or school, and provide them with a range of health services.

Can you become a home health nurse online?

Yes, you can become an HHN online. There are various programs you can access online, whether you’re looking for a traditional ADN or BSN program or you’re looking to apply credits you’ve earned previously to your new career as a nurse.

What is the difference between a home health nurse and a registered nurse?

The road to becoming an HHN is the same as the road to becoming an RN. The difference lies in the work settings. An HHN is an RN who usually cares for patients in their homes. This allows HHNs to have more flexibility and autonomy in their job.

What positions can you progress to from being a home health nurse?

There are several positions you can advance to as an HHN, including

  • Staff Nurse

  • Registered nurse supervisor

  • School nurse

  • Nursing instructor

  • Clinic registered nurse

  • Office nurse

  • Utilization review nurse

  • Registered health nurse

  • Team leader

Related: What are the different levels of nursing?

Do your home health nurse exam qualifications expire?

You must renew your nursing license every three years if you continue nursing. Make sure you renew your license before it expires to avoid any complications.

How much do home health nurses make?

The salary of an HHN varies by state and could be anywhere from $19.61 per hour ($40,789 per year) to $46.13 per hour ($95,951 per year).

Read more: How much do Home Health Nurses make?

How long does it take to become a home health nurse?

There are several ways to become an HHN, and it can take anywhere from 3 to 7 years to become an HHN. It takes one year to become an LPN or 2 to 5 years to get a degree. Plus, two years working in a clinical setting.

Read more: How long does it take to become a nurse?

Extra FAQs about becoming a home health nurse

What skills do you need to become a home care nurse?

To be an HHN, there are several skills you should have, including

  • Effective communication

  • Creative problem-solving

  • Self-motivation

  • Technological knowledge

  • Assessment and evaluation

  • Physical stamina

  • Emotional resilience

What are the responsibilities of a home health nurse?

There are many responsibilities that an HHN may have, including

  • Checking vital signs

  • Administering medication

  • Monitoring and documenting patient progress

  • Cleaning and dressing wounds

  • Developing treatment plans

Do I need any hospital experience to be a home health nurse?

Employers often require a minimum of 2 years of clinical experience before you can work as an HHN. This is to ensure you’re comfortable in the role and can effectively apply the knowledge you’ve gained to patient care. In addition, since HHNs often have more autonomy than traditional RNs, you must have this experience to make the right decisions on your feet and properly care for your patients without supervision.

What is it like to be a home health care nurse?

While many of the duties of an HHN are the same as an RN, the setting can make the experience very different. You often see patients in their homes; it can initially feel unfamiliar. HHNs see their patients individually, one at a time, so it’s common to build strong bonds more quickly than clinics. For many HHNs, this makes the job more rewarding.

Since you're usually working alone, you have more autonomy at work. However, the flip side is that you don’t have the team's support, and you must take on all the responsibility of your patients.